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Conserving and protecting green spaces

Removing trees using traditional heavy horses at Spring park

​Using traditional methods to clear trees

The City of London Corporation's green spaces��include environmentally sensitive areas that require carefully managing and conserving, but also protecting from pressures within and around them.

Horses and limes: conserving ancient species

    Heavy horse working at Spring Park
    ​Heavy horse working at Spring Park

Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata), an uncommon tree native to the south and midlands of England, is considered an ancient woodland indicator species because the tree requires exact climatic conditions to set seed and also colonises very slowly. It is an important link to the 'wildwood' or the natural landscape found in the UK prior to significant human intervention.

Approximately 140 individual limes were discovered in 2013 at the Spring Park and Threehalfpenny Woods near Bromley, which could be the biggest population of a species that is only recorded at 39 sites across London.

It is thought that these trees, which were surveyed with the help of Croydon Council, owners of Threehalfpenny Wood and the Tree Council’s Limewood Working Group, are remnants of a once larger and healthier population. Approximately 300 years ago landowners began to remove limes in favour of hazel and sweet chestnut which yielded sustainable crops.

During the survey a historically important line of lime trees was found along an Anglo-Saxon boundary bank. Lime is thought to have had symbolic significance to Anglo-Saxon people as a tree of peace and conflict resolution.

Although there is no threat to these woods in general, lime tends to colonise very slowly and individuals, particularly veteran or lapsed coppice stools, are vulnerable to competition and shading from other species of tree and can collapse in gales.

A grant of £7,513 from SITA Trust's Enriching Nature Programme made the project possible while an Environmental Stewardship Scheme agreement with Natural England funds the conservation of the woodland and meadow habitats at Spring Park.

The Limewood Working Group drew up a management plan and work began in winter 2013 to increase the local population by coppicing neglected or shaded coppice, halo releasing special individual trees, and laying the cut lime to encourage vegetative reproduction. Information about this interesting ancient tree species is also shared with other stakeholders.

Heavy horses were used in November 2013 to remove the timber produced from the project: a traditional method which is more sensitive to the woodland habitat than using heavy machinery that can damage tree roots. It also helped to keep this skilled craft alive, and local people enjoyed seeing the horses in action. An information board explains why lime is found in so few woods and gives an insight into characteristics that give the tree incredible longevity.​

Working together to manage development pressure

    Green spaces are surrounded by development pressures
    ​Green spaces are surrounded by development pressures

The City of London’s open spaces were acquired to provide people with attractive places to enjoy the outdoors for their health and well-being. While this is a one of the strengths of the open spaces it also threatens them, due to increasing number of visits and nearby development puts pressure on land.

Pressures on open spaces have never been more apparent than at Burnham Beeches, which is a Special Area of Conservation and a National Nature Reserve. Natural and historic beauty acts as a magnet, drawing in visitors from near and far. Ironically this attraction also feeds a desire to have a house near the green oasis of Burnham Beeches and so this threatens the very wildlife that so many people want to live close to.

Large urban areas surround Burnham Beeches, Heathrow airport is nearby and excellent transport links all make property in South Buckinghamshire highly desirable with prices to match. High land values make subdivision of properties highly profitable but this in turns adds to pressure.

Property development reduces the natural buffer of green space and subdivision brings more residents, cars, pets, pollution and visitors to green spaces. Additional visits mean potentially more soil erosion and compaction, and nutrients from dog faeces and urine.

The site’s status means that any projects or developments that may have a negative impact on the reserve must be screened to determine if there is likely to be any significant impact on the features of the SAC. Staff have worked closely with local planning authorities, Natural England and the Environment Agency to ensure the Buckinghamshire County Council Core Strategy translates into plans and policies on the ground that adequately protects the Beeches from long-term, irreversible harm.

These plans must be sufficiently robust to withstand challenges from developers wishing to build nearby. To that end, a series of research projects have been undertaken looking at, hydrology and water catchment, demographics and habits of visitors, air quality, tree health and soil issues such as compaction, erosion and nutrient enrichment. These projects were brought together and a ‘synthesis’ report produced which concluded that the special wildlife value of the Beeches is under threat, that urban effects (principally caused by visitor pressure, especially dog walking) have been recorded, and that in combination they are impacting on the SAC interest of the site. It further concluded that new development will add to this impact and will have a significant effect on the site.  The Burnham Beeches team continues striving to minimise the negative impact on the site that development brings and to ensure that its natural beauty remains for future generations to enjoy.​