A rare com­mon

Chor­ley­wood has a gem at its heart – a com­mon with a range of beau­ti­ful habi­tats that are havens for wildlife

Hertfordshire Life - - COUNTRYSIDE - WORDS: Neil Duffield Neil Duffield is a projects of­fi­cer at Coun­try­side Man­age­ment Ser­vice, Herts County Coun­cil

Chor­ley­wood Com­mon is a Lo­cal Wildlife Site at the heart of Chor­ley­wood parish, in the south-western cor­ner of Hert­ford­shire. Its mo­saic of open grass­lands, ponds and broadleaved wood­lands are a plea­sure to visit and ex­plore at any time of the year but now es­pe­cially so. At this time of year the com­mon ig­nites with vi­brant au­tumn colours as oak, birch and rowan trees pre­pare for win­ter, while the yew and holly trees main­tain patches of ver­dant ever­green. The de­cid­u­ous trees un­dergo leaf loss due to hor­monal changes trig­gered by re­duc­ing day length and lower tem­per­a­tures; this con­serves en­ergy and re­sources for win­ter, and re­duces leaf area to pre­vent stress in win­try weather.

Wood­land habi­tats are con­stantly chang­ing as trees com­pete to take ad­van­tage of any avail­able space and light, al­beit at their own slow pace. It takes decades for oak trees to

reach ma­tu­rity and cen­turies for them to reach the grand size we as­so­ciate with the species. While there are a hand­ful of ma­ture oaks on Chor­ley­wood Com­mon, the over­all wood­land is rel­a­tively young as it has es­tab­lished over the past 70-80 years. Only the birch trees, which have a quicker life cy­cle, con­tain ‘ vet­eran’ fea­tures in­clud­ing dead­wood, cracks and crevices of­fer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for wildlife in­clud­ing fungi such as birch poly­pores, bee­tle lar­vae, bats and wood­land spe­cial­ist birds such as the great spot­ted wood­pecker and treecreeper.

Chor­ley­wood Parish Coun­cil man­ages the wood­lands to pro­vide the op­ti­mum en­vi­ron­ment for trees to ma­ture, which in turn pro­vides plen­ti­ful re­sources for other species to live on. This is why oak trees are an ex­am­ple of ‘ecosys­tem en­gi­neers’ –their pres­ence cre­ates habi­tat on and around them. Main­tain­ing a re­gen­er­at­ing un­der­storey with a new gen­er­a­tion of trees is also vi­tal, and is achieved through small in­ter­ven­tions in­clud­ing thin­ning trees with poor form and re­mov­ing in­va­sive species such as cherry lau­rel.

With the pres­ence of such ma­jes­tic trees and their au­tumn colours, you’d be for­given for think­ing that the wood­lands are the crown­ing glory of the com­mon. How­ever, the grass­lands are equally impressive in sum­mer, and it is these wild­flower-rich ar­eas that are per­haps the com­mon’s most valu­able as­set: Around 97 per cent of the UK’s wild­flower mead­ows have dis­ap­peared dur­ing the 70 years or so that it has taken the wood­lands on Chor­ley­wood Com­mon to establish.

The grass­lands here are grad­u­ally be­ing en­hanced, pro­vid­ing op­ti­mum con­di­tions for wild­flower abun­dance and diver­sity to in­crease. Care­ful man­age­ment by a Ranger Team, and guid­ance and fund­ing from agri-en­vi­ron­ment grant schemes, are key com­po­nents in man­age­ment, and the long-horn cat­tle here are an es­sen­tial tool to keep on top of grass growth to en­cour­age wild­flow­ers to re-establish. An ad­di­tional bonus is the pres­ence of cal­care­ous, neu­tral and acid grass­lands. It is un­com­mon to find this va­ri­ety within a rel­a­tively small area.

The above habi­tats to­gether with ar­eas of scrub, heath­land and the at­trac­tive ponds, which have been re­stored to a good eco­log­i­cal stan­dard, pro­vide for a high diver­sity of in­ver­te­brates on the com­mon, with at least 22 but­ter­fly and 720 moth species recorded.

To ex­plore Chor­ley­wood Com­mon in its au­tumn glory, cir­cu­lar walk­ing trails are signed and ac­cessed from the main park­ing ar­eas. Thanks to its welldrain­ing soils, ac­cess re­mains good even dur­ing win­ter months. Please note that cy­cling is not per­mit­ted on the com­mon. The site is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from A404 Rick­mansworth Road, or by rail via Chor­ley­wood Sta­tion on the Metropoli­tan un­der­ground and Chiltern na­tional lines.

If you are vis­it­ing in the com­ing months, look out for the ex­cel­lent new wood sculp­tures. In the near fu­ture, in­for­ma­tion boards and maps will be ren­o­vated to pro­vide fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the habi­tats and his­tory of the site and a new com­mu­nity ac­tiv­ity pro­gramme is also un­der­way. Chor­ley­wood Con­ser­va­tion Ranger, Daniel du Gard, said of the pro­gramme: ‘It’s im­por­tant that the lo­cal com­mu­nity is fully in­vested in the com­mon and part of my role is to make the com­mon ac­ces­si­ble to a wide range of users. We are achiev­ing that through reg­u­lar walks, talks and prac­ti­cal ac­tiv­i­ties that ev­ery­one can get in­volved with.’

ABOVE:Brown ar­gus and other species of but­ter­fly feed on the wild­flow­ers

Male great spot­ted wood­pecker on a sil­ver birch – one of the wood­land species on the site

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