Heathrow Biodiversity Review 2016

Heathrow Biodiversity Review 2016

Every year, as part of Heathrows biodiversity management , EHM prepare and send out a review of the year letter to keep  partners whom we work with, and anyone with a general interest in wildlife, informed of news, issues and progress of what’s been happening around the airport.

The information below provides an overview of the bodiversity management carried out at Heathrow. Taken from a letter to partners produced by Adam Cheeseman who is based at heathrow and is in charge of managing the Heathrow Biodiveristy Sites as well as overseeing the biodiversity management in general. 


Bees, Wasps, Ants and their relatives

Once again we invited entomologist Matt Smith in to carry out specialist surveys on some of the biodiversity sites with particular emphasis on the Hymenopteran species, that is to say bees, wasps, ants and their relatives. The natural sand and gravel substrates in the area make for perfect habitats for the various mining species present. These surveys complement and add to the existing programme of monitoring and our knowledge of the airport’s wildlife and ecology. The following is an extract from the report provided by Matt.


This survey looked at four sites. Three of these (Colne Valley, Mayfield Farm and Oaks Road) have been surveyed in previous years while Camp 4 is a new addition to the survey site list.

In total, 155 species of invertebrate were recorded from across the four sites. Of these, the cleptoparasitic wasp Hedychridium coriaceum is accorded RDB 3 status. H.coriaceum is a new addition to the overall Biodiversity Sites species list and was recorded from the Oaks Road site. This small, brightly coloured wasp is a genuine rarity and appears to be restricted to a small number of sites on southern heathlands and the London basin. Of the other species recorded, 8 are currently accorded Nationally Notable status and 31 are Local species. The most recent information of the distributions of some of these uncommon species suggests that the conservation status of some of these species are in need of revision, but until the publication of a new Red Data Book or JNCC review the current published classifications are those generally used for site assessment.

The Oaks Road biodiversity site produced the greatest number of species recorded during the survey with 82 species being found. This is substantially more than the 44 species noted in 2015. The major reason for this difference in species numbers is probably due to the state of the site when visited. In 2015 the site visited after the site had been cut over. In 2016, the initial site visit took place prior to any cutting of the open area and the site had extensive stands of flowering hogweed present, which were very attractive to invertebrates.

Flies and Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants) made the largest contributions to the overall species list; mainly due to the fact the sampling took place in areas of open flower rich habitat. Further surveys at all of the sites would almost certainly add additional species to the overall site species lists.


A total of 155 species of invertebrate were recorded during the survey. One Red Data Book species, the cleptoparasitic wasp Hedychridium coriaceum, was recorded together with 8 Nationally Notable (Nationally Scarce) species and 31 species with Local distributions.

Two BAP / Section 41 - Species of Principal Importance, the Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae and the Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus were noted during the survey.


Although there has been some study of the fungal species present over the last 5 years, there has not been any specific survey effort to look at what we have at Heathrow. This is principally due to the continual changes in taxonomic status of many families of fungi and that many species now require high-magnification microscopy to ascertain key identifying features making identification in the field, or without microscopes, very difficult.

In 2016 we invited Andy Overall, the new London area recorder for fungi of the London Natural History Society, to come and have a look round favourable areas for fungi. Despite the autumn of 2016 not being ideal growing conditions for many species, and with less fruiting bodies present compared to previous years, the results were very impressive. The sites visited were Causeway NR, Princes Lakes, Twin Rivers, Orchard Farm / Colne Valley and a quick look round the lawns of the Compass Centre between 14th October and 25th November.

The following is an extract from Andy’s fungi survey report.

“During October and November 2016 the sites visited at Heathrow appear to be fairly well represented by many genera of the major groups of fungi to be expected from the open water-grassland areas, surrounding woodland and the complex habitats therein, with 102 species identified from 107 records. As this survey was brief and took place during October and November, it is difficult to comment on the distinct lack of species among particular mycorrhizal genera, such as Russula, Lactarius and Boletus. There were no large species of Boletus from the family Boletaceae or from the smaller species of the genus, Xerocomellus but given the habitats visited and species recorded with those habitats I would dare to say that some of these would be present at different times of the year.

Many of the larger Boletus and some of the Russula species are thermophilic; they prefer warm and wet periods. 2016 did provide warm enough temperatures for long enough to result in conditions suitable for these species to fruit, and combined with some rain, the mycelium of many of these ectomycorrhizal fungi will produce fruitbodies. However, preceding long periods of dry weather and warm temperatures, this may have promoted new mycelial growth but not fruitbodies, therefore it cannot be presumed that these species are not present, as they may have been in previous more favourable years and may well be in years to come. This would also be applicable to other ectomycorrhizal genera.

Other mycorrhizal families such as the Cortinariaceae, Inocybaceae and Hymenogastraceae were all represented by a small number of species, from various genera such as, Cortinarius, Inocybe and Hebeloma.

