Wildlife in Richmond Park
Richmond Park was created in the 17th century by Charles I and its main purpose was as a deer park. Nowadays, it is the largest of the Royal Parks in London and is in the borough of Richmond Upon Thames.
Richmond Park is a park of both national and international importance with regards to its wildlife and wildlife conservation.
Richmond Park has a number of accolades. It is a Special Area of Conservation, a National Nature Reserve and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest – in fact, it is the largest of such sites.
When many think of Richmond Park, it is its deer that spring to mind. However, this park is one of the top sites in the United Kingdom for ancient trees and, in particular, ancient oak trees.
When talking about these trees, we’re not just talking about the tall, majestic, living specimens, we’re talking about deadwood as well. Decaying wood in Richmond Park is a large part of its ecosystem and supports many scarce and endangered species of beetle and fungi.
This wonderful ecosystem has been developed by its prime residents over the centuries: the deer.
As previously mentioned, Richmond Park began as a park to hunt deer. To this day, there are around 350 fallow deer and 300 red deer in the park.
These deer are wild and have been in existence since 1637. Not only have they helped to shape Richmond Park’s landscape, but they have played a major role in the history of the park.
Shaping the landscape
The deer are responsible for maintaining the grassland in the park. Since they graze, seedlings don’t grow and so the grassland is kept open. What’s more, there is a ‘browse line’ clearly visible on the trees in the park. This ‘browse line’ is where the deer eat twigs and leaves up to a height of around 1.5 metres.
The breeding season for deer, called the “rut”, takes place during the autumn months. The red deer stags and fallow deer bucks compete for their females. The red deer female is the “hind” and the fallow deer female is the “doe”. Mating rituals include roaring, barking and fighting with antler clashes.
Young deer are born in the summer months. Their mothers keep them well hidden in the long grass and bracken. Mothers are very protective of their young and will defend them.
Birds in Richmond Park
There is a huge variety of birds which contribute to the wildlife in Richmond Park. Over the last decade, observers have recorded about 144 different species and among them, 63 species that breed here. Among these birds are kestrels, waterfowl, owls and woodpeckers.
One of the most frequently heard sounds in Richmond Park comes from the ring-necked parakeets. These birds have increased in number dramatically in recent years.
Park keepers in Richmond Park are working tirelessly to conserve the ground-nesting birds here. There has been a national decline in ground-nesting birds across the United Kingdom.
Once upon a time, the grey partridge thrived in Richmond Park but the last known grey partridge breeding happened here in 1997. Other ground-nesting birds that have been found in the park are the meadow pipit, the stonechat, the reed bunting and the skylark.
Park keepers have been trying to raise numbers of wildlife in Richmond Park and have put simple measures in place, which has helped. There are signs placed during breeding season encouraging people to keep to the footpaths and keep dogs on short leads. This has helped double skylark numbers over the last 15 years.
Bats in Richmond Park
Since Richmond Park is so vast and has so many trees (over 100, 000), it is a really important area for bats.
There are 17 species of bat in the UK, of which 11 can be supported in Richmond Park. Protecting the park’s trees and plants is vital to these bats. Recent sightings include brown long-eared bats, Daubenton’s bats, serotine bats, noctule bats and all of the 3 species of pipistrelle bats.
Richmond Park Fungi
Fungi are really important ecologically. They share a complex relationship with plant life and many plants depend on them for nutrient supply. Around 4/5 plants have a ‘mutual association’ and so rely on these fungi.
There are more than 400 different fungi in Richmond Park. This includes the Oak Polypore, which is really rare in the UK. The largest fungi in the park are Parasol mushrooms. These can grow as big as a small plate.
Toadstools and mushrooms on the surface are ‘fruiting bodies’ of fungi underground. These are important for reproduction and they are also good food and habitats for many animals and insects.
Collecting fungi within Richmond Park is not allowed.
Wildflowers and Grasses in Richmond Park
Thanks to the deer grazing over centuries, Richmond Park has become a special habitat. In fact, it supports the largest site of Lowland Acid Grassland within the London area.
