Trees on Barnes Common -  Important Updates from Mike and Will

December 2017

After years of focus on our ecologically and nationally scarce lowland acid grassland, it is good to let you know that our trees are getting more attention!  In preparation for discussions with the Tree Team at Richmond and Wandsworth, we have recently undertaken a rapid tree count and condition survey.  The first ‘surprise’ was to discover we have in excess of 40 species on the Common (although not all are native).  We also have some 4,000 trees either with a diameter trunk in excess of 30 cm, or classified as ‘mature’, depending on species. Immature trees and saplings were excluded for the purposes of this survey. 

From this initial survey, and in conjunction with the Arboriculture Manager for Richmond and Wandsworth, 108 trees of concern have been identified, and an active management plan agreed.  This will involve a variety of tree work over the next year or two, with some needing urgent attention.  Others will be inspected again in the Spring to see how well they come into leaf and/or monitored with an annual or bi-annual inspection.

Sadly a number of trees will need to be felled – typically where safety is a major concern due to roads, footpaths or heavy footfall.  Where we can, we will leave dead wood standing as long as it remains stable, since this provides valuable habitat.  Some trees will be left as standing monoliths, again valuable for some beetles which need to climb up ten to twelve feet before they can take off! Others will be left lying to provide rotting timber, but excess will be cleared away. You may also spot other changes that will include diversions of a couple of desire line paths and the use of temporary fencing  to take people away from trees which could drop limbs, but which we hope to maintain with careful management, as they are significant specimens.

Equipped with the information from this survey, we will be working with the Council to produce a Master Plan, drawing up agreed policies on such things as treatment of non-native species; identifying species suitable for replacement planting; transplanting or propagation of local species; recommended spacing - particularly with regard to new plantings; ensuring a range of maturities; as well as habitat creation for endangered species, such as stag beetles, bats, certain butterflies and other invertebrates.  This plan will also reflect the conditions for the Forestry Commission Improvement Scheme and Natural England Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, which already provides some funding to the council for the Common.

Although much of the work will be spread over years and will be subject to the policies agreed, we anticipate this will allow us to tackle what we see as an excess of Robinia in places, as well as Sycamore and Norway Maple.  It will allow us to remove self-seeded trees growing within the canopy of good specimen trees and enable us to create glades where needed.  In turn, the resulting increase in light levels should give more woodland flowering species a better chance to thrive.  We are also hoping to plant species known as good host trees for our less common species. Our existing coppicing programme fits into this Plan:  we will continue to coppice Hazel, using the timber for fencing, and hopefully, extend this to some Chestnut for posts and rails and to Willow for weaving and building up traditional woodland ‘crafts’. We plan to continue with, and to extend our existing policy, where we are bringing on appropriate species of saplings for transplanting.

Just as we are, after nearly twenty years, in sight of reaching our target for acid grassland by 2020, so we will have ten- and twenty-year targets for the woodland.  Change will not be instantaneous, although this winter may see more action than normal.  This is partly due to ‘catch-up’, and partly due to the sorry state of so many of our mature Horse Chestnuts.  Most of our failed or failing trees are naturally in their declining years:  In an urban environment such as ours, 80 is a good age for Horse Chestnuts and most of ours have reached, or exceed, their centenary.  The leaf miner moth attack, which affects them all, is not itself fatal for the trees, but it does stress them, leaving them prone to fungal attack.  Pruning and weight reduction are actually unhelpful, as they are then more prone to fungal attack via the wounds. We have 219 mature Horse Chestnuts on the Common. Many are in avenues along roads or footpaths where safety is a major concern, and you will therefore be more aware of the work being done. 

On the plus side, our losses are being more than matched by natural regeneration (even more so when augmented by selective planting).  With around 4,000 trees with a life expectation ranging from 50 years for Silver Birch to over 200 years for Ash, Oak and Plane, predicted losses are only marginally above natural attrition rates.  It is also arguable that some thinning and containment may be appropriate in some areas – but that will await the Master Plan and we hope that it will mainly be by removal of non-native species. We will advise you of plans and developments as they evolve.