ARRANDENE OPEN SPACE AND FEATHERSTONE HILL is the full formal name of an undulating site comprising some 23.5 hectares (58 acres) of meadow and woodland near Mill Hill Village in north-west London (map; OS grid reference TQ228919.(Tetrad TQ28j). Owned and managed by the London Borough of Barnet, Arrandene has been designated a nature conservation site of metropolitan (ie, London-wide) importance.
In Victorian times, Mill Hill and the surrounding areas of Middlesex were important centres for growing hay to fuel the horses that hauled London’s cabs, carriages and carts. By the 1920s, as the internal combustion engine supplanted the horse, hay had ceased to be an important crop and Mill Hill Village was threatened by encroaching suburban development. In 1929, a prescient Hendon Urban District Council (now absorbed into Barnet) purchased more than 50 acres of the Arrandene estate for public recreational use and also to protect the distinct character of Mill Hill Village.
Although mainly bordered by residential roads, Arrandene retains a rural character, being separated from buildings by school playing fields and the long rear gardens of large private houses. The habitat includes deciduous woodland, rich ancient hedgerows and rough grassland. Its 12 meadows are managed by a traditional “cut and lift” method and support numerous uncommon plants characteristic of unimproved grassland.
Plants named by London Wildweb include Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Adder's-tongue Fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum), Pepper Saxifrage (Silaum silaus), Oval Sedge (Carex ovalis) and Grey Sedge (Carex divulsa ssp divulsa). The rare wild service-tree (Sorbus torminalis) can be found in the broad hedgerows.
The only permanent water is in two small ponds. One is near the south-east corner of the site (map), served by a tiny stream that tends to be dry in summer. The other, overshadowed by trees, is adjacent to the south edge of Mill Hill School’s main sports fields (map), and can be seen only from school property because it is otherwise cut off by a dense bramble thicket. Several stream beds cross the site but rarely hold any water.
BIRDS The birdlife of Arrandene is much as one might expect for such a habitat. However, the site does not seem to have been regularly watched by birders in recent years, and there may be uncommon birds yet to be found. The site certainly supports good numbers of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker and Jay, plus Nuthatch, Tawny Owl and Bullfinch. Sparrowhawk and Kestrel are also resident. Summer visitors include Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Stock Dove and Pheasant also occur and Jackdaw, which returned to Mill Hill Village a few years ago, regularly overfly. Woodcock are occasionally seen in winter, and Common Buzzard sometimes visit the site. The shortage of open water means that the only water bird one might see is the occasional Moorhen on one of the two small ponds.
(According to London Wildweb, the breeding birds include Spotted Flycatcher, Reed Bunting and Skylark, but this information seems to be long out of date. Professor Jonathan Edwards, who watched the site as a teenager in the 1960s, remembers regular Bullfinch, Whitethroat, Marsh Tit, Skylark and Meadow Pipit (although the latter may chiefly have been in autumn and winter). Spotted Flycatcher would call from under the canopy of a large oak tree just inside the Wise Lane entrance near the top of Page Street. He does not remember Reed Bunting, but thinks he recalls Yellowhammer.)
OTHER VERTEBRATES Grey Squirrel and Red Fox can be seen, but there is little recent evidence of other larger mammals. Rabbit are present but their numbers may have declined over recent years. There is some sign of Mole activity. In recent years Muntjac Deer have colonised the site.
DIRECTION Parking is available in a layby in Wise Lane at the foot of Featherstone Hill and in two nearby car parks in Mill Hill Park. There is street parking in Wills Grove and at the east end of Wise Lane. The 240 bus (between Edgware and Golders Green) passes close to the site.
ACCESS Arrandene has 24-hour free access, with four access points from Wise Lane and one each from Wills Grove and Milespit Hill. The site has a network of unsurfaced footpaths and bridleways, which tend to be muddy in places in winter. (Dogs are banned from the bridleways by Byelaw 3 of Barnet’s Byelaws Relating to Regulation of Dogs 1992, but this provision does not seem to be enforced and so is generally ignored by dog-walkers.)
Easy wheelchair access is available only from the east end of Wise Lane on a surfaced pathway leading only as far as the small pond. Mill Hill School used to have a relaxed policy about walkers drifting onto school property from the public footpath between Arrandene and Wills Grove, but has now erected warning signs.
FACILITIES There are no on-site facilities, but a cafe and toilets can be found across Wise Lane in Mill Hill Park. There is a small parade of shops nearby in Salcombe Gardens and plenty of shops and restaurants in Mill Hill Broadway. The nearest pubs are on The Ridgeway — the Three Hammers at the top of Hammers Lane and the Adam & Eve opposite the end of Burtonhole Lane (but note that this once lovely inn has now turned into a pretentious gastropub and in 2012 was castigated for selling a pepperoni pizza saltier than sea water, with 2.73g of salt per 100g against the Atlantic Ocean's 2.5g per 100g).
Assorted observations Edit
Nuisance dog walkers
Andrew Haynes writes: I used to enjoy peaceful walks on Arrandene, but it is tranquil no longer. Years ago I would meet the odd dog owner escorting a well-behaved pet, but nowadays I pass growing numbers of noisy dog walkers who have no idea how to control their charges. They shriek at their pets, even though the animals clearly have no intention of obeying their strident commands. Instead, the creatures run about wherever they please, sometimes racing over to put their muddy paws on my clean clothes. Instead of an apology, all I get is: “He (or she) only wants to be friendly.” Adding to this annoyance are those dog owners who spot an acquaintance across the width of a meadow and proceed to start a shouted conversation clearly audible to anyone on the far side of the next field but one. To make matters worse, it is also increasingly common to encounter dog-walkers screaming into mobile phones. But the biggest change in recent years has been the rise of the paid dog walker, who arrives with a vanload of pooches collected from owners who cannot be bothered to exercise their pets themselves. These “professional” walkers all seem to know one another and often meet for a loud confabulation, which is constantly disrupted as they break off to yell at individuals among the 30 or so dogs rampaging around them. The increasing canine commotion may well have contributed to the disappearance of creatures such as rabbits and partridges from the patch in recent years. I have nothing against well-controlled dogs and their owners, but perhaps there should be a law forbidding dog walkers from unleashing their charges unless the animals have been properly trained. Personally I would like to see all the miscreants put down. But then who would then look after the dogs? By the way, have I mentioned that I'm a sad little nimby? THAT STUPID LAST SENTENCE WAS NOT WRITTEN BY ANDREW HAYNES BUT WAS ADDED BY SOME IDIOT WHOSE COMPUTER'S IP ADDRESS IS 126.96.36.199
An anonymous contributor writes: I walk in Arrandene every day and there are many rabbits often seen and partridges as well as pheasants.
Fires and rubbish
An anonymous contributor writes: In recent events, people have been starting fires and use Arrandene as a dump. They do not care who is around. I myself have had to call the fire brigade from witnessing fires which spread from long distances. There is a particular fellow who comes with a group of people during the summer and they leave rubbish and do not even bother to put out the fire when they do eventually leave. This puts a danger to the habitat and people.
Another anonymous contributor writes: Couldn't agree more. This man still lights fires and I too have called the fire brigade on more than one occasion.
Information compiled mainly by Andrew Haynes