Published: 03/11/2023 By Allan Fuller
The Conservators have published their annual Monitoring Report for 2022 in which a detailed look is taken at progress being made in conserving the 1,140 acres of land for which they are responsible.
These reports have been produced since 2014 when the Conservators were keen to get a sense of how their management of the area known as “The Plain” (the open area adjacent to Windmill Road) was impacting its ability to provide an area for ground-nesting birds, particularly Skylarks, and other species important to a thriving area of acid grassland. Since then, the monitoring has spread to the Commons as a whole and incorporates birds, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, reptiles and amphibians, moths and plants.
There were some positive developments to report including sightings for the first ever time of two rare Dartford Warblers and Little Grebe breeding successfully on Bluegate Pond with Firecrest numbers increasing significantly. Whilst the latter is not a species of concern, the report concludes that it is encouraging to see them expanding on the Commons.
Nine new moth species were found, with a total of 432 species being recorded including one of the UK’s largest moths, the Emperor Moth, which is the only kind in the UK that spins a silk cocoon.
28 species of butterfly were recorded - a slight increase on 2021 but there was a more noticeable increase in dragonfly species up by nine to 21 including a single Norfolk Hawker and a Keeled Skimmer which is a typical wet heathland species not seen on the Common since 2018.
16 Common Lizards were spotted, an increase on the previous year while frogs, toads and newts continue to spawn in many of the ponds.
The stag beetle population continues to decline with only 21 reported by visitors, a continuation of the fall since 2014.
While a number of new species are appearing, there is broader concern expressed in the report that commoner species of butterfly are declining in numbers continuing a trend seen over the last few years. In particular Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Common Blue are showing significant declines over the past 5 years.
Grassland management has been largely the same, so it is thought this is unlikely to be the reason. It is speculated that the unusual weather conditions particularly in the Spring maybe to blame and the possibility of more people using the Commons is also a contributory factor. We have also wondered whether additional recreational pressure on the Commons is responsible.
Around 80% of the Commons was made a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1953, making it one of the oldest protected areas in England. In 2004, large parts were also made a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), in recognition of its internationally important habitats and species.
Defra-appointed Conservator, Oliver Bennett, said, “The Commons are still home to a fabulous range of species from Dartford Warblers to Stag Beetles and Emperor Moths. However, our monitoring suggests that the abundance of many species has gone down in recent years, sadly following a general national trend. The heatwave and drought last year may have contributed further to this decline. Our ongoing volunteer surveying programme will help us to monitor the situation and will inform our future conservation efforts. Initiatives such as the development of the Commons' first Land Management Plan and our proposals to raise more funds for nature conservation remain essential in helping us to reverse these negative trends."