Wanstead Flats

Alexandra Lake, Wanstead Flats

The lake is known locally as the Sandhills Pond on account of the sandy nature of its banks and the two low hills on the southern and western banks. It is the largest of the open waters on Wanstead Flats. Its proper name of Alexandra Lake is after Queen Alexandra (1844-1925) the queen-consort of King Edward VII, in whose reign the lake was dug. (see photos)

Alexandra LakeAlexandra Lake - June 2000

In "The Lake System of Wanstead Park & The Mystery of The Heronry Pond" by James Berry & Alan Cornish, dated March 1978, it is suggested that Alexandra Lake was dug sometime around 1906/7. This was in an effort to control flooding which took place from time to time in the vicinity of Wanstead Park Avenue and Aldersbrook Road. Other work was going on at the time to enhance the flow of water into the Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park, and a solution was to have the necessary work carried out by unemployed men under the control of the West Ham Distress Committee.

Origins of the Lake

In order to cure the problem of the Aldersbrook Road having cut off the natural drainage of Wanstead Flats at this point down a narrow valley running north-east to to the River Roding (i.e. now within the City of London Cemetery), Alexandra Lake was dug. There is an overflow system in its north-east corner, near Aldersbrook Road. It is suggested by James Berry & Alan Cornish that this might lead into Perch Pond in Wanstead Park by means of a drain via Wanstead Park Avenue, but I believe that the drain follows something of the original natural drainage route through the City of London Cemetery, but now underground, and hence may be considered to be the source of the Alders Brook.

Subsequent Improvements

A year or so after the lake was dug, it was apparent that not enough water was available to fill the excavation adequately. The lake was dug deeper so that sub-surface water could be accessed and a system of drains (photos) were installed to channel surface water from the Aldersbrook Road into the lake. This certainly had some effect, because before long the lake was a source of pleasure to many local people.

Water Loss and the Repair in 1992

During the late 1980's the lake had shown problems with a tendency to almost dry up during the summers. Late in 1992 the lake was dredged of accumulated silt in an attempt to access standing water (i.e. beneath the surface of Wanstead Flats). This necessitated removing the fish stock - or at least those that hadn't perished in the abominable conditions during the summer of 1992 when many died. The lake is also used by many wild birds - swans, ducks, geese, coot and moorhen as well as others. The truly wild birds were able to make use of other waters, but many escaped birds - domestic ducks and geese - became sick and died.

Disposal of Dredgings

The silt from the dredgings were disposed of in a most inappropriate manner. A relatively small amount was tipped at the western end of the lake as a sort of beach. It was supposed to be an amenity but is in fact an eyesore. Even worse, much was tipped on the lower of the lake's two islands - the island referred to locally as Flat Island! It is no longer that; whereas it once provided a habitat for nesting wildfowl, now much of it is a tangled bramble waste. Worse still, an enormous amount of silt was tipped onto Wanstead Flats adjacent to an open hawthorn woodland to the east of the lake. This has totally changed the character of the Flats in this area, inhibiting the views across. No attempt was made even to landscape the tip - it was just allowed to dry out as a corrugated, virtually inaccessible, eyesore.

Drainage

The work was otherwise successful. The lake retained a better volume of water at most times, and the wildfowl gradually returned. I had been pointing out for years that there had once been surface water drainage from Aldersbrook Road to help top-up the waters. Remains of the drains in the form of ceramic pipes could still be seen between the road and the lake and very obviously there was a gutter drain in Aldersbrook Road - but my claims were usually denied. Eventually it seems, somebody read the history, and eventually the gutter drain was cleaned out and new pipes were installed leading into the north-east corner of the lake. The original ceramic pipes could still be identified in 2002, in the form of broken pieces mixed with the gravel of the lake edge, but also still in their original situation. Interestingly, this was now within the root system of one of the London plane trees that line the road here. Presumably the drains were laid and the trees were planted at about the same time, but a little too closely. The increasing girth of the tree eventually encased the drain. (see photographs - click here)

Flooding in 2001

Alexandra LakeA 101 bus encounters Alexandra Lake on 25 March, 2001

With the lake now much better able to withstand dryer weather, another problem presented itself. In March 2001, heavy rainfall caused flooding in many parts of the country. Locally, the Aldersbrook Road by Wanstead Park Avenue was flooded by the waters of Alexandra Lake overflowing to more than halfway across the road at its worse. The problem arose because the overflow drains from the lake, which are situated quite close to the newly installed drains into the lake (although of course at a lower level) had become blocked. Once these were cleared and renovated - by which time the rains had subsided anyway - the waters went down.

