The History of Wimbledon Common and Its Stag Beetles

The History of Wimbledon Common and its Stag Beetles

People of a certain age (and who don’t live in London) might have first heard of Wimbledon Common by the Wombles and its theme tune.

No matter how you first heard about Wimbledon Common, do you know much about its history or its existence today? Continue reading to find out more about this interesting place.


The History of Wimbledon Common – Location and Size

As its name suggests, Wimbledon Common is in Wimbledon, which is in southwest London.

It is managed alongside Putney Lower Common and Putney Heath, which together cover a total of 1140 acres.


The History of Wimbledon Common: A Large Open Space

Wimbledon Common has protection in place (the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act of 1871).

This prevents it from being built upon or enclosed. This large open space is home to lots of natural flora and fauna and incorporates a unique bog and a mature mixed woodland.


The Wimbledon Windmill

This Wimbledon Common landmark is a Grade II listed building that has been preserved as a museum.

The mill was built in 1817 by Charles March who was a carpenter from Roehampton. In 1864, Earl Spencer, the Lord of the Manor, evicted the miller and thus, the mill was stopped from working.

This was a deliberate act by the miller at the time, in order to stop it being used as competition against other mills that he operated in Kingston.

After the miller’s eviction, the main building was renovated and rebuilt with bricks to become a dwelling.

During the Second World War, Wimbledon Common was home to army camps. For this reason, the mill was given camouflage so that it wasn’t as visible.

The mill became the museum it is today in 1975 and, in 1999, it received lottery funding to restore it to working order.


Trees in Wimbledon Common

According to the JNCC (the Joint Nature Conservation Committee), Wimbledon Common comprises of 45% broad-leaved deciduous woodland.

There is a large number of ancient trees in Wimbledon Common and there is also a lot of decaying timber from fallen branches and trees. This doesn’t, however, mean there is an emergency tree job.

It is probably a deliberate placement and so there is no need for a fallen tree removal service. Why you might ask. Well, it’s all to do with a rather special invertebrate – the stag beetle.


Why Are Fallen Trees in Wimbledon Common So Important to Stag Beetles?

The stag beetle (Lucanus Cervus) is a threatened species across the globe and so it is protected. The natural habitat of this arthropod is deadwood.

The deadwood is necessary for the stag beetle to be able to complete its lifecycle. Stag beetles lay their eggs either underground by dead tree stumps or logs.

The stag beetle larvae spend a lengthy time (between 3 and 7 years) growing slowly inside the deadwood.

Obviously, this means that deadwood must be on the ground for a substantial length of time. Stag beetles prefer oak but will use sycamore, ash, elm, hornbeam, lime, cherry and apple trees.

They are a helpful and natural decaying agent, which means that they help return dead plant material to the soil.

Their years of growth underground turn into a short life as an adult. They emerge in the warmer weather from May through July in order to mate. Generally, they die once they have mated.


Tree Stump Removal and Fallen Tree Removal

The stag beetle owes its declining numbers to lots of factors but none more so that the tidying up of woodlands.

Throughout the 20th century, many green spaces were given a good clear and tidy up. People really started taking care of the green spaces in the country and dedicated a lot of time to tree stump removal, fallen tree removal and tree maintenance.

During this time, many parks opted to remove fallen trees and chose to get rid of tree stumps with stump grinding. This meant that there were fewer places for the stag beetle to live.

Towards the latter stages of the 20th century (from the 1990s), lots of green spaces have been enhanced and so far, the stag beetle has been stable.


Managing Wimbledon Common for The Stag Beetle’s Conservation

As Wimbledon Common is home to stag beetles, the site managers must be very careful when organizing tree services.

They are cautious to retain as much deadwood as they can and are especially keen on retaining the larger logs and stumps. If these are not exposed to direct sunlight, they are even better for stag beetles.

Unless there is a tree safety issue, windblown trees are left in situ.

There also needs to be a ‘buffer zone’ of sorts around any dead wood. This is to avoid disturbing the area and means that there should be no pruning or cutting from the end of spring until the beginning of autumn.


Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators

The maintenance team for Wimbledon and Putney Commons work tirelessly to carry out essential tree maintenance whilst protecting the stag beetles’ habitats.

They have created many buried dead wood habitats, mainly around the location of the nature trail, so that stag beetle larvae can thrive.

The team also request you to inform them if you happen to come across a stag beetle while enjoying Wimbledon Common.


Recent Maintenance Work in Wimbledon Common

The WPCC team have carried out tree safety work along the roadsides and have also reinstated and repaired swan nest platforms.

There has been a lot of tree planting and hedge planting too. The maintenance team don’t just deal with the arboricultural stuff, they are also there to maintain all aspects of the park including emptying the bins and clearing up litter.


Wimbledon Common in Popular Culture

We’ve already mentioned The Wombles – these characters were originally created by Elizabeth Beresford in a series of novels before becoming a popular TV show and music group.

Wimbledon Common has also been included as a setting in TV shows Doctor Who and Bottom.  In books, it features in The Wimbledon Poisoner (Nigel Williams), The War of the Worlds (H.G. Wells), The Desolate Tree (Raphael Sangorski), My Dog Tulip (J.R. Ackerley).


Article was written by Louise W.

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