What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity describes the variety of life on earth. This variety is usually understood in terms of the diversity of plant
and animal species, but it also refers to differences at all other levels of the natural world, including genetics, habitats and ecosystems.
Human activity is causing the loss of global biodiversity at an ever-increasing rate. Species need to be protected from extinction as they are valuable in their own right.
We also depend on huge number of plants and animals for our survival as they provide us with resources such as food, shelter and medicine. Additionally, a healthy environment helps protect us from the effects of climate change. At a local scale, parks and open spaces that are rich in wildlife are more enjoyable places to visit.
One of the ways in which the UK has responded to the need to conserve biodiversity is through the creation and implementation of a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
A Biodiversity Partnership was set-up in 2001 with the original intention of producing action plans for the borough’s wildlife.
However since the London Biodiversity Partnership were already producing action plans for many of the species and habitats we were concerned with, we decided to prioritise contributing to meeting their targets. Actions include those for protecting grey herons, peregrine falcons, house sparrows and conserving acid grassland.
The team advises Wandsworth Council on its responsibilities with respect to wildlife legislation; advises on best practice in ecological maintenance of parks. Phone 020 3959 0060 or email us.
Wildlife needs a variety of places to flourish in the city. In Wandsworth they include:
- Churchyards and cemeteries
- Parks and commons
- Private gardens
Many of our parks and open spaces are protected because of their importance for wildlife.
Download our designated local wildlife summary sheets.
Parks and commons
Urban parks can act as important wildlife sanctuaries and provide a place where people can engage with nature. If managed correctly, an open space can cater for the needs of biodiversity as well as the public.
Enable manages many large parks and open spaces, including:
- Battersea Park
- King George’s Park
- Wandsworth Common
- Tooting Common
We also manage several smaller parks, including:
- Wandsworth Park
- Falcon Park
- Garratt Park
- York Gardens
Many of our parks and public gardens have been designated as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) and some have statutory designations, such as Local Nature Reserves.
Your own garden might be the best place to see wildlife in the borough.
Just over 20 percent of Wandsworth is covered by private gardens. Gardens provide pockets of valuable green space which help maintain biodiversity, especially in urban settings. The fact that each gardener has their own personal preference means that every garden is different and creates a mosaic of habitat, which is key to wildlife interest.
Preliminary results from our garden survey show that Wandsworth’s gardens provide good habitats for a number of different animals. Over 40 different types of animal have been recorded, including:
- Common species like the robin, blackbird, frog and fox
- Unusual species such as the tawny owl and green woodpecker
- Rarer species such as stag beetles and bats.
Churchyards and cemeteries
Churchyards and cemeteries have many features which attract wildlife.
They are often home to some of our oldest trees, which provide nesting and roosting opportunities for birds and bats. In autumn, it is also common for fungus to rapidly spread up these trees from the tip of their roots. Trees in cemeteries are also good for mistletoe, a rare plant in London. (See the Species section for information).
Another familiar sight is an abundance of lichens on the lime-rich headstones.
Many animals that struggle to survive on intensively managed farmland can find a refuge on your allotment. It is possible to create suitable habitats for allotment-friendly wildlife whilst continuing to grow fruit and vegetables.
For information on encouraging wildlife to your allotment, download a copy of Natural England’s wildlife on allotments booklet.
As well as more common wildlife, Wandsworth is home to some rare or endangered plant and animal species. The following are listed as priority species for the London Biodiversity Action Plan:
- Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
- Buttoned snout moth (Hypena rostralis)
- Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
- House sparrow (Passer domesticus)
- Mistletoe (Viscum album)
- Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
- Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
- Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
- Stag beetle (Lucanus cervus)
- Water vole (Arvicola terrestris)
There are 18 species of bat in the UK, six of which have been recorded in Wandsworth (45 & 55 Pipistrelle, Noctule, Daubentons and Leislers).
You are most likely to see bats over lakes in parks, and along rivers, hedgerows and railway lines as they provide excellent foraging habitats for bats.
