The common is classed as a site of borough importance grade 1 for nature conservation. It has nine different ecological habitats, including the pond and lakes, amphibian wetland, grassland, including acid grassland, meadows and woodland. Only native trees are planted today.
Management of the common is a balancing act: balancing a heritage landscape with biodiversity and use by an ever-growing number of people for a variety of formal and informal recreation.
Much of the information in this section was contributed by Aviva and Charles Walton, with comments from Enable's Valerie Selby
Natural grassland provides a perfect habitat for wild flowers, bees, butterflies, grasshoppers and other insects.
The acid grassland on the western edge of Bellevue Fields is of particular importance, present in relatively few areas of London but in total accounting for 4% of the UK’s total acid grassland. This grassland thrives on poor soil. Bare patches of earth have an important function. The soil warms and nurtures insects. Solitary wasps and bees live in tiny holes in the ground.
Other interesting areas are on the Scope, characterised by clumps of tussock grass (pictured), where nutrients from fallen leaves have changed the nature of the grassland.
The mowing regime has been relaxed in some areas specifically to allow wildflowers to grow. Over 30 species of wildflower can be found on the Common.
There are over 3,500 trees on the Common in several different woodland areas. The one opposite is on the Scope; other examples are on the fringes of Bellevue Field, around the lake and on Bolingbroke Field along the railway line. Where light reaches the ground through the trees a variety of grasses and shrubs, mosses and lichens, wild flowers and plants can grow. Woodlands provide everything a creature who lives there needs — food, water, shelter. Stag beetles, centipedes and fungi live in decaying wood. Small animals, such as mice, can hide inside dead trees and around the roots. Many species of birds live and nest up in the tree canopy, as well as bats, like the pipistrelle. Standing dead wood is particularly good for biodiversity and is no longer cleared away.
This very distinct area of the common is managed particularly for biodiversity. Look out for the meadow and open glades - a hotspot for butterflies; grassland hummocks, young oaks, tall leaning black poplar trees, purple moor grass, cowslips and bluebells in the spring.
As the woodland canopy has become increasingly dense, thought is being given to thinning it out, in order to enrich the biodiversity by encourage more wildflowers and habitat for butterflies and bees.
The orange circles found on some oaks is to show that they are free from oak processionary moth.
The pond and lakes
This water habitat teems with life: insects such as pond skaters and dragonflies, several types of fish, and common newts. Swans, geese and ducks live on the water (see fauna). Reeds, irises and numerous other plants grow around the edge.
Can you spot an Egyptian goose, a mallard, a moorhen and a coot? Look for a grey heron standing still on the edge of the water, a cormorant spreading its wings to dry at the top of a tree.
This is a sensitive area in the spring and summer when young birds are nesting. Keep dogs on a lead by the pond and don’t let them into the water (see dogs).
The lake has no natural inlet and water quality can deteriorate in the summer. Thought is being given to forms of aeration
An area has been created especially for wildlife such as newts, frogs and water-loving insects. It also provides a catchment area for water after heavy rain, preventing it running into the railway cutting — a good example of wildlife and public transport management working in harmony.
Birds & waterfowl
The Common has its own volunteer ornithologist — Peter White — who can be seen regularly on the Common (if you’re up early enough) and his reports are published every month on the Enable website.
He also leads walks every quarter, starting from Wandsworth Common station (see our calendar).
In 2017 there was much excitement — even a Twitter storm — when a rare Night Heron was spotted on the island in the main lake. This attracted several local birders who could be seen with their scopes trained on the bird which, as its name suggests, was asleep for most of the time.
A sparrowhawk also nests on the common and can sometimes be seen.
Swan & duck food project
Since 2013, a group of volunteers have been filling the candy striped bags you see on sale in Skylark with swan and duck food. This is much healthier for the ducks than bread, even brown bread, and is an easy way for us to help the birds and provide a revenue stream for the Common. All profits go to education and enhancement projects, such as the map and website.
Bread is junk food for ducks. It lacks nutrients, can cause disease and stunt the growth of ducklings. It either falls to the bottom of the lake, damaging the water quality, and if left floating at the edge of the pond it attracts rats and other pests.
There are other natural foods you can feed the ducks — grain in particular, but also clover and grass, chopped raw green vegetables, grapes cut in half, defrosted peas etc.
This section has been written by Ian Cunningham, the Common’s volunteer butterfly recorder for over 20 years. He’s also helped compile this ID leaflet about the Common’s butterflies.
Do you think that butterflies on the Common are limited to cabbage whites?
That’s natural as the whites catch the eye. So it may be a surprise that, in 20 or so years of regular monitoring, 28 specific species have been found. Only a handful are white. 19 can be expected to appear every year.
The 19 are: small skipper, Essex skipper, large skipper, brimstone, large white, small white, green veined white, orange tip, purple hairstreak, common blue, holly blue, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, peacock, speckled wood, comma, gatekeeper, meadow brown and ringlet.