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Habitats and species in Hillingdon

Hillingdon is one of the most biodiverse boroughs in London. Its rich mixture of woodlands and scrubs, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, gardens and parklands are home to many rare as well as common species of plants, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals and reptiles. Even the wastelands in Hillingdon have a lot to offer for wildlife.

Woodlands

Hillingdon's woodlands are dominated by the great expanse of Ruislip Woods, one of London's first National Nature Reserves and a very special place. However there are many other woodlands throughout the Borough, some of them 'ancient' dating from at least 500 years ago and others resulting from the widespread planting of coverts and plantations a hundred or so years ago. The value of many of the smaller woodlands is still being explored. The trees of the ancient woods are generally much younger than the woodland itself, which has continuously regenerated itself as trees have fallen or been cut down for use.

The shimmering spring sea of Bluebells is one of the finest sites in some of Hillingdon's best woodland, including the glorious Old Park Wood, but there is much more. Besides the grandeur of the trees themselves, birds, mammals and insects are there in abundance although they are not always easy to see.

Variety is the spice of life, and everything from dead wood to new young growth has its place and supports its own special wildlife, from bats to badgers and wasps to woodpeckers. Those responsible for managing the woodlands aim to keep that variety, but some areas lack that sort of care and may decline as a result.

Of course the wildlife doesn't stop at the woodland edge, and the richness of the wildlife will be even greater where nearby hedgerows, meadows, and pastures add to the variety. The bird life may be particularly good in such areas, with so many nesting and feeding opportunities.

Grasslands

Open grasslands, which include meadows, pastures, chalk grassland and heathland, are another of Hillingdon's special wildlife habitats for which we rate highly in London. We are also well off compared to much of the countryside further out which has been damaged by development or agricultural improvements.

Chalk grassland and sandy heathland are represented by fine examples in Hillingdon: Coppermill Down SSSI with its spectacular orchids, and Poor's Field next to Ruislip Woods. However it is with neutral grassland that Hillingdon really scores: we have 19% of the total area in London. These flower-rich meadows support a wonderful array of plants and insects, with the picture changing throughout the year and reaching its peak in high summer when the shady woodlands are very quiet by contrast.

The typical butterflies of grassland, such as Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, and the Skippers may be seen in abundance, often together with colourful day-flying moths. Grasshoppers and bush crickets also thrive, and their variety has increased in recent years.

These meadows are scattered throughout the Hillingdon, but are concentrated in the centre of the Borough and close to the rivers. Particularly fine examples can be found close to the Frays in Ickenham and astride the Yeading Brook through North Hillingdon and North Hayes.

Meadows can become overgrown, especially when hawthorn and blackthorn scrub surrounds them, and many of the special plants and insects may be lost if this happens. Carefully controlled cattle-grazing and hay-cutting are what is needed to keep the meadows in good condition, but that is not always easy to arrange in a suburban area.

Even where the grassland is uninteresting for flowers it can suit birds like the inspirational Skylark and other farmland birds which are declining in many parts of the country.

Wetlands

Water and wetlands are a dominant part of the wildlife picture in Hillingdon, with around 20% of London's standing water estimated to be found here. The wetlands range from the long chain of reservoirs and disused gravel pits down the Colne Valley to the marshy areas to be found within the woodlands and meadows.

The special wildlife ranges from the tiny, rare, Desmoulin's Whorl Snail to the majestic Grey Heron. All this water makes Hillingdon a rich area for dragonflies and damselflies, and for many birds that are at home in the reeds and around the water's edge. In the winter, many more wildfowl move in, making the lakes a mecca for birdwatchers.

Whilst the lakes thrive, the field ponds scattered through Hillingdon are in a less happy state. Many are almost forgotten, and as they dry out and become overgrown so their unusual wildflowers, spectacular dragonflies, newts, frogs and toads decline. Hillingdon has long been a stronghold for Great Crested Newts, but they must now be struggling in many areas.

Fortunately garden ponds have become important as a replacement for the lost ponds of the countryside, but not everything finds them suitable or is mobile enough to find them.

Rivers

Hillingdon may not have a share in the River Thames, but it does have a number of other rivers, parts of which can compare with the best and which give Hillingdon a unique landscape within London. The Colne is the biggest, and has a number of subsidiary channels. Then there are the Frays River (man-made, but very old), the Yeading Brook, the Pinn, and the two man-made channels in the south of the Borough: the Wraysbury and the Duke of Northumberland's.

Many stretches are fine, and support a rich array of wildlife including dragonflies and birds. Hillingdon must be as good a place as anywhere to see Kingfishers. Water voles have declined catastrophically in many parts of the country, but parts of Hillingdon have thriving colonies along the riverbanks and field ditches.

Some stretches of our rivers however are in a bad way, inhospitable to wildlife and at risk from pollution. They need protection from pollution as well as physical work to make them more attractive to people and wildlife.

Wasteland

Wasteland might seem a strange habitat to celebrate for its wildlife value, but nature looks at things differently. The remains of old industrial sites may turn into just what some wildflowers and animals are looking for, and they may do better there than in other open spaces which are tidied up rather too much.

There are likely to be lots of varied micro-habitats, and a variety of opportunist flowers that have found their way onto the site in various ways. Buddleia may be one of the most colourful, and that means plenty of visiting butterflies. Birds too can find a variety of undisturbed nest sites.

Such sites are mostly to be found in the south of the Borough, where they add variety to the already rich wildlife of the rivers, canals, and lakes. The danger is that they will wrongly be seen as of little value to wildlife, and subject to wholesale redevelopment instead of a more gentle clearing up which allows more people to enjoy the sites without the wildlife being lost.

Parks and gardens

Even though the closely-mown grass of a formal park is of little value for wildlife, many of Hillingdon's parks contain fine mature trees supporting birds, bats and beetles - especially the spectacular Stag Beetle for which Hillingdon is a stronghold.

There are also the newly-designated Country Parks such as at Lake Farm and Minet, where a different approach to land management can be taken and wildlife given more opportunities to flourish.

The value of gardens in the wider wildlife picture may be overlooked, but large mature gardens can harbour a great deal and may help to form vital green links or sanctuaries. Even smaller gardens can make a difference if they are designed and looked after with wildlife in mind: ponds are especially valuable, and much can be done to attract birds and butterflies.

 

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Article utilities:  Bookmark and Share Print Print this page Last updated: 14 Dec 2015 at 10:40