Bats have suffered serious decline during the past century, mainly due to loss of roosting sites and a decline in insect numbers and diversity. Home renovations such as filling cavity walls, converting lofts and treating timber with chemicals have also had negative impacts on bats.
They are fully protected by UK and European law due to their population status, which means it is illegal to injure or kill a bat, or block or destroy a roost.
Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) and Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
A robin-sized bird of the thrush family with a distinctive orange-brown tail. London is home to around 30% of the national breeding population, which itself is less than 100 pairs.
Black redstarts can be found on industrial sites along the River Thames and Wandsworth is known to have breeding pairs. The birds favour stony bare ground, sparsely vegetated areas and structures such as cranes, old jetties, piles of scrap metal, or disused building complexes. As these are often found on brownfield land, the birds are particularly vulnerable to redevelopment projects.
Linnets are another London Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) bird associated with brownfield sites that have been recorded in Wandsworth.
Buttoned snout moth (Hypena rostralis)
The buttoned snout moth is small and brown and at first glance not very interesting. However, it is a nationally scarce moth and as such has its own Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
Its larvae feed on hop plants during the night. It is particularly keen on hops growing along the ground rather than up a fence or wall, which are common on brownfield sites or railway line embankments.
In east Wandsworth, Buttoned snout moths have been recorded alongside tube lines. The tube lines not only provide the right habitat but also allow for colonies of moth to travel and mix, which ensures diverse genetics and a better chance of survival.
Grey heron (Ardea conerea)
Grey herons are the top of the food chain in freshwater habitats, feeding mainly on fish, but also frogs, voles and ducklings as the opportunity arises. As a top predator, their presence in an area can indicate a healthy freshwater environment.
Wandsworth leads the successful London Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for grey herons. The third largest heronry in London is on Battersea Park Lake. Approximately 30 nests are built on the islands each spring, which are used by around 90 herons.
House sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Until about twenty years ago, the house sparrow was a familiar sight in London. Their numbers have since fallen dramatically, for reasons that are not fully understood. A combination of factors have been blamed for their decline including changes in car exhausts fumes and the loss of habitat through paving over front gardens.
However, we still have several colonies of sparrows in Wandsworth, in areas with large back gardens and open spaces.
We are taking part in two projects with the RSPB to try to identify what could end this decline and encourage more sparrows back into central London: one project involves feeding sparrows extra seed throughout the year; the other will look at changes to the management of habitats to see if this provides more invertebrates for sparrows to feed their chicks. Read about the House Sparrow project
Mistletoe (Viscum album)
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which grows in the branches of deciduous trees.
A lot has been pruned out of trees over time due to fears about the damage it may cause to the host plant. This has caused a decline across Europe, which has been made worse by people collecting mistletoe without permission.
We only have a handful of locations where mistletoe grows in Wandsworth and so we are keen to find out if you have it in your garden. Please contact us if you do.
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Pennyroyal is a low growing, scrambling plant belonging to the mint family.
The erect, flowering stems appear from July to late autumn and produce dense whorls of lilac flowers with a strong and pungent smell. It prefers damp conditions where there is trampling and disturbance. It has been found in areas adjacent to the River Wandle.
Pennyroyal has suffered a catastrophic decline throughout the UK and is now classified as Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). It is specially protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and listed as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
This bird of prey is now colonising London as part of its national recovery. There are now around 2000 pairs in the UK. Largely a cliff-nesting species, peregrines readily take to nesting on large buildings in cities.
Battersea Power Station is home to a breeding pair who have raised young every year since 2000. The inner Thames marshes are an important feeding area for visiting peregrines in winter.
Four of the six British reptiles have been recorded in Wandsworth: the common lizard, slow worm, adder and grass snake. They all live on heathland, but the slow worm is most likely to also be found in gardens with a suitable habitat.
Reptiles are threatened by persecution and a lack of understanding and as such all species are fully protected by law.
Stag beetle (Lucanus cervus)
A significant number of Britain’s stag beetles are found in Wandsworth, although numbers are declining nationally.
