Meet the tennis stars’ wild neighbours and the hawk-eyed workers who keep them under control
Every year, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon plays host to the world’s oldest tennis tournament. A short distance away from Centre Court is Wimbledon common, home to a variety of creatures from the fluffy to the slithery.
Many iconic British mammal species live on the common, like badgers, moles, foxes, voles and shrews. Livestock used to be grazed on the area, but now the only grazers are the occasional visiting muntjac deer.
A survey in 2013 revealed that at least eight species of bats are using the common: nathusius, common and soprano pipistrelles, Daubenton’s bat, Natterer’s bat, Leisler’s bat, brown long-eared bat and noctule bat.
The ponds are occupied by common toads and frogs, terrapins and smooth newts, as well as several fish species. Only two of the UK’s six native reptile species have been seen: the grass snake and the common lizard.
There are a multitude of birds flitting around the common, and these inhabitants – especially the pigeons – can cause serious trouble at the tennis club. The grass on the courts (which used to be rolled by horses before technology provided an alternative) is re-seeded frequently to make sure that it’s in perfect condition when the tournament rolls around. Unfortunately, this high-quality seed is like dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant for the birds. If they eat all the seed (or land on court during a match) it could stop play, so since 1999 the Club has had a very important avian employee.
Hawks patrol the grounds, trained to scare away any birds considering sneaking in for a snack. Rufus the Harris hawk has held the official title of Bird Scarer for the last 10 years, and makes his rounds every morning and evening. A wingspan of a metre allows him chase trespassing birds at speeds of up to 48kph (30mph). Last year, he took on an apprentice; Pollux is only a few years old and likes swooping down onto tennis balls and the sound booms of unsuspecting TV crews. Pollux may still have a lot to learn from his experienced mentor (who even has his own Twitter account), but the pair is an essential part of the team making sure the tournament runs smoothly.
Get a closer look at the hard-working Rufus in this video by Wimbledon:
(Featured photo of a harris hawk – not Rufus or Pollux! – by William Warby/flickr)