Historic London parkland gets national recognition for its nature conservation importance
Two of London’s much-loved parks have been officially recognised as being among the most important places for wildlife in England.
Natural England’s Executive Board recently approved the designation of Bushy Park and Home Park in the London Borough of Richmond as a new Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
SSSIs represent the best sites for wildlife and geology and there are more than 4,100 SSSIs in England, covering around 8 per cent of the country. SSSI status gives legal protection that ensures that the nationally important wildlife and geology of a site is recognised in its management and future use.
Bushy Park and Home Park SSSI is of special interest for its exceptionally large population of ancient and veteran trees, extensive areas of semi-natural lowland dry acid grassland, and its internationally significant populations of rare invertebrates.
More than 200 veteran trees have been identified at the site of which 94 are classed as ancient. The site is the highest ranking of ten comparable sites in the Greater London area and one of only 44 sites nationally known to support more than 100 veteran trees. The trees at Bushy Park and Home Park are rare relicts of a wood-pasture management on the site that dates back to the 15th Century. The trees include oak and lime with some horse chestnut and sweet chestnut and approximately sixteen other species of tree. A notable feature is the occurrence of a large number of very old hawthorn trees, many of which are festooned with mistletoe.
The great age of many of the trees at the site provides an abundance of dead and fallen timber. Inside these trees there is a succession of fungi which actively break down the heartwood to produce a rich internal wood mould. This habitat, often deep within a large living tree, provides the perfect environment for specialised saproxylic (wood feeding) invertebrate species.
The site is home to so many rare and threatened species of wood feeding invertebrates that it ranks amongst the top five in Britain for this highly specialised group of creatures, for which Britain has international importance
The majority of the 540ha site that has been notified as SSSI is held in trust by the Crown Estate. Bushy Park is managed by The Royal Parks and Home Park by Historic Royal Palaces who have both welcomed the SSSI designation and are looking forward to working with Natural England’s Thames Valley team over the future sympathetic management requirements of the special interest of the site.
Janette Ward, Natural England’s Director for Conservation Strategy and Innovation, said: “We are delighted to be able to notify Bushy Park and Home Park as England’s latest SSSI and pleased that the new designation has been supported by both the Royal Parks and Historic Royal Palaces.
“The SSSI status will help to protect a very important site for rare habitats and species and provides a great opportunity to enhance both the wildlife and people’s access to nature in one of London’s historic green spaces.”
Nicholas Mallory Garbutt, Tree and Wildlife Conservation Manager, Historic Royal Palaces, said, “We are delighted that Home Park has received this recognition of its national significance for wildlife conservation. This historic deer park is a vital part of Hampton Court Palace’s history, which has been enjoyed by everyone from King Henry VIII, to the many visitors who flock to the Hampton Court Flower Show every year.
“The results of recent wildlife surveys show that the historic trees and acid grassland of the park provide an important habitat for wildlife conservation, and we look forward to working with Natural England to continue to preserve this environment for future generations.”
Ray Brodie, Manager of Bushy Park, Royal Parks, said: “This is a great accolade for Bushy Park and confirms what we have long-known to be true: that Bushy Park is one of the finest sites in England for wildlife and ecology. Bushy Park contains many rare and important species and habitats including rare stag beetles and around ten different species of bat.
“The Royal Parks works hard to conserve and protect this unique environment, while also ensuring that Bushy Park is a peaceful haven for the many thousands of visitors who come each year to relax, unwind and enjoy the natural surroundings.”
There is now a four month period when people with an interest in the site can make representations or objections to Natural England. Natural England’s Board will then consider any unresolved objections before deciding whether to formally confirm the site’s new status.
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A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is one of the country’s very best wildlife and/or geological sites. SSSIs include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats: wetlands teeming with wading birds, winding chalk rivers, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland peat bogs. There are more than 4,100 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England, covering around 8% of the country’s land area. More than 70% of these sites (by area) are internationally important for their wildlife and designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) or Ramsar sites.
A ‘veteran tree’ is usually in the second or mature stage of its life and has important wildlife and habitat features including; hollowing or associated decay fungi, holes, wounds and large dead branches. It will generally include old trees but also younger, middle aged trees where premature aging characteristics are present.
The term ‘ancient tree’ refers to trees of interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally because of their great age; trees in the ancient or third and final stage of their life; and, trees that are the old relative to others of the same species.
Bushy Park and Home Park SSSI, London Borough of Richmond was notified as an SSSI by Natural England on 5 September 2014. The site is located to the south west of London in the Borough of Richmond within the Thames Valley National Character Area: national grid reference TQ159692. Further information can be obtained from Graham Steven at Natural England, Cromwell House, 15 Andover Road, Winchester, SO23 7BT, telephone number: 0300 060 0398. Any representations or objections about this notification should be made in writing to Graham Steven at the address above, before 5 January 2015.