Barnes Green & Common in London

Barnes Common Cricket Green

Although the idyllic village of Barnes is just under a mere 6 miles away from central London, it is a rural haven giving residents and visitors alike peace and tranquillity and a way to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life.

 

Barnes Common

The Green, along with Barnes Common, offers an area of open space of about 122 acres of acid grassland, wetland, meadows, broadleaf woodland, trees and scrub making it one of London’s largest areas of common land.  The area is also classified as a local nature reserve giving it protection from developers amongst other things.

The common land was used for rough grazing for hundreds of years. The land was far more wetland and open back in the 1800s than it is today while areas surrounding the common were used as orchards and for market gardening.

Also, as recently as the 1940s there were far fewer trees to be found on the common than there is today, but some thirty years ago this swampy land was drained with many trees being planted, giving us the mature trees that we see today.  These woodland areas have since gone on to self-generate over the years and now need to be carefully managed to ensure that do not take over the entire area.

Having once been a rather remote village, that all changed with the arrival of the railway in 1846 and now many small and a few larger, main roads criss-cross the common along with the railway line and the building of many homes turning it into the Common we all know today.

Of great importance is the acid grassland that can be found on “Barnes” Common, a threatened habitat throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

This attractive carpet of various interesting and unusual plants and grasses such as sheep’s sorrel, heath bedstraw, wavy hair grass, red fescue, sheep’s fescue and common bent gives a home to a wide range of invertebrates such as specialist wasps and bees. Along with ants and beetles some of which are on the endangered list or are nationally scarce.

Some years ago it was realised that this valuable and rare acid grassland was being lost at about half an acre per year so it was necessary to start managing the area in order to prevent further decline and to try and regain some of this habitat by pollarding trees, removing their lower branches, removing saplings and cutting back scrub and in particular gorse, bracken, and brambles that very quickly start to take over.

Grazing of Barnes Common also helped maintain the acid grassland by preventing invasive plants from taking over but alas, today the grazing of animals is no longer possible, so minimal mowing is now necessary to help keep the invasive plants under control.

Dog walkers can actually contribute to keeping the acid grassland safe by promptly removing dog waste.  Dog waste actually enriches the soil thus allowing the undesirable grasses to flourish and dominate while worming pills also cause unwanted chemicals to be introduced into the ground.

As well as having to manage the acid grassland the woodlands also need careful management.  It is, therefore, necessary to remove the many non-native species of trees so that our own native tree species such as ash and oak can survive while the thinning of trees and the creation of glades improves some light levels that can penetrate the woodland benefiting birds and butterflies.   Standing dead wood is left when safe to do so as this provides a valuable shelter for various invertebrates including beetles.

There is much to interest the nature lover on Barnes Common, for those who love to identify different trees, some to look out for are horse chestnut, lime, birch, crabapple, silver birch, Turkey oak, ash, willow, the rare black poplar, hazel and London Plane.

Check out Barney, the London Plane tree that dates back to the 1660s and has a massive girth of 8.2m and is possibly one of the oldest examples to be found in London.   The London plane tree was thought to have first come into existence in the 17th century when cross pollination occurred between an American Sycamore and an Oriental plane.  Eventually going on to become the urban tree of choice this species of the tree now lines many of London’s streets mainly due to it hardy nature and high resistance to pollution.

Another unique tree to take a look at (although not a native species) is the famous sycamore tree at Queens Ride, which marks the spot where Marc Bolan died when the car he was travelling in crashed into it.  This area has now become a shrine, and the sycamore tree is regularly visited and decorated by his many fans.

For those that wish to spot animals look out for foxes of which there are plenty, the occasionally seen rabbits and badgers, along with wood mice, short-tailed and bank voles and eight different species of bats.

For bird watchers commonly found birds are wrens, blue and great tits, robins and about twenty pairs of long-tailed tits.  Other birds to look out for are herons, kingfishers, redwings, fieldfares, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, willow warblers, mistle and song thrush, swifts, blackbirds, green woodpeckers,  black and white great spotted woodpeckers, hobby, tawny owls, red kite, buzzards, sparrowhawks, and kestrels.

Some of the numerous, including nationally endangered and scare insects that can be spotted include dragon and damselflies. Over one hundred species of beetle including the stag beetle, bees, wasps, butterflies, including the purple hairstreak in the tops of oak trees, green hairstreaks, gatekeeper, peacock, speckled wood, brimstone, and small copper along with various spiders, ants, and anthills.

Flora to enjoy includes the acid grassland with the red, carpet forming sheep’s sorrel, heath bedstraw, birdsfoot, cats ear and the beautiful lemon yellow mouse-ear hawkweed.

Other prairie plants to be found are willowherb, tansy, vetch, hawkweed, lady’s bedstraw, trefoil, lady’s smock and ox-eye daisy.

At the reed bed look out for marsh marigold, purple loosestrife, and meadowsweet.

The rare to London (and possibly the only place in London) is the gorgeous white flowered burnet rose which has been known to exist on the Common for over three hundred years.

Blackberries can be found a plenty along with elderflower berries for making a lovely cordial and sloes for those wishing to make gin!

Flowing along the edge of Barnes Common and Green is Beverley Brook providing various habitats for wildlife, flora, and some lovely willow trees.

 

Barnes Green

Barnes Green is a very busy area, with many paths traversing it and people can be seen coming and going at all times of the day.  Some of the pathways have a line of beautiful mature London plane and horse chestnut trees, with masses of conkers to be found with the arrival of autumn.

Sadly the micro moth is attacking the horse chestnut trees on both Barnes Common and Barnes Green making them weak and open to fungal attack.   It is very notable that many of the mature horse chestnut trees are now in decline with leaves turning yellow, dropping early and fruit failing to set which results in no conkers!

The main feature of Barnes Green is its lovely pond where a pair of white swans can often be seen gliding across it, along with many other water birds such as white and greylag geese, Egyptian geese, mallards, coots, moorhens, tufted ducks and the very annoying Canada geese. Various types of waterside wildlife can also be seen including water rats!

 


Article was written by Karen Arnold

Article Source: http://www.graftingardeners.co.uk/barnes-common-green-london/

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