LANDSCAPE & WILDLIFE
© Alan Wilkinson
Ecology Pond or 'Frog Pond'
The landscape of the Common is a mix of open grassland, scattered trees and shrubs, tree avenues, parcels of woodland and sports pitches. Two railway lines run across parts of Tooting Common and it is also crossed by three roads: Dr Johnson Avenue, Bedford Hill and Tooting Bec Road.
Tooting Common is designated by the Greater London Authority as a Site of Metropolitan Importance (SMI) for Nature Conservation. In particular, the site supports acid grassland, a national and local priority habitat. Often associated with lowland heathland, parkland or coastal cliffs, acid grassland typically occurs on nutrient-poor free-draining soil and is extremely variable in terms of species richness. It is one of the characteristic features of Toting Common, providing an unusual but much loved landscape.
Tooting Common hosts trees of diverse species, age and community types, ranging from standalone specimen trees in amenity grassland to formal avenues, blocks of woodland and informal groups. This diversity reflects that the common is both a managed and a natural environment. Ninety-seven trees (primarily English oak), which could be classed as veteran, are widely distributed throughout the site. There are also a number of historic pollards identified within the Common, which can be associated with the historic management as wood pasture.
There are three historical tree avenues on Tooting Common. One was planted in 1600 along Dr Johnson Avenue supposedly to commemorate a visit to the area by Queen Elizabeth I. The second runs north to south parallel to Garrad’s Road and, as with Dr Johnson Avenue, it has been claimed that it was originally planted in the seventeenth although the evidence for this is not clear. The third avenue runs from north to south between Tooting Bec Road and the Totting Common café and was planted in the 1870s or 1880s, soon after Tooting Common was purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works. It was originally comprised of horse chestnut trees but these were replaced with small-leaved lime trees in 2017 as part of the Tooting Common Heritage Project. A fourth avenue, dating to the early eighteenth century, ran along Tooting Bec Road between Dr Johnson Avenue and the south-eastern corner of Tooting Bec Common. This was a double-row avenue of elm trees, lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the twentieth-century.
Open standing water represents one of the most diverse of all ecological habitats in London and the lake on Tooting Common supports a range of invertebrates and aquatic plants, which, in turn, are a food source for a range of resident and migratory waterfowl (e.g. mute swans, Egyptian geese and mallard ducks) and bats, especially during prolonged dry weather conditions in late spring and summer. For the wetland birds the limited lake margin provides a few places for nesting both at ground level or higher up. Lake margins are also of importance for aquatic invertebrates such as dragonflies and damselflies.
The Lake is used for fishing and supports a keen community of anglers.
The 'yachting pond’ or 'ecology pond' on the south-west corner of the Common was created around the start of the twentieth century but fell into disrepair some years ago. During January to February 2014 Froglife worked in partnership with Wandsworth Council, the Tooting Common Management Advisory Committee (TCMAC) and the Friends of Tooting Common (FoTC) to create a series of amphibian ponds within the footprint of the old ecology pond. It was part of Froglife’s London-wide amphibian and reptile conservation project, called Dragon Finder, which aims to improve and increase suitable habitat for reptiles and amphibians at a range of sites across London.
Before being diverted through the public sewer system, the York Ditch ran along the course of what is now Dr Johnson Avenue and was reportedly a former tributary of the Falcon Brook, one of London’s ‘lost rivers’. Falcon Brook rose originally on the flank of Streatham Hill and flowed westwards to cross the northern end of the Common on its way to the Thames.
Acid grassland, woodland and standing water habitats are each recognised as priority Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats in the London and Wandsworth BAPs. However, it is the mosaic of habitats present which provides the greatest value for ecology, providing a diverse range of habitats, at larger and smaller scales, for urban wildlife in an otherwise densely developed area.