The Cortinarius species were from the sub genus Telemonia, a notoriously difficult section with regards to the identification of species. There were small areas of particular sites where more species were found than others but I wouldn’t go as far as to call them hot spots as such, as the majority of the records were scattered throughout the particular sites.

The outstanding features of the sites however, are areas bordering bodies of water, including semi-improved grassland, with good, healthy populations of Willow, Poplar and Alder. These trees in combination with a slight sloping topography and other trees such as Oak, Hornbeam, Hazel and Birch, make it a very viable habitat for larger fungi.

Standout species from across all of the sites are Biscogniauxia anceps on Hazel, Russula persicina with Willow, Schizophyllum amplum (red data) on both Willow and Poplar from different sites, Tricholoma populinum (red data) with Poplar from two different sites, and Rhodocybe popinalis and Arrhenia rickenii both from two rivers.

The clearing, coppicing and removal of shrubs and trees is apparent throughout the wooded areas and will have a direct, beneficial, bearing on all larger fungi present in the wood. Rubbish along where the wood borders private houses, needs to be monitored and cleared.

Any coppiced areas will also provide new habitat for species on the chipped wood and for species associating with the regeneration of surrounding trees.

Standing and fallen deadwood was plentiful and provided some good records such as Biscogniauxia anceps on Corylus and Schizophyllum amplum on Poplar and Willow Most of the species recorded during the survey are frequent, common & widespread across England and what you would expect from urban site such as Heathrow. The survey also revealed two Red Data Listed species, Schizophyllum amplum and Tricholoma populinum and five species new to Middlesex, Russula persicina, associating with Salix, Arrhenia rickenii a

nationally rare species found among mosses on gravelly soil, Cortinarius sertipes, Cortinarius diabolicus associating with Populus and Agaricus phaeolepidotus. There were no species indentified that are listed on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981.”

·         62 species New for Heathrow

·         2 are Red Data Book species: Schizophyllum amplum and Tricholoma populinum

·         5 species New for Middlesex: Cortinarius diabolicus, Cortinarius sertipes, Russula persicina, Agaricus phaeolepidotus and Arrhenia rickenii

·         1 species only the 3rd record for Middlesex: Biscognauxia anceps


Continuing on from the previous year, at the start of 2016 I carried on looking at the various lichen species to be found around the airport. I’ve included lichens here after fungi as they are species that are two life-forms in one living in a symbiotic relationship, one of which is a fungus. The body of the lichens are made up of the fungal partner while the photobiont, a species that facilitates food production, is usually a species of alga. Lichens are named after the fungal partner as the photobiont partner is not always the same species in the partnership.

67 species have so far been identified from the initial studies. Further searching and chemical analysis should help identify further species. Lichens are excellent atmospheric pollution indicators and as expected all species were tolerant of raised atmospheric nitrogen levels. By far the most productive habitat in terms of diversity of species was the various concrete based structures on the biodiversity sites and around the airport in general, particularly the retaining walls of the Twin Rivers.

Further surveys on fungi and lichens will take place in 2017.

Butterflies, Moths and Larval Mines

2016 in general was a fairly poor year for butterflies and moths. Numbers were low throughout and apart from the highlight of a new species of butterfly for the airport, a Silver-washed Fritillary at Two Bridges Farm, there is little good news to report on for butterflies. No Clouded Yellow or Marbled White were seen, and it was a struggle to find any Brown Argus until I came across a small population at Robb’s Nursery late in the summer.

Moth numbers recorded in both the actinic and MV traps were low due to persistent low overnight temperatures throughout. Very few species recorded double figure numbers at all, though there were some highlights.

·         On 7th June, 46 Diamond-back Moth were in the trap at Camp 4, with around 200 others around it on vegetation. This was part of a mass influx into the country from the continent.

·         Kent Black Arches on 22nd July, a Notable b listed species, trapped at Camp 4.

·         Another influx from the continent found a single Convolvulus Hawkmoth in one of the BA hangars on 3rd Oct. by Paul Lewis.

One of the best ways to ascertain the presence of a species when you can’t see the animal itself is to look for signs of their activity. A lot of invertebrate species, such as micro-moths, flies and beetles, have larval stages that live inside their food plant and create mines or structures which they live in on the food plant.  These are often far more visible to the naked eye than the adult creature themselves. A great aid to identification is that the majority of these species only use particular plant species for their larvae and they use particular parts of those plants thus making identification much easier. The mines / tents / cocoons they create are also highly individual for most species. There is however some closely related species where microscopy is needed to ascertain certain physical features of the larvae. Even then a few species cannot be identified by these means without raising the young to maturity.

Autumn 2016 saw me combing the hedges, trees and grasslands around the airport for signs of larval activity. This resulted in me coming back to the office with handfuls of leaves followed by close scrutiny under a high-powered hand lens and some excellent online ID keys.

