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17 September 2014
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Parks - Bushy Park

Park life

Deer in Bushy Park c/o Royal Parks/Davies

Bushy Park in London is the second largest of the Royal Parks, covering 445 hectares of flat land. It's home to quite an array of wildlife including Red and Fallow Deer. There's also some great bird life.

 

Bushy Park at twilight.
Photo - Andrew Davies and Royal Parks


Situated north of Hampton Court Palace, the park was originally owned by Cardinal Wolsey but was taken over by Henry VIII when Wolsey fell out of favour.

It has been a Royal Park ever since and dates back hundreds of years, with traces of what has been called the most complete medieval field system in Middlesex found on the site.

There's also a rather majestic display of trees fit for a king - the Chestnut Avenue, a mile-long row of Chestnut and Lime trees lining the approach to William and Mary's palace at Hampton Court.

History aside, the park is home to some wonderful wildlife, including 320 free-roaming Red and Fallow deer, three species of native Woodpeckers, frogs, toads and newts and a host of different domestic birds.

Eyes and ears

Bushy Park c/o Andrew DaviesFor a location only a few miles away from Heathrow, the sounds which can be heard at Bushy are far from the roar of passing planes.

In fact, the noise heard most often here is the trill of the Skylark and the tap-tap-tap of the Woodpecker.

There are three species of Woodpecker living here, the most striking of which is the Green Woodpecker with its distinctive green and cream plumage.

They're found here in large numbers due to an abundance of their favourite food - ants.

There are ant hills all over the place, but they're not the only insects which attract the many different British birds.

The 130 hectares of undisturbed acid grassland is an important habitat for crickets, spiders, caterpillars, butterflies, bees, wasps and flies, all of which are rich pickings for the 150 species of birds which also call Bushy Park their home.

Among the long list of birds found here are Skylark, Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit and Stonechat, all of which are limited in numbers and nest on the ground where they are sometimes disturbed by walkers and people with dogs - so watch where you step!

A helping hand

Deer c/o Andrew DaviesThe interesting geography of Bushy Park has helped many different types of wildlife settle in here over the years - particularly the many deer which can still be seen here today.

Back in the 15th Century Henry VIII decided to enclose the park within a wall to protect the existing deer from poachers and to create an ideal site for Royal hunting.

The park has remained enclosed since then and while London has built up around its walls, the park has preserved a beautiful open space and some much-needed greenery.

Today there are 320 Red and Fallow Deer which graze here, helping to maintain the landscape by encouraging plant diversity and without damaging the many anthills which crop up.

The deer can be told apart easily by differences in their coats and size - Fallow Deer have creamy-brown spotty coats and are slightly smaller than the russety-brown Red Deer.

Both species have become accustomed to a constant human presence so they're easy to watch and not easily startled, although visitors are still reminded to observe the same behaviour as they would at any other nature site.

But it's not just the walls which have affected the wildlife - running through the heart of the park is the artificial Longford River, serving the pond habitat with a constant supply of water.

The Longford River started life as a huge canal created by King Charles I in 1637, who wanted to impress his European counterparts with a water garden.

Pond life

Bushy Park c/o Andrew DaviesThe river now feeds a series of ponds where huge shoals of spined sticklebacks can be seen darting about beneath the water's surface.

Birds like Herons and Kingfishers can sometimes be seen at the water's edge, watching their prey.

Kingfishers, with their beautiful blue and orange plumage, need to catch as many as 150 fish a day to feed their young, so these ponds are a vital source of food.

But it's not just Kingfishers which feed on Stickleback - there's another equally deadly predator to watch out for, in the unlikely form of the yellow leech.

Leeches attach themselves to the sides of the fish, causing them to thrash about near the surface trying to shake them off. This is called flashing and is quite a sight!

Visitors may also be lucky enough to spot a Water Vole in the river, or one of seven native bat species in the woodland gardens.

Photo credits

Photos copyright and by kind permission of Andrew Davies and Royal Parks.

 

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