Growing up to 5cm long, it is Britain’s largest beetle. With its prominent antler-like jaws, the stag beetle is a memorable sight. The females lay their eggs in dead wood, which the fat finger-sized larvae spend up to five years feeding on. Adults emerge between May and August, flying in an ungainly fashion in search of a mate.
How you can help protect them
Gardens appear to be the most important habitat for the stag beetle in London so you and your garden are probably crucial to the conservation of the stag beetle. Leaving old wood to decay naturally in your garden will provide them with a home and a future.
Look for them flying on the commons and in gardens.
Water vole (Arvicola terrestris)
Water voles are secretive creatures who create their homes in the banks along rivers, ponds and canals. They have a vegetarian diet, consisting mainly of grasses and bank vegetation.
Water voles were almost made extinct in the 1990s due to habitat loss and predation by introduced species such as the North American mink.
They are currently extinct in Wandsworth, but we have acquired funding to enhance the river bank habitat in King Georges Park as part of a wider project to reinstate them on the River Wandle.
Wildlife crimes involve any type of animal cruelty or the buying, selling, disturbing and harming of wild plants and animals which are protected by law.
Specific wildlife crimes include:
- Causing damage to nests, ponds, bat roosts or nature reserves
- Killing, taking from the wild, poisoning or poaching specieswhich are endangered or legally protected
- Taking the eggs, skins or feathers of protected animals and removing protected plants.
What happens when a wildlife crime is committed
- The crimes reduce the size of particular specie populations, threatening rare plant and animal species by pushing them closer to extinction.
- Wildlife crimes cause undeserved pain and suffering to animals while often being linked to other serious and large-scale crimes.
Wildlife crimes are a punishable offence. Currently fines are:
£5,000 for destroying a bat roost
£2,500 for interfering with a badger set
£2,800 for illegally selling protected fish
Bird recording in the borough
One of the biggest threats to biodiversity comes from development and land use pressure. Consequently, the planning system has a vital role to play in the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.
If you are planning some home improvement or any other kind of building work, there are laws designed to protect wildlife that you need to be aware of. Even if your building work does not require planning permission, wildlife legislation may still apply.
The key laws you need to be aware of are summarised:
Home improvements, wildlife and the law
- Bats and their roosts are fully protected under UK and European law. It is illegal to disturb, kill or injure a bat, or to damage, destroy or obstruct access to a roost.
You can find more information from the Bat Conservation Trust and in the Focus on Bats and Living with Bats booklets.
- Birds are fully protected under UK law. It is illegal to take, kill or injure any wild bird or to take, damage or destroy any nest or egg.
You can find more information on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
- If you know a protected species is using your property, you should get advice from Natural England before making a planning application that might affect it.
- Similarly, if you discover a protected species during building works, you must contact Natural England for their advice before you continue.
How home improvements can affect bats and birds
One key factor affecting these species’ survival is the lack of suitable sites where they can nest, roost, hibernate and rear their young. New building techniques often fail to take their needs into account; likewise, home improvement work can block what was once a suitable home: for example, an extension may remove hanging tiles which were used as a hibernating place for bats.
There are also types of building work that do not require planning permission, but where wildlife legislation still applies: for example, treating timber. Certain chemicals can kill bats or birds when used in a confined space such as a loft, but there are a number of safer alternatives.
How you can help protect wildlife
If you are planning renovation work, there are many features you can incorporate into the design to help attract wildlife to your property. Green roofs, swift bricks and bat boxes are just a few of the ways you can help conserve biodiversity in your own back yard.
London is thought of by many as a concrete jungle. We’d like to challenge that view. Urban areas are becoming increasingly important as refuges for wildlife and you will find a variety of animals and plants if you know where to look.
We are fortunate to be one of the ‘greenest’ London boroughs, with parks, open spaces and private gardens covering 40 percent of Wandsworth. There have so far been a total of 1,600 different species recorded within 27 different habitat types.
Several rare and endangered species can be found in Wandsworth, including peregrine falcons, black redstarts and stag beetles.