The vast majority of mines collected turned out to be from the smaller micro-moths species of the Families: Nepticulidae and Gracillariidae on trees and shrubs, with a few flies and beetles in more herbaceous plant species. A total of 62 new moth species were trapped or found last year, with 34 of them being identified from larval mines.


We are fortunate to have a few Schedule 1 listed bird species breed on some of our biodiversity sites and elsewhere around the airport. Perhaps the best known are the Black Redstarts that nest in buildings out on the airfield. Workers out there informed me that once again we had two definite pairs nesting in their traditional buildings with a third male heard singing elsewhere.

At Princes Lakes the returning pair of Hobby successfully raised three young. The Hobby is a falcon similar to Kestrels, which winter in Africa and feed mainly on dragonflies, swallows and martins.

Also at Princes were the pair of Kingfishers and two pairs of Cetti’s Warbler. Good to see this small warbler spreading out around London river systems and wetland habitats now. First seen in Britain in 1969 they have stayed largely a coastal species until the last decade or so. The pair of Cetti’s Warbler was again present in the Colne Valley.

Having been recognised as a nationally important site for wintering Smew by the British Trust for Ornithology, Princes Lakes now appears to be one of the few remaining strongholds for this declining species in the whole of Greater London. The London Natural History Society has taken a particular recent interest in our records of this bird for their annual report. In a similar vein, this site is also key to wintering Shoveler and Gadwall in the region. This year Gadwall have been wintering in fairly good numbers with regular counts of 100+ birds scattered around the lakes. Shoveler have been noticeable by their near absence despite being present in good number on the surrounding reservoirs. This may be due to raised water levels on site.

Four new species recorded in 2016 were; Curlew on the airfield on 19/4, a juvenile White Stork flew over on 22/7, I nearly trod on a Jack Snipe at Orchard Farm on 10/10 and a Yellow-browed Warbler was in a mixed species feeding group working through the willows at Mayfield Farm on 28/10.


Following on from the discovery of a Harvest Mouse nest at Robb’s Nursery a few years ago, it was great news to find another at Orchard Farm. These sites sit on either side of the River Colne and it is apparent that this species has moved downstream from Harmondsworth Moor, northwest of the airport. It is to be hoped that 2017 sees targeted surveying for this species to ascertain what sort of population we have present along the Colne.

Water Voles have declined massively in England and although we were fairly certain that none of our sites held them we decided to have possible sites checked out. Unfortunately none were discovered, as was expected, but at least we know for sure that they aren’t currently present. The silver lining to this being we can now show that Heathrow has taken the care and effort to ascertain this for anyone who asks about them, such as the Biodiversity Benchmark Assessors.

New Species Highlights include:

·         Fungi: Red Data Book species: Schizophyllum amplum and Tricholoma populinum. New for Middlesex species: Cortinarius diabolicus, Cortinarius sertipes, Russula persicina, Agaricus phaeolepidotus and Arrhenia rickenii

·         Hymenoptera: Red Data Book wasp Hedychridium coriaceum

·         Birds: Yellow-browed Warbler – part of a major national influx in October. A wandering White Stork that flew over the airport after spending some time at Beddington near Mitcham.

·         Moths: 34 new species of micro-moth found by examining their larval food plants, including the Nationally Scarce Pear-tree Pygmy. Kent Black Arches and Convolvulus Hawkmoth

·         Butterflies: Unusual sighting for the area of a Silver-washed Fritillary at Two Bridges Farm

·         Fish: three new species recorded by electro-fishing in the Twin Rivers

·         Bats: three new species found by sonagram recording at Princes Lakes

·         True Flies: The Red Data Book Phoenix Fly that flew into my truck

·         Plants: Common Polypody fern, which isn’t common round here. Maidenhair Spleenwort fern at Princes Lakes



After attempts to acquire local livestock to carry out conservation grazing on our biodiversity sites I made contact with Surrey Wildlife Trust’s graziers based over at Wisley Common. Several fruitful meetings and discussions later and 12 Belted Galloway cattle arrived at Orchard Farm on 4th August.

Orchard Farm was chosen as an initial trial as it is one of our most ecologically important sites as it is the old flood meadow that used to sit where Terminal 5 is now. The whole meadow was translocated to its current location as part of the development. It was also chosen to see how the cows (all boys) got on with the low aircraft as it is right under the flight path. After being a little skittish to begin with when the 747s and A380s went up they soon settled down to explore their holiday home.

Grazing grasslands with livestock is a sustainable, traditional method for creating better quality habitat than what mowing would do. The way the cows eat creates a patchy sward of differing lengths that means that it is not all the same and therefore creates different micro-habitats within the grassland for a greater variety of plants and animals to live in, and our aim at the airport is to create as much diversity in our landscape as we can. The cattle help us achieve that. This spring should show what impact the cattle have had on the quality of the meadow.

