During yesterday’s Wild Capital nature walk in Richmond Park we came across all kinds of natural wonders…
Richmond Park is the largest of all the Royal Parks; it is a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Conservation Area. We were lucky to be exploring the park in lovely sunshine today, with a cool wind reminding us that winter had not long passed. We began our activities at Pen Ponds car park with a coffee and a chat about our plan for the day. Soon after we were making our way down a path running through the centre of the park towards Isabella Plantation. A herd of Red Deer were not far away and we stopped to view them and discuss the 700 approx deer in the park, both red and fallow. Heading on we talked about the history of the park from the time of Charles I, and how a put-out brewer got the park reopened to the public in the 19th century.
Before us stretched the lowland acidic grassland which makes this park such an important site. The number of deer are carefully managed to keep the scrub and woodland and bay but not over graze this habitat. Everywhere we looked we could see ant hills belonging to Yellow Meadow Ants. These animals are aphid farmers and carry out most of their lives within the mounds, with queens and drones emerging on the wing to breed in July. The ants provide a continuous food supply for the green woodpecker, and we were fortunate enough to have some great views of these birds today, including a pair enthusiastically pecking into the ant hills. We could make out the male with his red moustache.
Inside Isabella plantation is a different world of small ponds and exotic flowering plants including magnolias and camellias. Inside the pond we discovered a three-spined stickleback, mayfly nymphs, ramshorn snails, tubifex worms and some very early tadpoles! The water birds were all looking their finest for breeding, including a coot with neck feathers like velvet. Further into the gardens we came across a pair of glamorous mandarin ducks, several different bee species and a treecreeper, nicely described as a “tree mouse”.
On our return walk and drive round the park we spotted stock doves, more deer of both species and a huge number of jackdaws all paired up for breeding. We noticed how some of the red deer stags still retained last years antlers, whilst others had shed them and were already in velvet with this years antlers beginning to develop.
We finished the day with our packed lunches and then coffee and cake at Pembroke Lodge. A lovely end to a great day.