Countryside volunteer bulletin: April 2023
Written by our countryside volunteers
This article covers some of the great work volunteers have been doing on Littleworth Common over the last year.
Firstly, however, in order to continue this important work, we need more volunteers to join us. So, if you’re working from home and fancy a couple of hours break or are retired and keen to help improve your local environment, then this is for you!
The volunteers are a friendly bunch and come from all walks of life and ages. No experience is necessary as our friendly countryside ranger will provide all the guidance and tools you need. This isn’t a long-term commitment, just come along when you can.
Please find enclosed information on how to volunteer with the Countryside Team. If you email the team, a countryside ranger will be in touch.
Now a bit about Littleworth Common!
Littleworth Common is host to a delightful range of habitats from ponds, damp grassland,varied woodland and dense thicket. Approximately 108 acres (44 hectares) in size, it is bounded to the south and east by the Rythe as it weaves its way from Claygate, under Littleworth Road, the Kingston bypass and onto the Thames.
To the North it is hemmed in by the busy Portsmouth Road and the chaotic Scilly Isles roundabout and to the West by the rather calmer Littleworth Common Road.
Originally known as Ditton Marsh, Littleworth Common is a low-lying area which is why it’s often so wet. Previously an open wet heath and acid grassland common, it was well known as home to heathland fauna such as adders, which disappeared in the 1970s as the woodland gradually closed in.
This 1928 aerial photo of the Scilly Isles shows the heath surrounded by a stunning area of open countryside as far as the eye can see. Shortly after this photograph was taken Hinchley Wood Station was built in partnership with a residential developer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Littleworth Common is bisected by the long straight Littleworth Road which has sadly become a dumping ground for fly tippers and passing motorists.
Littleworth Common has avoided over-use due to its lack of car parking and by being wet and impassable in the winter and mosquito–riven in the summer. However, following a successful Community Infrastructure Levy application, funds became available to cut back tree, widen paths and install two all-weather paths . This will make access much easier and by all accounts much appreciated by many users.
Many areas of the common offer open woodland paths with pleasant vistas through the trees. However due to a lack of management other areas have become overgrown with Laurel, Rhododendron and Holly which dominate the understory and cut out the light to the woodland floor.
As the photograph below Illustrates, in some places the understory has become so dense it has drastically reduced any chance of the development of wildflowers and insects.
However, countryside volunteers have been busy over the winter months selectively thinning the understory along an area of Littleworth Path to let light in and allow plants such as bluebells, lesser celandine and wood anemone re-establish, boosting biodiversity and making the woods a more pleasant place to stroll.
The results have been dramatic but there is still much work to do. Further clearance of the understory will be undertaken once the current nesting season is finished in September and be followed up over the years by rotational 30% thinning of sycamore, turkey oak and other undesirable tree species and keeping the holly in the understorey in check. Invasive non-native species such as laurel and rhododendron - which stifle native tree regeneration and ground flora - will also be removed. It will be interesting to see what wildflowers pop up in subsequent years as a result of these works!
Apart from the muddy paths, the only evidence of the wet heath of old are the ponds adjacent to the Portsmouth Road which provide a rich habitat forFrogs, toads, newts, dragonflies and damselflies, and myriad other aquatic invertebrates.
Over the last year and a half the Elmbridge Countryside staff and volunteers as well as the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project have carried out willow coppicing to create a mosaic effect in the habitat, providing different niches for different species.
Cutting willow stimulates vigorous multi-stemmed regrowth, providing dense nesting habitat for skulking bird species like chiffchaff and blackcap.
Coppicing is done on rotation (one or more small areas done in one year, followed by the next area(s) the following year, and so on) to create this mosaic effect. This also ensures a continuous dynamic presence of ground flora and grasses in the newly opened up areas.
This important wetland area is home to small mammals like shrews and field voles (which are a key prey item for many other creatures like weasels, kestrels and owls) as well as amphibians, and invertebrates like wainscot moths, dragonflies and gall flies.
The cuttings generated from coppicing are woven into dead hedges. These have been built along the edge of the ponds to deter our canine friends from jumping in and disturbing wildlife and harming the delicate aquatic habitat which is home to this wide array of species. Thank you to those of you who do keep your dogs out of the ponds!
A bank vole found on the edge of the ponds.
Frogs find the damp grassland and ponds an ideal habitat.
There is enormous potential to improve this wonderful and diverse countryside site but it will require more work by volunteers so please come and join us!
Find out more about the Elmbridge countryside sites.
We look forward to seeing you in the woods soon!