Introductory text needed
Lying only about seven miles from Charing Cross, Wimbledon Common is a comparatively natural large open place close to Central London and thus occupies an important place for wildlife in our area. Together with Putney Heath it covers about 400 hectares, or about 1.5 square miles, virtually contiguous with the huge expanse of Richmond Park to the west, but otherwise surrounded by suburbia.
The Common consists virtually of a gravel-based plateau of heathland with copses of birches and oak, falling away on the western side as wooded slopes on a clay soil before reaching the Beverley Brook with its narrow strip of alluvium, covered mainly by thorn scrub. A golf course stretches across the south-western part of the plateau, and there is an extensive area of playing fields along the western edge of the Common bordering the Brook and the A3 Kingston by-pass. An area of Putney Heath now partly separated from Wimbledon Common by the A3 trunk road is included in the area covered.
There are a few small to medium-sized ponds scattered about the Common, none of which alas are really large enough to attract rare waterfowl on a regular basis. The plateau has extensive areas of short heather, a large meadow – about one third of which is regularly mown for recreational purposes -, rough grassland interspersed with birches, some parcels of woodland, areas of gorse and a few patches of bramble scrub.
During the 1980s, these open areas once boasted such regular breeders as the Skylark, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler and both Meadow and Tree Pipits, but sadly these have all now virtually disappeared. In fact, with the exception of our waterfowl, in the year 2011 an unparalleled situation was reached whereby we had no species nesting on the Common that do so exclusively on the ground. Whilst one takes into account all the possible reasons for these declines, one cannot help but apportion some of the blame on the Common’s popularity these days, and perhaps more relevant to our ground nesters, the vast number untethered dogs rummaging now compared to the 1980s.
By contrast, the majority of our woodland birds are thriving, not least because their nesting sites are out of reach – the exceptions being the Bullfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, with the latter being absent from the Common’s 2012 bird list for the first time since records began in 1974. Meanwhile the Bullfinch, once a fairly common breeding bird, is now a very scarce winter visitor.
Another fact indicative of the pressures put on the Common these days is that out of the 102 species recorded in 2012 only 44 bred or probably bred; this compares with 51 out of 86 back in 1974, this despite having since gained seven new breeding birds - those included in the 1974 list but currently no longer breeding are Pheasant, Cuckoo, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow - with the Willow Warbler making a welcome return in 2012, establishing two territories ( 119 in 1982).
148 species recorded since annual bird reports began in 1974, with the numbers of breeding species fluctuating between 43 and 51 during the period.
Grounded Highlights: Pink-footed Goose, Goldeneye, Smew, Hen Harrier, Stone-curlew, Barn Owl, Nightjar, Wryneck, Woodlark, Black Redstart, Yellow-browed Warbler, Willow Tit, Golden Oriole. Hawfinch.
Like other local patches, the number of species recorded each year tends to vary along with the amount of coverage, which during recent years has been very good, with just over 100 species being recorded in each of the last three years, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
One way, perhaps the most common, is to walk from Wimbledon station (15 mins North), or catch a bus up the hill. The 93 bus passes the East side of the common. From Putney, bus routes 93, 14 and 85 take you to Putney Heath.
You can also walk from Southfields underground station. (District Line) Head West up the hill and follow the road round in either directions when it forks (15 - 20 mins).
There's a car park at the windmill cafe - access from Wimbledon Park Side. There is also a car park at the end of Barham Road, which is situated adjacent to the Beverley Meads area at the southern end of the Common. Street parking (free) is also available in some stretches of the Wildcroft Road on Putney Heath.
Cafe with toilets. Also, Windmill museum £2 entry, and information centre (free).