When you think of the word ‘City’, what image comes to mind? High rise buildings? Bustling streets? Rushing commuters? Wildlife….? Not so much.
Half the world’s population now live in cities, entirely shaped and created by humans consequently separating them from the natural world. Currently, urban areas cover around 2% of the planet’s land area, and by 2030, this could rise to almost 10%. The main question a lot of ecologists ask is – ‘Is there space for native wildlife to thrive?’.
Capital cities are the last place you’d think to find open green spaces where wild animals can graze undisturbed and birds can nest and play. But this is exactly what you’d find in a corner of West London… at Richmond Park.
Richmond park is the largest of London’s eight royal parks and its biggest enclosed green space. But that’s not all, it is also classed as a National Nature Reserve, London’s largest site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Special Area of Conservation.
The Park also incorporates the most important area of lowland acid grassland in the Greater London region. Lowland acid grassland is a priority habitat in the Government’s Biodiversity Action Plan.
It provides space for millions of Londoners to escape the bustle and bright lights of the capital, but it is also home for thousands of wildlife species including 600 red and fallow deer, over 1000 species of beetle, birds including woodpeckers and marsh tits, and even hedgehogs and bats.
“By understanding the rich nature and wildlife of the Park, we can all help to protect it and keep it a very special place” Sir David Attenborough.
However this special park’s proximity to the capital has become its greatest challenge. Over 5 and a half million people visit Richmond Park every year, putting more and more pressure on the Park’s fabric and wildlife.
King Charles I introduced red and fallow deer way back in the 1600s and to keep them from straying, he built a 8mile long, 9ft high wall to enclose them within the park. Centuries later over 600 deer roam free within the walls.
The deer have a profound impact on the park’s ecology, being able to reach up and eat leaves on low hanging branches of oaks, giving them the characteristic browse line around 6 feet above ground. In early summer, a new generation of young deer begin to arrive. They instinctively take their first steps within 20 minutes of being born but will stay hidden away for the first few weeks of life.
Though they have no natural predators in Richmond Park, the mothers see humans and especially dogs as a threat to their young. To protect the deer, visitors and their dogs a few points of advice to follow:
- Give the park deer plenty of room (50m distance), especially during birthing and the annual rut.
- Keep your dog on a lead in sensitive areas and near deer.
- If you’re on a bike stick to the roads and bike trail to avoid spooking the deer.
The Park’s Veterans
Richmond Park is a top UK site for ancient trees with over 1,400 trees, particularly oaks, with some aged up to 800 years old. They all have great historic and ecological importance.
An oak tree is considered a thriving ecosystem within itself, with hundreds of species living among it. It provides food for foraging deer and places for nesting birds and other species. Oaks and other trees are vital to hundreds of other species that depend on them. The older the tree, the greater the biodiversity of its ecosystem, with more birds, mammals, insects, fungi and spiders using what it has to offer.
Even when the tree or parts of it have died, it still provides a fundamental habitat and source of food for many small animals. The dead trees and associated decaying wood support nationally endangered species of fungi, as well as a range of nationally scarce invertebrates such as the cardinal click beetle and the stag beetle.
Richmond Park is one of the most important breeding sites for its biggest beetle, the stag beetle. The reason for that, in part, is the amount of dead wood that’s allowed to accumulate in the park. The beetle larvae spend up to 6 years eating dead wood whilst growing as large as possible, emerging in late spring to then only live for a few short but dramatic weeks.
For this species as well as many more to thrive amongst the dead wood, it is crucial that visitors don’t disturb or remove it from where it has fallen in the park.
Friends of Richmond Park have provided advice to visitors in order to help protect the park and let it continue to thrive so we and wildlife can all enjoy it for many more years to come.
As well as the points mentioned above please follow this important advice:
- Wildflowers, trees, nuts, acorns and fungi are all essential food sources for birds, bees and deer. Please do not pick them or take any home with you
- Leave nothing behind
- Take home or clear anything not naturally found in the park.
- Clear up after your dog.
- Take home litter or put in the bins provided to stop deer and other wildlife from consuming it.
- Tread lightly
- If you’re on foot, stay on established paths and keep away from the ant hills
- Please don’t light any fires or barbecues within the park
So to answer that ecologist’s question – ‘Is there space for native wildlife to thrive in urban areas?’. I believe so, if we all give it the space it needs and show it the respect it deserves.
To end a very poignant quote from Sir David Attenborough – a Friend of Richmond Park.
“Whether your visit to Richmond Park is once in a lifetime or every day, enjoy and be inspired by its history, beauty and wildlife. Please love it like I do and tread lightly in Richmond Park”
For more information and advise on what you can do to protect the park please visit The Friends of Richmond Park website : http://www.frp.org.uk/park/tread-lightly-in-the-park