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