Wildlife news from Bookham Commons - spring 2017

Water rail on Bookham Commons Surrey

It doesn’t feel like it, but this winter has been (until recently) one of quite low rainfall – giving rise to worries of drought, dry lawns and hose bans in the summer. It’s all to do with the water-table; the level of ground water deep-down in the bedrock, or ‘aquifer’, which is where most of our tap water comes from.

Low rainfall could affect our ancient oaks

My worry is that the magnificent oak trees on the commons could suffer if the water-table falls too much during the summer months... The broad-crowned veteran trees already have to contend with fungal attacks (through the roots as well as torn branches), insect infestations (usually leaf-munching moth caterpillars) and competition from younger trees. They can cope with one or two of these things at any one time, but add-in drought stress and we could lose even more of our ‘heritage oaks’.

Birds on Commons – shy water rail put in an appearance

The hard frosts of January led to the appearance (in the stream near the houses of Commonside) of the usually shy and elusive water rail, who had been denting his beak on the frozen pond margins.

Red kites, buzzards and sparrowhawks are all doing well, the presence of these top predators (raptors) indicating a healthy supply of prey.

The herons are thriving too – you can hear them squawking in the heronry near the Isle of Wight Pond. They have a hard time from the crows and the buzzards, though occasionally you can see them ‘giving it back’. There were five herons mobbing a buzzard the other day!

Teal, shoveler, gadwall, dabchick and shelduck on the ponds are testament to the success of our volunteers’ efforts.

Nightingale in decline

One bird that is cause for concern is the nightingale – these lovely choristers of the twilight have suddenly declined in the past couple of years and we’re taking steps to get their habitat right.

Our problem has always been a lack of funding for the scrub areas along the woodland edge (their favourite spots) but the Friends of Bookham Commons have come to the rescue with our ‘Life on the Edge Project’.

By securing a grant from the Surrey Community Foundation and adding their own fundraising efforts, they’ve paid for some outstanding work - pushing the woodland edges back and restoring suitable scrub and flower-rich grassland. This will encourage the wildlife and maintain this historic landscape for visitors too.

Ian Swinney
Area Ranger, Bookham Commons