This type of grassland forms on soils that are acidic and that have low levels of nutrients. The Government’s national Biodiversity Action Plan declares this to be a ‘priority habitat’.
Richmond Park contains 49 different species of sedge, rushes and grasses. There is also a large selection of wildflowers as they thrive on this acidic soil that is nutrient-poor.
A few examples include bluebell, germander speedwell, heath bedstraw, harebell, tormentil and mouse-ear hawkweed.
The acid grassland is particularly fragile and is a threatened habitat. The ecology of this area is balanced delicately and things like dog fouling and exhaust fumes and disrupt the soil.
Richmond Park Invertebrates
Records show that there are over 750 species of butterfly and moth, 139 species of spider and more than 1350 species of beetle in Richmond Park. Thanks to the deer (and its dung!) there is a specialist beetle in this park.
As far as bees and wasps are concerned, there are around 150 different species.
As well as the red deer and fallow deer, there is a range of other, less obvious, mammals living in Richmond Park. This includes voles, mice, shrews, rabbits and foxes.
The stag beetle is an endangered beetle. Although they may look frightening, they’re harmless. The male stag beetle has large jaws for fighting other males but they won’t be able to hurt you as their bite is not strong.
The life cycle of the stag beetle is long – up to 7 years long. There has been a big decline in stag beetles across the country and since the stag beetle is present in Richmond Park, it was a big part of the park being designated as a National Nature Reserve.
Why is the stag beetle so important?
This beetle is really unusual. Even experts still don’t have all of the answers about this wonderful creature. It is known for them to have a life cycle that is up to seven years long but after the larvae become adults, no one really knows what their diet is. Some believe they could be eating tree sap, other people believe that they don’t eat anything.
This beetle species is the largest in Britain. Females grow to around 5cm and males to around 7 cm. The name ‘stag beetle’ comes from the fact that the male beetles have large jaws that look somewhat antler-like. The females don’t have these as they don’t fight territorially.
Stag beetles thrive in established woodland. Their larvae need rotting and decaying trees to feed. Because of a loss of wooded areas and woodland, stag beetle populations have declined. They have even become extinct in some places, Demark for example.
Stag Beetle Lifecycle
The females lay eggs that are fertilised in damp ground near to decaying wood like elm, ash and oak. The eggs are between 2 and 3 mm in diameter. These eggs then hatch and become larvae.
The larvae develop below the ground either in deadwood that is partially buried or rotting tree stumps. They feed on this rotten wood for up to 5 years. Autumn is the time when larvae pupate and then the beetles emerge in springtime. Stag beetles mate in June through to July with egg-laying taking place in the autumn months.
Stag Beetles under threat
Between World War I and World War II, a lot of woodlands were sold and ceased to be woodland. This meant that there has been a significant loss of habitat. Another problem is that parks and gardens were cleared of dead and rotting wood.
Since this is the main food source of stag beetle larvae, it meant that there was nothing for them to feed off. Nowadays, most park managers are aware of the need to keep dead wood in situ as a part of the ecosystem.
Another threat is people. Since adult stag beetles like warm surfaces, you’ll often find them laying on pavements. This makes them really vulnerable to being stood on. What’s more, because they look frightening to some, people sometimes kill them.
Trees in Richmond Park
We’ve looked at Richmond Park’s inhabitants in terms of animal life but its most noticeable and its oldest inhabitants are, of course, its trees.
The park has around 1200 old trees. Some of these even pre-date the park!
The oldest trees and the English Oaks. These have been managed traditionally by tree pollarding. Tree pollarding is different and more extreme to tree crown reduction.
The crown is cut back above where the deer can reach. Tree pollarding encourages the growth of new foliage and it also means you can harvest timber.
Ancient trees also play a role in hosting diverse species of fungi. In turn, these fungi create crevice and hollows that make suitable habitats for other wildlife like bats, birds, beetles and ants.
The deadwood, as previously discussed, is a home and food source for the stag beetle, however, there are many other beetles that thrive in this environment too including the cardinal click beetle and the rusty click beetle.
Article was written by Louise W.
Article Source: https://www.graftingardeners.co.uk/wildlife-in-richmond-park/