Woodlands Restoration 2019-24

Streatham Common Woodlands Restoration Programme 2019-2024

Woodland Floor and Habitat Improvements: Temporary Protective Fencing


Lambeth Council (LBL), London Wildlife Trust (LWT) and Streatham Common Cooperative (SCCoop) have been working together on a number of activities within the woodlands on Streatham Common, including as part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NHLF)-funded ‘Great North Wood’ project. As well as improving awareness and involvement in the management of remnant woodland areas like those on the Common, the project has been working on targeted improvements to the biodiversity and landscape of these sites.

One aspect has included creating a number of fenced-off areas within certain priority woodlands across the project, using rustic chestnut paling fencing and wooden stakes. The idea of these fenced enclosures, which are temporary in nature, is to help protect the soils within the fenced area from constant disturbance, trampling and compaction. This then allows a ground flora, mainly grasses, herbs and tree saplings, to gradually re-establish and carpet the enclosed area. This process helps improve, thicken and stabilise the soils, providing a better growing medium and reducing damage caused to the ground by erosion, not just from regular trampling but also flash-flooding due to storms and surface water runoff.

In 2018-19 a portion of Streatham Common’s main woodland compartment was temporarily fenced off in order to protect one of the most high-risk areas from damage caused by erosion. As well as the fencing a small number of self-set semi-mature trees, mainly Turkey Oaks or Common Oaks in poor growth condition, were felled – although the cut wood was reused within the enclosure to create loose and semi-buried log piles. These log piles are ideal for wood-consuming fungi and especially for wood boring insects like the Greater Stag Beetle, which is regularly found on the Common and the surrounding area.

What’s happening this year?

The original fenced-off area has proved remarkably successful in terms of allowing a ground flora, including fine grasses and shrubs typical of the woodlands found in this region of South London, as well as a much healthier soil layer and less exposure to water erosion.

Following on from this initial phase, another four small fenced enclosures will be established on the Common, close to where the original one is. The attached map shows their proposed location and sizes. Again, rustic chestnut paling fencing and wooden stakes will be used to create the enclosures, along with appropriate signage. Three of the new areas will be around the original enclosure, but there will be wide paths between them all so as not to interfere with public access to and movement through the area.

One of the four areas will be slightly outside the main body of the woodlands, on the southern side of the old ‘Horse Ride’. This will surround an area of grass and scrub that is prone to waterlogging and then summer compaction. This fencing will protect this area so as to allow a healthy wet-loving grass and herb layer to build up, and it will also protect it from damage which is often caused by grass cutting machinery or any other vehicle movements.

Figure 1. Streatham Common Woodlands, showing locations of existing temporary fenced area and four proposed new temporary fenced areas

Why is it necessary to erect more wooden fencing?

We don’t take fencing off any part of Streatham Common lightly, whether temporary or not, as we do want to try and preserve the ‘openness’ of the Common wherever possible, and to maximise public access and enjoyment. However, we do need to try and give some areas of the Common, particularly those which are suffering from ground damage, soil erosion and severe compaction, a bit of temporary ‘breathing space’ from regular intrusion, so that they can recover sufficiently and then be returned back to public enjoyment.

What are the benefits of the fencing and fenced-off areas?

The temporary fencing is necessary to allow grasses, herbs and woodland shrubs within the enclosed areas to recover and re-colonise. Their roots then ‘mesh together which allows soils to stabilise, as well as steadily increasing the amount of organic humus in them, which in turn improves the resilience of these soils to erosion caused by trampling, windblow and surface water flooding. Without the fencing these thin soils would be quickly damaged by trampling, and the establishing grasses or herbs will struggle to grow and bind together.

We will need to remove some sickly or poor-quality immature or semi-mature trees, but this is only to help improve light penetration to the ground to allow a grass cover to develop, or to remove any potential hazards to the public. However, any such removals will be very limited and fully justified, with all arisings being recycled on site within the new enclosures.

These fenced off areas are also good for animal wildlife, as it provides a safe ‘breathing space’ away from constant disturbance. As well as benefits for Great North Wood ‘flagship’ species like the Stag Beetle, these areas are also attractive to hedgehogs – of which we do have records in the Streatham and West Norwood areas of the borough.

Areas of woodland with dense grasses and low shrubs provides hedgehogs with cover from their own predators, and the improved thicker soils are ideal as sources of food such as earthworms, slugs and molluscs. Hedgehog numbers across the UK have declined dramatically, including in London, and one of the key factors appears to be a lack or loss off suitable cover and feeding sites.

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Isn’t the amount of fencing excessive? How much of the Common is being fenced off?

The original temporary enclosed area in the woods on Streatham Common only covers an internal area of around 975 square metres. The total area of Streatham Common, based on its definitive map as a ‘Metropolitan Common’ is around 261,450 square metres, which means the current fenced area only encloses 0.37% of the whole Common.

The total area of ‘woodland habitat’ on Streatham Common is around 84,750 square metres, which means that the current fenced area only takes in 1.15% of the total woodland on the Common. Therefore, it’s actually not a very large area that’s currently enclosed.

The four new fenced-off areas will only cover an additional 500 square metres of land; that’ll mean, once they are installed, there’s only 1,475 square metres of the Common enclosed within the temporary fencing. That equates to 0.56% of the whole Common, and only 1.74% of the woodland habitat on site.

The general rule, including for registered commons, is that no more than 10% of a site should be enclosed, temporarily or not, at any one time. This means that there even with the four new areas we will not be approaching that important threshold. Legislation protecting registered commons allows exemptions on the enclosure or fencing of land so long as it is temporary in nature, and for protecting and managing area of the site which are in keeping with its purpose.

How long will these areas be fenced off?

Once we are confident that the temporary fencing has allowed the soils, grasses and other plants within each enclosed area to establish to the point where they are more robust and resilient of trampling, compaction and erosion, we will dismantle and remove the fencing and return the land to normal access. This will depend of course on regular assessments, including soil testing, plant surveys and ground stability. However, our normal limit on any temporary fencing is 5 years maximum, unless there are any overriding justifications for extending this.

The original fenced-off area has now developed sufficiently that, subject to programmed surveys in spring 2021, we hope to have it removed by spring 2022 at the very latest. If we can reopen it to public access and use before then, then subject to it being properly established and healthy enough, then we will.

We would anticipate the four new temporary fenced areas to be enclosed for around 3-4 years maximum, but again if they establish well, then this fencing can come down as soon as it is ready to do so. We don’t want to keep any fencing up for any longer than we need to as we want to keep the Common and its woodlands open and uncluttered.

Where can I find more information on the fencing and the project?

You can find more information by contacting either Lambeth Parks and Open Spaces at parks@lambeth.gov.uk or via the SCCoop website at https://www.sccoop.org.uk/contact.

We are also hoping to run some ‘Covid-19 Safe’ community volunteering sessions to help with not just the installation of the new temporary fencing, but also aspects of the habitat management and improvement within them. You can find out more by contacting SCCoop and expressing your interest via their contact form on their website.

Finally, we’re all continuing to work with the London Wildlife Trust on the completion of the last stages of successful Great North Wood project, and this will include additional walks and talks (Covid-19 restrictions and guidance permitting of course) on Streatham Common and other nearby sites.

One of these talks could be on the restoration of the woodlands on Streatham Common, and also to see if we can run an on-site day where we assist people in surveying the fenced areas for wild plants and animals.

Please let us know if you are interested in taking part in any guided walks and activity days, and we’ll register your details and contact you as to proposed dates and times.