Why are invertebrates important to the Royal Parks?
The Royal Parks cover 5,000 acres of land, containing a vast range of habitats. To date we have recorded over 4700 invertebrate species living in the parks, including over 1000 species of beetle in Richmond, over 1000 species of flies in Bushy, and 100 species of spiders in Brompton, including many that are rare and important.
Without invertebrates, the parks wouldn’t be the vibrant and climate-resilient spaces we enjoy today. Invertebrates play vital roles, including recycling organic material, pollinating plants, controlling populations of pests, and providing essential food for other creatures. All other wildlife in the parks relies on invertebrates – if we want the parks to be nature-rich spaces we need healthy populations of invertebrates
There is so much that can be done to help invertebrates thrive in London’s parks and greenspaces – read our About Mission: Invertebrate pages to find out more about what we are doing to support invertebrates in the Royal Parks
What do invertebrates do in the Royal Parks?
- Many invertebrates, such as woodlice, worms, millipedes and springtails, are known as “detritivores”, as they eat “detritus” or dead plant and animal material and recycle nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus back into the soil. In breaking down this organic material, detritivores create healthy soils, and in turn, healthy plants and trees. Healthy soil also allows rainwater to drain freely reducing flooding, and act as carbon stores, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and help limit the effects of climate change.
- In Richmond Park and Bushy Park, at least 24 species of dung beetles live in and eat the poo of our wild roaming deer and visiting cows. As they eat the dung, they help break it down, returning the nutrients to the soil.
- Springtails are tiny invertebrates up to 6mm in size that are found in abundance in soils and leaf litter - in one square metre of soil, there can be more than 40,000 individual springtails! As their name suggests, they have a special tail-like lever, called a furcula, which, when released, lets them ‘spring’ up to 20cm into the air, to help them move about and escape predators. See how they move here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwOL-MHcQ1w
- You can find a lot of dead wood in the Royal Parks – when branches and trees fall down, wherever possible, we try to leave the dead and decaying wood on the ground as it is a fantastic habitat and food source for the invertebrates that help to break it down. More than 2,000 British invertebrate species rely on dead wood at some stage in their life cycle such as the stag beetle, whose larvae live in and eat rotting wood for up to seven years before they emerge as adults. Invertebrates that depend on dead or decaying wood are called saproxylic invertebrates.
Invertebrates help keep trees and hedges healthy
- Over 165,000 trees grow in the Royal Parks and are important habitats for many invertebrates. The parks' large collection veteran and ancient oak trees alone can support over 280 different insect species.
- Many of these trees such as willow, hazel, and horse chestnut are visited by pollinating insects in search of nectar; this helps the trees to make fruits and fertile seeds.
- Hawthorn provides vital spring forage for many insects, including flies and beetles that breed in dead wood but need nectar and pollen as adults (known as saproxylic invertebrates). The veteran hawthorns in Bushy Park and Richmond Park are of international importance, supporting several rare species.
- With 77 million visitors enjoying the Royal Parks each year, that’s a lot of footsteps pounding the soil, which can take its toll by compacting some areas of ground. Invertebrates such as earthworms counteract this as they move through the soil helping to aerate (loosen) it. This helps plant and tree roots to access nutrients and water. Sometimes we put fences around very special trees to let the soil recover and help protect the trees for years to come.
Invertebrates pollinate plants
- Wildflower meadows and managed flower beds around the parks are home to nectar-rich flowers and plants throughout the year, including primroses and grape hyacinth in early spring, and ivy and hebe in autumn and winter. Pollinators visit these flowers to drink nectar and they pick up and transfer pollen between plants in the process.
- Pollination is important for helping our plants produce seeds and fruits. Around 80% of British wildflowers rely on insects, such as bees, flies, beetles and butterflies, for pollination. The UK has around 1,500 species of pollinating insect, many of which are in turn important sources of food for the birds and small mammals living in the Royal Parks.
- Birds and squirrels help with seed dispersal around the parks, and many ant species play a role in spreading seeds too. Some plants such as violet and wood anemone attract ants by producing a rich fatty structure attached to the seed, which the ant carries back to their nest where the seed is protected, allowing the plant to germinate and grow.
Invertebrates control pests
- Many of our invertebrates help control species humans consider to be pests, either by eating them, or by living on or in them - known as parasitism.
- Wasps are often vilified but many species are important pest controllers. In the UK, we have around 2,500 species of parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in or on other invertebrates for their wasp larvae to feed on. For example, a new chalcid wasp parasite species (Torymus spinosus) was identified for the first time in Britain in the Kensington Garden in 2018. While parasitism may seem gruesome, it prevents populations of certain species from growing out of control, helping keep a balance in the ecosystem.
- Aphids are often considered a pest by gardeners, eating beans and roses and leaving sticky reside on the leaves that can attract mould. However, an army of invertebrate predators, including ladybirds, and hoverfly and lacewing larvae feed on aphids, helping reduce damage to plants. A ladybird can eat up to 50 aphids a day!
Invertebrates feed wildlife
- Invertebrates are a vital part of the diet of many birds, fish, amphibians and small mammals found in the Royal Parks. Invertebrates get their energy from feeding on organic matter including plants, other invertebrates, and dead animals. This intake of energy then makes them good food sources for larger animals, allowing the movement of nutrients up the food chain.
- In The Regent’s Park, central London’s last breeding hedgehog population rely on a healthy supply of beetles, worms, slugs and snails for their dinner, and out in Bushy and Richmond Parks, a wide range of insects and other invertebrates provide food for the shrews and voles.
- At least 11 of the UK’s 17 bat species are found in the Royal Parks, including common pipistrelle, which can eat up to 3,000 small insects per night.
- Insects, worms, slugs and snails feed a fantastic array of birds found in the parks, including robins, long-tailed tits and reed warblers. Out on the lakes, ponds and rivers, the parks’ waterfowl, such as mallard duck and coot, include aquatic invertebrates, like mosquito larvae, mayfly, and pond snail, in their diet, as do many fish, frogs and toads, which are in turn eaten by larger birds such as kingfisher, heron, and great crested grebe.
Read our What is an invertebrate? page to find out more about invertebrates and the roles they play in Britain’s ecology.