Early in 2003, a ditch was dug across the rough grassland south of the lake as far as the playing fields, and then west some few hundred meters across the playing fields. This was apparently to try to improve drainage from the flats, which - as has been stated - are very prone to shallow flooding. The ditch is intended to deposit the water into Alexandra Lake and so help to maintain its level. The ditch was contoured so as to provide some interest, and crossing places were provided because it is a substantial barrier to what had been an open passage across the Flats. As well, the course of the ditch across the rough grassland followed the route of an old but useful track (probably associated originally with the prefabs that had been here). In the process, the track became unusable and the plants that grew alongside it (on slightly raised banks) were destroyed. These included the only patch of Heather (Calluna vulgaris) known on this part of the Flats.

Also in 2003, the gently sloping gravel "beach" (which can be seen in the photograph below) was modified so that a steeper bank was created at the waters edge. Presumably this was to prevent the accumulation of mud in that bay of the lake. The effect was to block the the inflow from the drain on Aldersbrook road, so that after a heavy rainfall in late September 2005, Aldersbrook Road was once again flooded so that water actually went into the shops. This was when the lake was so dry it was possible to walk dryfoot across to one of the islands! The ditch mentioned above has hardly ever seen water in it, and by 2009 the view of the lake from Aldersbrook Road had been almost obliterated by the vegetation that was now growing where the beach had been.

Excess Bird Feeding

Litter deposited on Wanstead FlatsSlices and loaves of bread left by Alexandra Lake - May 2001

The death of birds using the lake during 1992 was partially due to the increased levels of toxins in the lake caused by a persistent problem - that of overfeeding. A car park close to the lake's west end encourages people to visit, and of course many bring "food for the ducks". This pleasant pastime is one of the reasons for the vast flock of Canada geese which nowadays - in greater or lesser numbers - are a permanent feature. Many people, however, do not seem to realize that they are not the only ones providing food during the course of the day, nor have any awareness of the amount which is sensible to provide. It is extremely common to see people alight from their cars, walk to the waters edge (or even not that far) and tip carrier bag loads of food on the banks or into the water. It is not always bread - colourful concoctions of Asian foods are common, with lots of rice. The vast numbers of birds present at times - particularly geese, feral pigeons and in the winter, gulls - sometimes can't cope, and the food is left to rot. It is not uncommon to see uneaten bread in the water developing a blue bloom. The rat population at the north edge of the lake - in the woods and opposite the shops of Aldersbrook Road - flourish and try to help devour the stuff - but occasionally the water gets into a very bad state. Suggestions over the years to the Corporation of London that some form of advice to visitors about excessive bird-feeding should be provided went unheeded until some publicity began to be put out in about October 2002. Now (in 2004) there is a nice notice board with information about the lake and its wildlife, and also some signage attempting to inform people about the problems of overfeeding.

Litter Problems

Offerings left by the lakeCandles, coconuts, clothing, brooms, fruit, a basket and boxes left as part of religious ritual - February 2005

In addition to the excess bird food, ordinary litter also presents a problem. In fact, it is quite common for the plastic bags and bin-liners used to carry the food to lake are also left there! The photograph above shows one of a number of litter bins provided by the Corporation of London (they were originally used in the City of London until bomb-scares forced their removal), and at least some visitors used them. The problem was that they were open-topped. If it was windy - and the wind can blow quite strongly across the openness of the Flats - those bins particularly by the car park at the west end of the lake by Aldersbrook Road were soon losing the litter deposited in them and much of the lighter material ended up in the lake. In mid-June 2002, the litter bins in the vicinity of the lake were removed.

Another peculiar problem arises from what is presumably a religious ritual that is frequently carried out by Alexandra Lake. This involves the depositing of candles, coconuts and fruit adjacent to and in the lake. At times - as can be seen in the photograph - carrier bags and even the boxes that the candles were brought in are left by the lake, as well as clothing material.

 

The football games that take place particularly at weekend, but also during weekdays when numerous practise sessions take place either officially or unofficially, are often an unfortunate source of even more litter. Both the players in their break and after the session and spectators too tend to leave a selection of material including many plastic bottles after they leave. Epping Forest staff and indeed some local residents are good at dealing with this after the event but the costs involved in doing so, and the cost to the environment and to the visual enjoyment of the Flats, means that a way of dealing more effectively with the problem of litter should perhaps be dealt with more at the source.

Wanstead Flats - Birds

I wrote the following look at the birds of Wanstead Flats in 1980. It might be worth comparing the observations then with the situation now, so I have added some notes based around casual observations in 2000, plus some updates up to the present time.