We aim to encourage more wildlife to our green spaces. We:
- Contribute to the London Biodiversity Partnership through planning and implementing specific Action Plans for wildlife
- Carry out ecological management of parks and lakes to ensure wildlife-friendly habitats
- Maintain up-to-date, accurate and accessible records of the habitats and species in the borough
- Offer advice and co-ordinate actions that can help wildlife locally.
The role of biodiversity officers
Biodiversity officers protect, manage and enhance the local environment and promote awareness and understanding amongst the general public. Our biodiversity team works with Wandsworth Council’s planning department to advise on wildlife issues associated with planning applications.
Contact our biodiversity team or call 020 3959 0060.
A local Biodiversity Partnership was set up in 2001 with a plan to produce action plans for the borough’s wildlife.
However, since the London Biodiversity Partnership were already producing action plans for many of the species and habitats we were concerned with, we decided to prioritise contributing to meeting their targets. Actions include those for protecting grey herons, peregrine falcons, house sparrows and conserving acid grassland.
Make your garden wildlife-friendly
The key to a successful wildlife-friendly garden is allowing space for nature. For example, slightly un-kept gardens provide a variety of habitats, places to shelter and sources of nectar. This will encourage wildlife such as insects, birds, amphibians and bats.
Top tips for a wildlife-friendly garden
- Leave areas of grass uncut and undisturbed.
- Choose a selection of plants which provide a variety of nectar, pollen and berries throughout the year.
- Provide nest boxes and seed/nut feeders for birds.
- Provide homes for mammals, such as hedgehog and bat boxes.
- Provide water for wildlife. Their need to drink and wash often gets overlooked!
- Create a log pile in a corner to provide shelter for amphibians and reptiles, as well as a food source for insects.
Taking some of these steps will help you play an important role in the survival of some of our more endangered species.
Be a responsible cat owner
- Place nest boxes and feeding tables out of reach of your cat
- Attach multiple bells to your cat’s collar, or even better a sonic collar
- Keep cats in at night, especially during the bird nesting season
- Neuter your cat at an early age to avoid unwanted litters, which often add to the feral population.
Be a responsible dog owner
Install a green roof
Tell us what you see
Health and wellbeing in parks
Spending time in parks can benefit your health and wellbeing. There are many ways to enjoy the wildlife of Wandsworth’s parks, from taking a gentle stroll to doing a vigorous early morning run or simply just spending a few hours relaxing in the sun.
Global studies have proven that visiting a park increases natural immunity whilst lowering blood pressure, pulse rates and Cortisol concentrations in the body – simply by spending time amongst plants and wildlife. Grass, for example, is a plant found in almost all green places which contains chemicals shown to improve mental wellbeing.
Other benefits of spending time in parks:
Maintaining overall good physical and mental health
Speeding up and aiding recovery from illness
Relieving stress and helping those with mental health conditions
Giving older people a better quality of life
Bringing local communities together through increased social interaction
Get healthy and boost your wellbeing for free
King George’s Park
Wandsworth Park and
Fungi is the name given to a strange group of living things including mushrooms, toadstools, moulds and thousands of other weird and wonderful things. It’s safe to say that if you see something strange growing outside, and you’re not sure what it is, it’s probably a fungus.
Unlike plants, Fungi cannot produce their own food. Instead they absorb nutrients from their surroundings. Fungi spend the majority of the year below ground as a mass of thread-like hyphae.
October is prime time for spotting mushrooms and toadstools in damp, wooded places. This is because the earth has warmed up and the weather itself usually warm and damp. This encourages fungi to send their fruiting bodies (equivalent of seed pods) above ground as mushrooms or toadstools. They disappear again once the frosts and cold persist into winter.
Fungi in the British Isles are fast disappearing because of loss of habitat, changing rural practices, intensive land management and over-picking. Yet scientists are now beginning to understand that many of the fungus species in our woodlands play an essential role in the welfare of trees; others are immensely important in dealing with dead materials turning them back into nutrients ready for plants to absorb.
