Information from the Royal Parks team in Richmond Park

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ROYAL PARKS DECEMBER NEWS

TREE SAFETY WORK: The Park is annually surveyed in the summer by specialist consultants. They assess the 130,000 trees systematically, taking account for how popular different areas of the Park are. Their recommendations go into the annual programme of work that is mostly delivered in the winter months. This is the best time of year to work on trees as the trees are 'dormant' and birds are not nesting. Trees are also checked for signs of bat roosting and interference on cavities is avoided if at all possible. The contractors are currently very busy but hopefully won't inconvenience your enjoyment of the park whilst they do their essential work.

BADGERS: There are several badger setts in Richmond Park and those that are active might house anything from 1 to 12 or more badgers. Being nocturnal, they are seldom seen and even if you do visit the Park at night a glimpse of a badger, disappearing into the undergrowth is typically the best you'll see of these shy and elusive creatures. You are more likely to see areas of disturbed ground where Badgers have been grubbing around for insect grubs, earth worms or roots which provide part of their varied diet. They can even use their strong 'earth moving' claws to unroll a tasty hedgehog – and are thought to be responsible for the lack of hedgehogs in the Park. They have a very powerful bite – due to their larger muscles and hinged joints to the jaw. They are very shy but if cornered can put up a considerable fight. Sadly this is why they have been persecuted in the past by people who wanted to test dogs against their strength. Badger baiting was outlawed in 1835 and digging a badger sett was made illegal in 1973. Their protection was strengthened further in 1991 and in Richmond Park, the badgers and their setts are watched carefully to ensure the law is followed.

TOP AWARD: Last month the Royal Parks were proud winners of the Horticulture Week award for the Most Outstanding Commitment to Education and Training for their new apprenticeship scheme, which they run in association with Capel Manor College. There are 7 apprenticeships available every year, starting in September and one of these places is based in Richmond Park.

FLYING DEER: Reindeer gained their name because they are the only deer that are easily domesticated, and will wear reins. We don't have Reindeer in the Park but the large herds of Fallow and Red deer still make the Park a special place to walk off the seasonal indulgences. The folklore of deer flying (and pulling Father Christmas's sledge through the sky) has 2 origins. In Northern Europe, the winters sun sits low in the sky and deer walking across the horizon will be silhouetted by the sun – looking as though they are flying when snow covered ground blurs the horizon with the winter's sky.

Secondly (and harder to believe), north European pagans 'enjoyed' hallucinogenic Fly Agaric mushrooms, found in birch woodland. The strength of the hallucinogen is unreliable and sometimes high enough to cause death. Strength was predetermined by feeding mushrooms to Reindeer and, if they survived, eating the yellow snow left in their pen! One of the effects of the mushroom was to over exaggerate movements – so the deer would jump and leap as though they were flying; and being under the influence of drugs gave Rudolph his red and very shiny nose! – Happy Christmas!

ISABELLA PLANTATION IN DECEMBER

Winter Flowers:  Hamamelis mollis, the “Witch Hazel”, has very fragrant yellow tassel flowers. Two large shrubs stand by the gate to Broomfield Hill. Mahonia bealii, whose racemes of yellow flowers smell like “Lily-of the Valley”, can be found set back in woodland to the south of the Acer Glade. Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' can be found by the Bluebell Walk on the east of the Acer Glade, at this time of year it bears fragrant creamcoloured flowers. Camellia sasanqua 'Plantation Pink', in the woodland glade above the source of Thompson's Stream bears slightly scented, single, pale pink flowers with yellow stamens. Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis', the “Autumn Cherry” can be found growing set back from the path leading to Wilson's Glade from the top gate. Following autumn tints to the leaves, this small tree produces semi-double, white flowers from November to March. Garrya eliptica grows alongside the Main Stream path, this evergreen shrub bears long greyish green catkins at this time of year. Sarcococca confusa, a small evergreen shrub grows alongside the Main Stream and produces very fragrant white flowers this month. A single stand of Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' grows in a glade just off the Main Stream this upright shrub bears densely packed clusters of sweetly scented, rose-tinted flowers throughout the cold winter months.

Trees and Shrubs with Coloured and Textured Bark: Salix alba 'Chermesina' ('Britzensis'), the pollarded willows by Peg's Pond, have amber and red stems. Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea' nearby under the weeping willow, and also adjacent to the Bog Garden, has smooth greenish yellow stems. Cornus alba has bright red stems. Two groups are set back behind the heather, others in the Bog Garden. Betula nigra, the “River Birch”, has papery shredding buff coloured bark. One may be found by the path above the Heather Garden, and the other towards the top of the Main Stream. Betula jacquemontii, three young birches with striking white bark stand on the lawn above Thomson's Pond. Several multi-stemmed forms of this tree can be found in the woodland area near the wild stream in the northern part of the Garden. Prunus serrula, set back on the lawn east of Thomson's Pond, has gleaming mahogany-red bark peeling into curly shreds. Several 'snake-bark' acers may be found throughout the Garden as well as other species of birch, all with interesting bark. Acer griseum, the “Paperbark Maple” grows in the wet lawn area by the top gate and also in Wilson's Glade, as well as other areas of the garden. This beautiful tree not only has good autumn colour but also a great colour to its trunk, which is particularly obvious in the winter months, as the old bark peels off to expose the cinnamon coloured underbark.

Heather Garden: Erica X darleyensis comes into flower this month in its pink and white forms. Erica vagans, the Cornish Heath, has tawny seed heads which remain decorative all winter. Erica lusitanica, the tall Portugal Heath, bears slightly fragrant tubular white flowers opening from pink buds throughout the winter. Nandina domestica, the “Sacred Bamboo” provides a stunning backdrop to the heathers in this area, its leaves tinge red in autumn and winter and it also bears a profusion of spherical red fruits.

  • A bird feeder has been placed on Bluebell Walk to feed over wintering garden residents and visitors. In addition to this the water fowl on the ponds are fed on corn throughout the winter months.
  • The gardeners are busy preparing beds and planting out trees and shrubs within the Garden.

ISABELLA GARDEN WALKS

You are invited to join the gardeners for guided walks throughout the year. Walks will take place on:

  • December: Friday 5th,  Sunday 14th and Friday 19th

Walks last about one and a half hours and are free of charge. Meet inside the Garden by the gate from Broomfield Hill car park at 11:00am.

The Royal Parks' News and Isabella News are copyright The Royal Parks.