Paul Ferris

WANSTEAD FLATS - NOT BAD FOR BIRDS - 1980

Although Wanstead Flats may not be as popular with bird-watchers as nearby Wanstead Park, the Flats are, nevertheless, quite popular with the birds!

For a few years now I have made fairly frequent visits to Wanstead Park and have become used, in some degree, to the variety of bird species that occur there. However, living adjacent to Wanstead Flats I tend to visit these more often than the Park and have learned what this relatively unrecorded area has to offer.

Naturally, the focal point for birds, animals and man anywhere tends to be water. In the case of bird and animals this provides a feeding and watering place, but for present-day man it may be simply for its aesthetic or recreational values. The lakes and ponds on the Flats are no exception, and of these Alexandra Lake is perhaps the most popular - for both man and a wide variety of bird species. Of these the waterfowl are the most obvious and not surprisingly Mallard are the most numerous. The numbers of the resident population increase during the summer as ducklings are reared and also during the winter due to the influx of birds from other parts. A few pairs of Tufted Duck may also stay during the summer, though these have been less successful at their attempts at breeding. Winter visitors too augment the numbers of this species, and this season usually brings some Pochard, which rarely stay during the summer. These are the usual ducks to he seen on Alexandra Lake although other species have occurred and include Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal and Goldeneye, in order of how frequently they have been seen. For some years until 1976 there were two Egyptian Geese usually present on the Lake, their origin unknown, but a somewhat exotic couple to have around. Mute Swans are often present, sometimes staying all the year and attempting to breed. Canada Geese are frequent - mainly winter - visitors in varying numbers. There is usually some "domestic" type waterfowl in the form perhaps of white Aylesbury Ducks, other aberrant Mallard and Muscovey Ducks.

The other large pond, that by Dames Road, may have at some time any of the above, but more usually Mallard, Tufted Duck, Canada Geese or Swans. The small round pond by Capel Road offers little protection and sparse feeding, so that Mallard are the more usual waterfowl to frequent it, if any.

Alexandra Lake also has a resident and a winter-visiting population of Coot and Moorhen, both of which species are quite successful at rearing young here despite the disturbance and abuse that this lake is prone to. Great Crested Grebes are seen occasionally, but never stay long. Until 1980 I had never seen a Little Grebe on the lake, but in that year there were three that stayed during the summer and a pair of them raised young. In the winter, gulls are very common on the lake, spilling over from the vast flocks that stand about on the playing fields nearby. The gulls that arrive in the autumn may sometimes be seen attempting to perch on the very top twigs of the trees on the lake's islands, trying to feed. It almost appears that they get better at this each year. The winter flocks of gulls consist mainly of Black-headed and Common Gulls, the former being the more numerous. Lesser Black-backs occur in much smaller numbers, and Herring Gulls and Great Black-backs are rarities.

Though close to the busy North Circular Road, it is human disturbance as opposed to that caused by road traffic that particularly seems to inhibit the number of waders that might otherwise visit the lake. It is only in the very early hours of the morning, even before dawn, that these may be seen. A visit, if possible before any other person arrives (a difficult undertaking!), during the migration periods may reveal, perhaps, a Common Sandpiper. A this time of the morning a Heron may be disturbed, otherwise these are more usually seen flying over, apparently looking but not stopping. Careful observation has shown Sandpipers - up to three in 1980 - which have stayed for several days, but this is not to be expected and they are difficult to see during the daytime. The one or two occurrences of Dunlin, on the other hand, have shown them present during the daytime on the perimeter bank of the lake and seemingly very "tame". This is possibly due to their being individual birds that would more normally be in large flocks, so that they are receiving none of the "danger" signals from other birds that would otherwise cause them to take flight at the approach of a human being. Ruff were seen in the area in the winter of 1976 and harsh weather conditions may bring other species.

Other birds particularly associated with the lake are the Wagtails, Martins and Swifts. Pied Wagtails are present all year, and often breed. Yellow Wagtails and Grey Wagtails are to be seen annually, but infrequently. Many House Martins feed over Alexandra Lake as well as the other waters on the Flats, and may be observed in the early summer collecting mud from the pond sides for their nests on nearby houses. Sand Martins are regular passage migrants in small numbers, but do not breed locally, whereas Swifts may be seen over the lake throughout their somewhat short summer visiting season. These breed in nearby houses in Wanstead Park Avenue. Swallows are also seen feeding over the lake, but perhaps just as often tend to be flying over the grassland of the Flats.