Don’t pick mushrooms
Due to their value to our ecosystems and the difficulties in accurate identification, we ask you to not pick mushrooms in our parks, commons and open spaces.
If you have a photo of fungi from a park, common or open space in Wandsworth that you’d like to share with us please email us.
This a fast growing, highly invasive plant, which forms dense clumps up to three metres in height. It has large, oval green leaves and a stem that is hollow and similar to bamboo. See how to identify Japanese Knotweed (thanks to Devon Local Nature Partnership).
It can grow by as much as 2cms per day so it is very difficult to eradicate. The extensive underground root (rhizome) network can extend several metres around and beneath the vegetation above ground. A fragment of root as small as 0.8 grams can grow to form a new plant.
Japanese Knotweed is listed in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) – the purpose of this is to prevent the release into the wild of certain plants and animals which may cause ecological, environmental or socio-economic harm. An infringement under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) can result in prosecution.
If you have it in your garden
If you have Japanese Knotweed growing in your garden, it’s the role of the landowner to deal with the situation. Read information from DEFRA
Ensure you have correctly identified Japanese Knotweed – compare your plant to these photographs before you get it treated.
How to treat
- Japanese knotweed needs to be treated with “Glyphosate” which is available as a weed killer in most DIY and garden centres. Check the packaging as many items have a brand name (such as “Roundup” ) but Glyphosate will be listed as the active ingredient.
- Follow the manufacturers’ instructions to apply.
- You may need up to 3 applications a year for a few years but it will go eventually.
- It may be more effective to apply the chemical towards late summer/autumn so that the chemical can be drawn down into the plants as it dies off naturally each year.
Using a contractor
It is recommended that you ensure that any contractor you choose to use holds a Certificate of Competence to use herbicides. Also, ensure that you have included relevant specifications in any contract documents to prevent spread. Expect a contractor to use the “stem injection” technique – as this is a more effective way of administering the chemical than the more normal spraying.
What not to do
It is not recommended to remove Japanese knotweed manually as there is a strong possibility that the problem will be made much worse. The plant can regrow from incredibly small fragments of root, leaf or stem.
There is the issue of the disposal of any manually removed plant waste. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 classes Japanese Knotweed as ‘controlled waste’ and as such must be disposed of safely at a licensed landfill site according to the Environmental Protection Act (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991.
Soil containing rhizome material can be regarded as contaminated and, if taken off a site, must be disposed of at a suitably licensed landfill site and buried to a depth of at least 5m.
An infringement under the Environmental Protection Act can result in enforcement action being taken by the Environment Agency which can result in an unlimited fine. An individual can also be held liable for costs incurred from the spread of Knotweed into adjacent properties and for the disposal of infested soil off site during development which later leads to the spread of Knotweed onto another site.
Get further information, including on disposal.
If you find an injured animal in the borough, contact: RSPCA 0300 1234 999.
If you find an abandoned animal, it is recommended that you leave it alone. Parent birds and mammals often leave their young for short periods of time (sometimes in the most unusual places) to look for food. You should only intervene if the baby is in real danger (on a busy path for example) and it should be placed nearby where the parent can find it again. If you pick up and handle a young mammal, it will almost certainly be rejected by its mother as it will carry human scent. This does not apply to birds as UK species have a poor sense of smell. Young animals taken from the wild by well-meaning members of the public face a much lower chance of survival, and it puts added pressure on animal rescue centres who have to hand-rear them.
Feeding ducks and geese
We encourage you to admire the waterfowl from a distance but not feed the ducks and geese. The birds should be encouraged to forage for themselves on a natural diet of plants and insects. Although feeding ducks has always been a popular activity for people visiting their local park, it can have a negative impact on wildlife. Additional feeding can:
- Make waterfowl dependent on humans for food;
- Cause increases in their populations, leading to overcrowding;
- Increase nutrient levels and encourage algae to grow, which in turn decreases oxygen levels. As a result, the water quality deteriorates and can cause fish to suffocate, as well as affecting other wildlife in the lake;
- Cause mortality in young birds as they find bread difficult to digest;
- Attract rats and other vermin.