They left for pastures new on 29th Sept. If you would like to know more about these cows please get in touch with me. They should be back in April assuming the meadow isn’t flooded.


Two Bridges Farm

In 2016, Carney’s installed pipework for the new T4 hotels through the site to connect up with the main drain system in Hatton Road. While they were doing this they very kindly agreed to assist with the opening up of the pond that had become overgrown with willows and overfilled with aquatic vegetation. So they swung their 360 digger round and scraped out a huge area of the pond. This should be of great benefit to the wildlife that lives here.

As part of their mitigation for the construction works Carney’s have agreed to replace twice the number of trees that were removed and to provide roost boxes for bats and nest boxes for the local House Sparrow population.

Honey Bees

At long last, 2016 saw us acquire 24 bee hives that are presently located on various sites around the airport. 24 hives in total for this year with a further 6 in 2017, these were primarily introduced to help maintain Honey Bee populations in the area and to facilitate pollination of the wild flora on our sites. The delicious honey is a welcome bi-product! The hives were financed by Heathrow Rail and are cared for by Tom the Beekeeper aka Tom Law.

In their first year the hives weren’t expected to produce much honey as the colonies were just becoming established. However, two of the hives at Causeway Nature Reserve really took off and it was possible to collect a small amount from them. 2017 should be a more productive year, weather and blossoming  permitting.

Plans for the future include; a further hives; beekeeper training; meet the bees visits; and an innovative British Dark Honey Bee breeding programme to help our native subspecies’ population.

Plans for the Future

Always looking to further improve upon and expand on our nature conservation works and knowledge on our sites, the following are some of the exciting projects in the pipeline.


  • Conservation grazing – In addition to further visits from the cattle to Orchard Farm in 2017, cattle and sheep will also be introduced to Princes Lakes to help manage and improve the habitats there.
  • Habitat Condition Surveys – As we are at the end of a management plan cycle I shall be out monitoring every habitat type on every habitat type this year to ascertain the present condition of each of the habitats. This is measured against a number of positive and negative features present, and species present. This will then give us a score per habitat per site, which can be compared to the last condition survey to see where things have improved, declined or stayed the same.
  • Specialist Surveying – Each year we obtain the services of one or two specialist surveyors to cover species groups that can be difficult to cover just on field visits alone. This year we hope to further cover Fungi, Bees and Wasps, and possibly Harvest Mice as a new species as it appears to be expanding its range.
  • The London Natural History Society has also shown interest in doing a bio-blitz survey on one of our biodiversity sites, principally looking at invertebrate species to help with distribution maps of the Greater London area.
  • Heathrow stands on part of what was once an extensive area of heathland, none of which now remains. As part of a project involving T5 security, we are looking at attempting to recreate an area of dry lowland heath that will not only have some ecological benefit, but also be of local heritage interest.


Radio 4 - In July, we were visited by Helen Mark and the Radio 4 Open Country programme. Myself and Russell Knight were interviewed at Princes Lakes, Mayfield Farm and the Twin Rivers to talk about the airport’s wildlife, management and the possible impacts of a third runway. Link below.


Flickr Heathrow Wildlife. A collection of c.1,350 wildlife and landscape photographs of all sorts of plants, animals and fungi.

FacebookHeathrow Wildlife. Photos and information from around Heathrow’s biodiversity sites. 

2016 Biodiversity Benchmark Award assessment

The Biodiversity Benchmark is a rigorously audited certification, which enables organisations across the UK to assess the quality of their land management, improve their contribution to the environment and demonstrate their commitment to biodiversity. The Benchmark is awarded by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts for the management of the Heathrow Biodiversity Sites. Receiving the award involves meeting a number of different criteria, the table below shows how we have progressed in the past year in meeting these, many of which were revised last year. We have now been awarded the Benchmark Award for our 9th consecutive year!

The following comments were made by the assessor, John Lamb, in the Main Audit and Surveillance Visit feedback.


·         “There is an excellent working relationship between staff working for Heathrow Airports Ltd and ecology & habitat management ltd., with staff having been involved in the management of the biodiversity sites for at least eight years. This degree of continuity and level of knowledge of the sites and the management system(s) is not common and is to be praised.”

·         The Biodiversity Management Team has worked together to develop a thorough and comprehensive Biodiversity Management System that includes Assessment of Significance, Habitat Assessments as Biodiversity Performance Indicators, Biodiversity Action Plans, Impact Assessments, Analyses and Response, and both internal and external communication with staff, partners and the wider community.

·         “How the team has identified and is dealing with the management of Invasive Non-native Species, and the designation of a Winter Safe Zone for Smew and other wintering wildfowl at Princes Lakes, is very impressive and both are considered to be examples of best practice.”