We’re working hard to provide the best environment for wildlife across London’s eight Royal Parks. Here’s a look at the work we do and why we do it.
Our parks contain more than 170,000 trees (some are more than 500 years old and classed as ancient!), and thousands of species of animal and plants live in the 5,000 acres managed by The Royal Parks charity.
But these are enclosed environments within an urban setting, where wildlife cannot be completely left to its own devices. Over time, populations of some species may grow to an unsustainable level – potentially harming other species and the landscape.
It’s down to us to make sure that wildlife is monitored and cared for so that all species can co-exist and thrive in the parks’ delicate ecosystems.
And this requires round-the-calendar monitoring and management which we carry out to the highest standards.
As much as possible, we strive to leave wildlife to co-exist as nature intended. But occasionally, we do need to step in.
Supporting vulnerable species
To start with we’re running a number of programs to support struggling species.
For example we’re very fortunate to have a small population of water voles along the Longford River. But these delightful creatures are under serious threat - and a UK priority species for conservation. So we’re investigating how we can re-introduce voles that have disappeared, back into Bushy Park.
We’re protecting the increasingly vulnerable hedgehog. They’re declining across the UK because of habitat loss and poor management of hedgerows. And there are very few places you’ll see one in London. In fact The Regent’s Park is now the only place you’ll find a breeding population in central London, counting some 30-40 hedgehogs. Our hedgehog team works in The Regent’s Park in May and September every year to monitor the prickly creatures and to find ways to create the best habitat for them to help them do well - for instance they need somewhere to hibernate, so our park management team is careful not to always clear piles of leaves at the base of trees
We’re also collecting information about grassland insects to help park managers provide better habitats for wildlife – a project we’ve called Mission: Invertebrate. Thanks to this project we’re re-establishing meadows just half a mile from Oxford Street which we hope will become a haven for many species.
Maintaining the ecosystem
But there is the other side of the coin to consider. When there is absolutely no alternative, management can also involve humanely controlling small numbers of certain animals as a last resort. Without this careful control other species across the parks could fail to thrive or disappear altogether.
For example we may need to destroy rats if populations become too large, as they can carry diseases and parasites that are potentially harmful to humans and other animals.
We may need to control small numbers of pigeons if numbers get out of control as they can carry disease. Or we may need to manage crows and magpies, which are predatory birds that raid the nests of other birds, stealing eggs and chicks.
Importantly The Royal Parks is also an expert manager of enclosed deer herds in Richmond and Bushy Parks. In Richmond Park, more than 600 Red and Fallow deer have been roaming freely since 1637 and in Bushy Park a population of more than 300 deer have lived there since the times of Henry VIII. The deer have played a major role in the history of the parks and have shaped the landscape too, creating grasslands of such quality that these parks have been designated sites of special scientific interest. But they wouldn’t be the strong and healthy creatures they are today if it wasn’t for expert management. The herds are under veterinary supervision, and we cull the animals during two periods each year to keep them at a sustainable size.
Without population control, excessive herd sizes would lead to sickness in the deer through a build-up of parasites and diseases, with weaker deer vulnerable to exposure from the cold during winter. We also want to ensure that only healthy deer breed each year to maintain a strong herd in the years to come.
And finally some animals not only damage other wildlife but also the landscape. For example squirrels predate bird’s nests, eating young birds and eggs, but also can cause major damage to trees by stripping bark, increasing their susceptibility to disease or even death, as well as removing flower buds from trees and shrubs. Populations could grow out of control if they were not humanely controlled. And unfortunately numbers of squirrels are increasing at a greater rate than nature intended because of visitor feeding.
Parakeets too eat shoots, buds and seeds from trees causing extensive damage. We have stepped in, in the past, to control the numbers of these birds. But the good news is these populations now appear to be stabilising. As with all wildlife we will continue to monitor the situation.
We don’t take any of this lightly. Our ultimate aim is to ensure that no animal suffers and our teams are fully trained in animal welfare, operating to the highest standards.
We can all do our bit
Visitors can help too. It might seem a bit of harmless fun but overfeeding, such as throwing bread to birds or littering and leaving behind the remains of picnic lunches can provide an easy food source for animals. This can lead to populations of certain species unnaturally expanding.
Not only that but overfeeding can have a very negative effect on the environment. Throwing a few crusts to the ducks appears a kind thing to do but it can actually cause the birds harm. Bread doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value and it makes ducks feel full – so they don’t forage for the healthier food they would normally eat. This can cause malnutrition and make them ill. Any left-over bread can lead to greater algal growth in the waterways. Algae can produce toxins which in great amounts can poison wildfowl, especially over the summer months.
It also would be a huge help if people could pick up their dog waste. Worming agents given to dogs contain chemicals called bisphosphates, which make the way into the dog’s faeces. This can then act as insecticide – and destroy the populations of insects that provide the basis for a thriving ecosystem of plants and animals. Another way to help would be to make sure dogs that have had flea treatments are kept out of waterways for at least a week. This is because pet flea treatments contain strong insecticides that are highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates.
Through this effective management we’re able to create the best environment for all wildlife in our parks, so that visitors can interact with nature on their doorsteps, stepping away from the hustle and bustle of city life and into the tranquillity of the park land.
And together with your help we’ll be able to continue to provide thriving green spaces for millions to enjoy for many years to come.
Simon Richards, Head of Parks Operations, The Royal Parks