Learn more on how to keep our ducks healthy on the Canal River Trust website.
Foxes in your garden
- Remove food sources, such as bird or pet food on the ground, and secure bin lids
- Block up holes or gaps under structures where foxes can enter to make their home or ‘earth’. Ensure there are no foxes inside before blocking up any hole, as it is illegal to trap a fox within its earth
- Try chemical repellents (buy from most garden centres)
- Add a natural scent, such as curry powder which can also work
- Plant the Scaredy Cat plant (Coleus canina); it can also deter cats and dogs.
Find out more about the local authority pest control service, including foxes.
Hedgehog numbers: annual surveys of hedgehogs across the UK show an alarming decline in their numbers. This is likely to be due to agricultural intensification, which reduces the number of insects they can feed on, and certain features of our own gardens. Gardens can provide ideal habitats for hedgehogs; however, they also present dangers that can be devastating for them. When we replace garden fences or walls we often remove small openings that hedgehogs were using to travel between gardens in their territory. Hedgehogs can roam for up to two miles a night to forage for food and if they cannot access a garden which is on their usual route, it limits their ability to find food which may cause them to starve. Other hazards include:
- Entanglement in netting used for beans and peas or over ponds
- Bonfires being started where a hedgehog is hibernating
- Poisoning by garden chemicals used to kill their prey
- Being run over on the road.
How you can help hedgehogs
- Consider cutting a hole in the base of new fence panels to let hedgehogs pass through to next door
- If you must use netting in the garden make sure it is taut and well secured
- Make sure you fully turn over and check through any piles of leaves and other debris before lighting a bonfire
- Use garden chemicals sparingly
- Use a “beer-trap” (a pot of stale beer sunk in the ground) instead of slug pellets. It is an equally effective way of killing slugs. Or, put the slug pellets inside pieces of pipe or under stone slabs where hedgehogs can’t get at them. As an extra precaution, all dead slugs should be regularly removed.
Bees and wasps in autumn
Around the end of summer and beginning of autumn you may notice that our local bees and wasps seem to be particularly busy. We know this may be a worry (and annoyance) to many of you, but there is a simple explanation to why they are such busy bees at this time of year.
As the days get shorter, wasps and bees know that this is the time to start foraging and gathering food supplies to last them for the winter. You may notice that late flowering plants like ivy have an especially high number of bees, wasps and flies around them, and this is part of their effort to build their winter supplies from late flowering plants, and get the last sources of food they can.
As food becomes scarcer, some species might become bolder and potentially more aggressive as they are becoming desperate to find supplies to last the colony or individual through winter.
For these reasons it is best to keep well clear of any nests you come across, and certainly don’t make any attempts to damage them or swat them away as this can make them more aggressive. The best course of action is to report any potentially dangerous nests to us at email@example.com along with the location so that we can take necessary action to make the area safe for the public. This will normally involve putting up a notice for the public and cordoning off the area while the nest is particularly active. Bees and wasps are important pollinators so we will avoid having to remove nests as much as possible.
Many of you may have seen carp leaping out of our lakes. Among anglers it is a strongly debated topic, and there are a variety of reasons why the carp are believed to do this, which are explained below.
Carp, like many fish, have a swim bladder which naturally fills with gas as they change depth in the water column. They can use this to control their level in the water, so sometimes jump out of the water as a quick way to expel the gas from their swim bladder to alter their depth.
Jumping out of the water is also a way that carp clear their gills of silt, parasites, and other organic matter that can accumulate during feeding. Carp will push their head deep into silt on the base of the lake to find food so, naturally, silt and other debris can get stuck.
You can also see carp splash and thrashing at the surface of the water, and this is thought to be linked to multiple males following a female as she lays her eggs. It is also believed that female carp jump to loosen their eggs while spawning. These are the main reasons thought to be why carp jump, but who’s to say it isn’t just for fun!