Common hazel (Corylus avellana) catkins
Common hazel is a deciduous broadleaf tree native to the UK, and is found in the understorey of lowland oak, ash and birch woodland and amongst scrub and hedgerows.
The tree provides an important food source and shelter for wildlife and also has the most prominent catkins. As the catkins mature and the weather gets milder, they open to reveal a primrose yellow fluffing along its length. Each catkin is a flower head, comprised of about 240 small flowers, but it is only the male flowers which dangle and form catkins, it is said like ‘lambs’ tails’.
The female flowers grow in clusters from small buds above the catkins, but both male and female flowers are found on each tree, which means the Hazel tree is monoecious. Hazel trees are pollinated by wind and a single catkin will produce nearly nine million grains of pollen, which certainly helps the pollination with other Hazel trees!
Catkins were out and seen last month in some areas of the park, which is always a sign that spring is not far away. However given the current freezing temperatures and snowfall (at the time of writing), spring still seems far away!
Signage has been put up around the Skylark Protection Areas - Crown Field by the rugby pitches and Lawn Field by Lower Pen Ponds.
Skylarks nest on the ground and are easily disturbed by people and dogs so as a result, the numbers have significantly declined in Britain and in the park over the years.
However since we have introduced the protection zones, the numbers of breeding Skylarks have began to increase again so please respect the signs and keep your dog on a short lead and stay on the paths in these areas.
Migration of frogs, toads and newts
Frogs, toads and newts come out of hibernation and normally migrate sometime between February and March depending upon the weather. They move to get back to their breeding ponds and will move after dusk when it is damp and warmer than 5 degrees Celsius.
As there are numerous ponds within the park, especially near Ham Cross, large numbers of toads will be crossing the roads soon.
So if you’re cycling through Richmond Park at night, watch out for them and please be careful not to squash any!
Belted Galloway cows
The four Belted Galloway cows are still grazing the 4-hectare paddock on Sawyer’s Hill near to Holly Lodge. The cows have been grazing, trampling and therefore weakening the more vigorous grasses and coarser vegetation to create some bare ground, which will open up the sward and allow a flower-rich grassland to develop.
Bracken management and harrowing
Bracken dominates large areas of Richmond Park and whilst it provides important cover for the deer and ground nesting birds, it has the ability to encroach upon sensitive areas such as the acid grassland.
The shire horses have been preparing some additional areas by rolling then harrowing the dead bracken near to Ham Cross, Broomfield Hill and Holly Lodge. This work will be continued in the early part of March and before the start of the bird nesting season. These areas will then be added to the rolling programme this summer, as one of the techniques used, to control the spread of bracken.
Please remember the male deer are still being selectively culled this month until Sunday 18 March 2018. Therefore there will still be no access to Richmond Park for cars, bicycles or pedestrians from 8:00 pm to 7:30 am each day.
Veteran trees and protection
If you see wooden fencing or metal barriers erected around some of the ancient and veteran trees in the Park, please respect it and do not climb or go inside it. The fencing has been erected to keep people safe from falling branches or tree collapse and to protect the tree and its root system from trampling and compaction of the ground.