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Welcome to the West Wickham Commons Newsletter covering West Wickham Common and Spring Park. FacebookTwitterYouTubeWebsiteEmail
Despite being the shortest month of the year, February certainly was a mixed bag of every kind of weather. Now that the snow has melted and the ground has finally begun to dry out, the first early signs of spring have appeared! March is a great time to spot different wildlife out on the Commons.
Look out for the pale yellow flowers of primrose and golden heads of lesser celandine – these two native wildflowers are usually the first flowers to appear. Sweet violet is another native wildflower of woodland, scrub & hedgerow, with a fondness for coppice woodland. It is a variable plant, with flowers seen in hues ranging from deepest-purple to purest white. These early flowers are important sources of nectar for any pollinating insects braving the first flights of the year.
Frogs and toads will soon begin their return to the water, ready to mate and produce spawn. Look in the pond at Spring Park and you might see fresh spawn. Frogspawn and toadspawn are very different – toads produce long, strands that are commonly likened to a string of pearls, whereas frog spawn is often found in a mass, clustered around warmer, shallow edges of ponds.
On sunny days, watch carefully for butterflies. One of the first butterflies to emerge will be the brimstone. Males are lemon-yellow, while females are greenish-white with orange spots in the middle of each wing. Unlike the butterflies of summer and late spring, butterflies appearing now will be easier to spot as they stand out among the bare trees and meadows.
Photo by Mark Shoesmith.
Paving the way for spring
Following on from last month’s newsletter article on mud-entrenched paths, the warmer weather is a small blessing meaning that the most inaccessible paths can eventually dry out and be navigable again without the need for wellies. Work has been done to repair some of the damage to the surfaced path around the car park on West Wickham Common caused by heavy footfall – a task that would normally be reserved for the summer months!
The start to the year has been anything but normal work-wise – winter work tasks on the Commons are usually centered on coppicing at Spring Park, clearing back overgrowing scrub and carrying out conservation actions on our many veteran oak pollards on West Wickham Common. Sadly these have all been affected by changing plans because of coronavirus restrictions and priorities for the Rangers.
With the warmer weather beckoning and the start of March signalling the beginning of bird nesting season and the cessation of vegetation clearance, the workload will turn to tasks that are more sensitive to birds thinking of nesting in trees and hedges. In March, one of the first jobs will be to replace the chestnut paling fencing protecting the oak pollards on West Wickham Common.
Spotlight on the small-leaved lime
Many trees will soon begin to unfurl their tightly-closed buds and fresh, green leaves will once again fill the canopy in the Spring Park woodland. One such tree, locally rare in Greater London but found at Spring Park, is Tilia cordata, commonly known as small-leaved lime. It is native to England, Wales and much of Europe and a fascinating species thought to have once dominated woodlands well before oak, and prized for its supple wood for carving and pliable bark in rope making. It’s coverage is now less widespread and it is considered an indicator of ancient woodland (that is a woodland that has existed continuously since 1600 or before in England); we are exceptionally fortunate to have a strong population of small-leaved lime at Spring Park!
The blossom of the small-leaved lime produces a sweet scent attracting a huge amount of pollinating insects. Its leaves also support the caterpillars of night-flying moths such as the lime hawkmoth, peppered and vapourer; some of the more colourful specimens in a world occupied mainly of brown moths!
One of its most obscure features, is that fertilisation of Tilia cordata only happens in temperatures above 15 degrees Celsius, so the tree tends to thrive better in warmer, southern areas of the UK. Given its association with hot summers in order to reproduce, the small-leaved lime is one of the trees expected to better cope with the changing climate and warmer summer temperatures. The small-leaved lime was featured as part of an exhibition and project led by Kew Gardens on plants suited to climate change. Using a scanning electron microscope to magnify the seed of the lime tree to 110 times, the photo by artist Rob Kesseler reveals an image in extraordinary detail and an up-close look of this amazing tree species.+ Discover more
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The City of London Corporation has seven green spaces in South London and Surrey covered by three charities: Ashtead Common, Coulsdon Commons and West Wickham Commons. Each charity has its own Newsletter and you can now:
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