ACCS

Croydon's countryside

The centre of Croydon fared no better; it was once an area of ponds and streams much prone to flooding and outbreaks of disease. The south of the present day borough has survived relatively unscathed. The Green Belt Act stopped much harmful development in its tracks and now amid the suburban semi-detached sprawl we have some sizeable areas of open countryside. Most of these areas have escaped the arrival of intensive farming and are therefore rather more "natural" than the "real countryside" further south in Surrey. In fact very little real farming now takes place in Croydon with just a few fields in the Addington area remaining under cultivation.

Heathland, Addington hills72

Addington Hills

Croydon's open spaces tended to be thought of as "development opportunities" rather than land on which people's livelihood directly depends. Without the working woodlands, agriculture and grazing animals of the past, many areas became neglected. Ponds dried up, streams were banished underground, grassland and heathland became covered with scrubby trees, and woodlands became dark, forbidding places. The plants and animals that had become so dependent on these earlier habitats also became rarer or even extinct in Croydon. In addition nibbling rabbits were much reduced in numbers due to myxomatosis in the 1950s. According to Friends of the Earth we have lost in the UK, 30-50% of ancient woodland, 95% of flower-rich meadows, 80% of chalk grassland, and 40% of lowland heath. In Croydon these losses have been mainly due to housing development and scrub invasion.

Jacob lamb nibbling Hawthorn72

Jacob lamb

During the 1980s it became clear that something had to be done, some existing groups such as the London Wildlife Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust took on the management of some open spaces including Hutchinson's Bank and Dollypers Hill. Other groups came into being and the Association of Croydon Conservation Societies was formed taking on the role of bringing these groups together for mutual benefit and to discuss matters relevant to Nature Conservation. Over the following years we have seen a slow improvement in Croydon's open spaces. Some woodlands including King's Wood have seen the reintroduction of coppicing that has let in more light to benefit plants such as the Bluebell and Wood Anemone. Chalk downland and heathland is being cleared of scrub, some of which is now grazed by sheep, cattle and goats to maintain the short grassland on which butterflies and many other insects depend. Ponds are also managed to prevent them silting up or being overrun with aggressive non-native plants.

Jacob sheep, Riddlesdown72

Jacob sheep at Riddlesdown

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