Regular visitors to Pen Ponds may have noticed changes on the wooded shoreline on the east side of Upper Pen Pond.

Over the last three autumn-winter periods, overgrown Rhododendron has been gradually removed, eventually to be replaced by a naturally vegetated open shoreline backed by a belt of native shrubs.

Originally planted as a screen for the enclosed woods and for its large, ornate, purple flowers in summer, it has become widespread in the Park. It is a very invasive non-native evergreen which can dominate the under-storey of a wood, casting deep shade, allowing no other plants to develop, preventing tree regeneration and significantly reducing biodiversity. It is also known to be a carrier of Sudden Oak Death.

It may appear sometimes like a battlefield, with jagged stumps and fallen and scrawny trees. But the water birds of Upper Pen Pond have quickly taken advantage of the clearance to build nests and rest on the shoreline, undisturbed by people and dogs; reeds will be planted in the fenced-off section to provide more nesting cover.

Rarer visitors to the Ponds, such as Little Egret, Lapwing, Redshank and Green Sandpiper, have been found in this area, and wintering Gadwall and Widgeon have fed nearby. Kingfishers have used the stumps by the water’s edge to fish from.

Opening up the woodland canopy allows sunlight onto the shoreline which until recently had been buried under deep shade, and new vegetation is starting to develop. Removal of Rhododendron has also improved access for the deer that shelter in the wood.

Eventually, a belt of native shrubs will be planted in an arc just inside the wood to act as a screen to the area of open shoreline; this will have to be protected from browsing deer by fencing that will extend into the pond to dissuade the deer from entering the open shoreline, although it will be impossible to prevent them from entering altogether. The impact of any that do, it is hoped, will be minimal.

Most of the clearance work has been carried out by a group of Friends Conservation Volunteers, assisted by the Park’s managers who also arranged for the heavier work to be done.

Conservation volunteers are also involved in other Park projects such as hedge-planting and coppicing, while other Friends’ volunteers do horticultural work in Isabella Plantation and Oak Processionary Moth detection. In this way Friends assist Park Management with work that could not otherwise be done due to the severe financial constraints imposed on The Royal Parks in recent years.

This article first appeared in the Friends' regular newsletter.