Of course many birds not otherwise particularly connected with water visit the lakes to feed and to drink. There does appear to be a resident population of House Sparrows and Feral Pigeons by Alexandra Lake that take advantage the food brought by people feeding the ducks. A few Chaffinches also make use of this food supply, as do Blue Tits and Great Tits. As well as Chaffinches, other finches commonly occurring on the Flats include Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Linnet, the latter especially being associated with the gorse and broom areas by Centre Road.

The bird I associate most with Wanstead Flats as opposed to other localities in the area, is the Skylark. At most times of the year at least one, and sometimes a good number, can be heard singing high over the grassland. Although a Skylark or two may be seen on the Plain in Wanstead Park, facilities for nesting there are very much more restricted than the Flats, even though much of these consist of playing fields and not the necessary rough grassland. Still, a few birds do manage to nest successfully each year and these are certainly supplemented by numbers of non-breeding birds, During the short nights of mid-summer, Skylarks are often singing before dawn. On a fine summer night at 2am I tracked down such a bird and found it to be singing from the ground, which they may do even during the daytime. At the same time I disturbed another bird which flew up and commenced singing in flight, and meanwhile a Tawny Owl had began hooting from somewhere near Alexandra Lake. Owl and Skylarks together at two in the morning!

Meadow Pipits are more often seen during the winter, although they are occasionally present in the summer. Different winters produce varying numbers of this species, depending it seems on the severity of the winters, as most are seen during cold periods. This is true also of the Yellowhammers, which are most often seen in the Hawthorns to the east of Alexandra Lake in flocks of up to twenty-five birds. They feed in the rough grass here and when disturbed, or while roosting, seek the security of the trees. These Hawthorns and the nearby small mixed woods are favourite spots for numerous species of birds, as is the area known as Long Wood further west towards Centre Road. Blackbirds particularly are abundant in these Hawthorn Woods, flying between it and the wooded islands of the lake. Song Thrushes, and in the winter Redwings, may also be seen here. Redwings and their associates the Fieldfares - again particularly during the more severe winters - may be seen anywhere on Wanstead Flats, often feeding on the playing-fields but more usually in the vicinity of Hawthorns for their berries. I have seen many of the trees near the junctions of Centre Road and Aldersbrook Road, where there are some fine berry- producing Hawthorns, absolutely covered in these two species. In 1980 flocks of Redwings were dropping out of a stormy autumn sky early one morning, trying to find a place to rest in the trees near Alexandra Lake. This was quite a spectacle, especially since House Martins were still very much in evidence.

Particularly during the late winter - and usually it seems when a strong wind is blowing - the powerful song of a Mistle Thrush may be heard, and the bird tracked down at a much greater distance than was supposed, sitting high in a tree top and facing into the wind as if in defiance. A few pairs of these birds are usually present somewhere on the Flats.

In the spring, a bird I look forward to seeing is the Wheatear. The cock in spring appears to be one of the most handsome and well-groomed of birds. For some reason this species seems to find football pitches singularly attractive, especially if there is a nearby bush, tree or almost any other object to retire to if disturbed. On early spring mornings or late spring evenings I often go to one particular area where they inevitably occur, in small numbers, each year. In autumn too they turn up, but whether they are less regular in their attendance, or I am, I'm not sure. By the time the Wheatears arrive the winter birds will be mostly gone, and shortly after the Wheatears the first Swallows or Martins will arrive. Again, Alexandra Lake is an ideal spot to await the first arrival of these, and it is always a great pleasure after a few evenings of watching an "empty" sky over the lake when suddenly there is a Martin or a Swallow. At this time too, a Chiffchaff may be heard, usually from one of the islands, and soon afterwards, Willow Warblers. Compared with Wanstead Park the comparative lack of tree cover on Wanstead Flats means that there are not many of these species around, but there are usually some. Sedge Warblers have occurred by the lake, but are unusual, and I have only ever seen two Lesser Whitethroats on the Flats. The first of these, in 1974, actually built a nest and laid eggs in a Bramble, but - as was almost inevitable - these were stolen. Spotted Flycatchers are not unusual, a few breeding pairs sometimes being present. Again the lake area us a good place to see these when they are feeding on insects over the water. By the late summer, House Sparrows appear to have been making careful observations of the Flycatcher's methods, and more careful observation on the part of the birdwatcher proves that most of the flycatchers jumping off the branches are in fact Sparrows. I have also on occasions witnessed nifty Pied Wagtails apparently intercepting a House Martin's prospective meal, and in the chase by the angry/hungry Martin that has ensued, it is amazing how fast and evasive a Wagtail can be. This "theft" is possibly the reason for the chase of a feral Pigeon by a persistent House Sparrow that one sometimes sees. Often this ends when the Pigeon suddenly alights on perhaps a rooftop, at which point the Sparrow seems to give up, perhaps because the stimulus to chase is removed when the quarry no longer flees.

