I am sending this letter, a collaboration between Friends with expertise in natural habitats and wildlife, following a Zoom meeting last week of the Colliers Wood Parks and Green Spaces group of dedicated volunteers. Considerable concern was expressed about the recent very hard cutting back of vegetation in Wandle Park and Wandle Meadow. (We’re aware that Idverde weren’t responsible for the work on the Meadow, but I mention that as many of our members use both sites.)
There are several points we wish to make, but we’d preface that by emphasising the importance we place on working in partnership with you and Idverde. We recognise the very exacting brief the Mitcham team on the ground has:
- Simon as Contract Supervisor of the Mitcham team has a team of only three, with whom he covers all Merton Council parks and green spaces from Garfield Road recreation ground across to Mitcham;
- the parks no longer have keepers, who formerly carried out day-to-day weeding and maintenance;
- as a result, the schedule and rotation of the team is very stretched and we understand that this sometimes resulted in cutting back at the wrong time of year because of the number of green spaces that need to be covered simultaneously.
We ask particularly to be informed about major work planned for our parks so that we could work with you to ensure an environmentally sound approach to the flora and fauna.
These are the issues relating to Wandle Park that arose at the meeting of our group and during subsequent email exchanges with local wildlife experts.
- Major cutting back shouldn’t take place between March and September (inclusive) when animals are breeding or migrating and so are particularly sensitive to disturbance. Any area of dense vegetation is likely to hold at least one bird nest. This habitat is also valuable for insects and other invertebrates, which provide food for many birds.
- There will be a range of bird species nesting or sheltering in Bramble and other scrub, including House Sparrow, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Cetti’s Warblers were seen in the reedbeds last autumn: this is a ‘Schedule 1’ species meaning that (in addition to the general legal protection afforded to all birds) it’s an offence to disturb its nesting place.
- Bramble flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees. Later in the year these become blackberries, food for humans and birds. The Garfield Rec and Wandle Meadow group asked for some of the Bramble to be left on Wandle Meadow, and this has been done. However, we feel that too much Bramble and other vegetation has been cleared this year along the stream banks in Wandle Park. This is likely to have had a damaging impact on Kingfishers which regularly used the bankside vegetation when fishing, as well as the House Sparrows and Starlings (both now ‘red-listed’ species) that used to congregate in the bushes (now gone) in the NE corner of the park.
- The park is rich in insect life. The elusive Banded General Soldierfly can be found in the site’s NW corner. Last year, 17 species of butterfly were seen in the park, including a rare Brown Hairstreak. Adult insects feed on the Hemlock Water Dropwort and Creeping Thistle that flower beside the stream. Spear Thistle and Black Horehound flowers around the drier park edges are also a valuable food source, particularly for Leaf-cutter Bees and Wool Carder Bees. There are many areas of Stinging Nettle in the park which should be left to grow.
- We want to work alongside other hard working volunteers with the support of Andrew Kauffman and river charities (SERT) to control invasive plant species such as Himalayan Balsam and Floating Pennywort (both present in the park).
- The taller trees in the park provide nesting sites for a number of larger birds, including Sparrowhawks. We would not want to see any further removal of these trees.
- One type of habitat missing from Wandle Park is grassland, which encourages grasshoppers and certain butterflies. Would it be possible to leave a strip of unmown grass adjacent to the native tree plantings?
- We would like to see some new plantings in the park to increase biodiversity still further and create a mosaic of habitats, including planting an Alder Buckthorn bush would provide food for larvae of the Brimstone, one of the first butterflies on the wing each spring.
Everyone wants the park to be a haven both for wildlife and people, and if managed sensitively it can be both. Users of the park already enjoy seeing the Little Egrets and Herons that fish in the stream the margins of which are alive with insects in the summer. In order to build on this our growing number of dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers really need to work in close and effective partnership with you.
We look forward to hearing from you and discussing further, ideally in person or via Zoom.
Friends of Colliers Wood Parks and Green Spaces