Feral Pigeons are often to be seen feeding by the roadsides adjacent to houses. This is true also of the Wood Pigeon, particularly so along Capel Road; these birds probably come from Manor Park Cemetery where they are abundant. Collared Doves, in one or a few pairs, are sometimes present in the trees near to Alexandra Lake, and in this case there seems to be an association with these birds and the nearby City of London Cemetery. Carrion Crows are perhaps the most conspicuous of the year-round birds to be seen in any general glance at the grassy expanses of Wanstead Flats. At most times there are several birds, very often two or three dozen, and on occasions over a hundred. Magpies are also regularly seen, and nest very successfully in many of the small woods and copses that are scattered across the Flats. The only resident accipter is, as would be expected, the Kestrel. At times there may be one or two pairs present and these are often to be seen hovering over the grassland. For a short time in 1976 there was the exciting spectacle of a Lanner Falcon to be seen, either sitting in trees, soaring or stooping, but this was an escaped bird. Occasionally, Sparrow-hawks have been flown on the Flats by falconers. Other escapes that have occurred have included Budgerigars, Ring-necked Parakeets and an Australian Cockatiel.

The wide horizons of Wanstead Flats do provide an opportunity to see individual or flocks of birds flying at a distance. The most regularly seen in this manner are the Cormorants flying to and from their feeding grounds on the Thames and their roosting grounds at Walthamstow Reservoirs. The sight of up to thirty of these birds flying in a "V" formation is a lovely and unusual sight in this part of the country. Apart from one apparently unique individual that seemed to be making a personal inspection of the local lakes in 1980, Cormorants are usually only seen flying over the area. Herons are also well observed by scanning the horizon, but more often as single birds, and these may well come in low over the lakes and do sometimes land. Flocks of Lapwings are occasionally seen, as well as the more obvious Starlings on their evening flights from the outer fringes of London to their roosting places further in to the town. One such site nearby is just south of Stratford Station. A more unusual sighting of a flock of birds was that of fifty to sixty White-fronted Geese in January 1979.

As is often stated regarding birds "anything can turn up anywhere", and watching the sky with a good field of view as can be had from Wanstead Flats could well show other species that at least fly over, even if not attracted enough to land. Indeed, from the air and particularly during migration periods, with its few stretches of open water readily evident, the Flats might well seem an ideal place for a stopover for a weary bird. Some do, and some stay, but there is considerable disturbance to contend with. However, it must be remembered that if the area was not required for human recreation - and thus disturbance - Wanstead Flats may well have been developed into flats of another kind.

By no means all of the species that do occur or have occurred have been mentioned, and so a list of species known since 1974 is included. It will be seen from this that the total number of species that have been recorded from Wanstead Flats is 85. This compares with 111 species recorded from Wanstead Park or elsewhere in the Wren Conservation Group's study area. Considering, perhaps, the small number of recorders of the Flats' bird-life, the area can provide a good selection of birds. From my experience, just a casual walk around Alexandra Lake - viewing also the adjacent playing fields and trees - can often show some twenty species. This may not be a great number when compared with some of the world's great bird-watching spots, but is not bad for a location so close to London. A good day in spring, looking more carefully over the Flats as a whole might show perhaps forty or more species.

So all in all, Wanstead Flats is not a bad place for birds - or birdwatchers!

 

WANSTEAD FLATS - BIRDS IN 2000

Comparing the above article written in 1980 with the situation in 2000, a number of changes may be observed.

Alexandra Lake remains a focal point, and normally has a large number of birds present. One major difference is that Mallards are now almost rare!

Tufted Duck numbers appear to be similar and winter still produces a few Pochard and Shoveler. Gadwall - which I didn't even mention in 1980 are now a common winter bird, small numbers even staying well into the summer months. Wigeon and Teal and other species may occasionally occur. A pair of Mute Swans have bred regularly for years now. Canada Geese are are now present throughout the year in huge numbers - it is sometimes possible to count 200 or so birds. These are encouraged by a tremendous amount of feeding, not infrequently even local baker's vans stop and tip loaves of bread at the waters edge to say nothing of plastic bag loads of a wide range of foodstuffs deposited by well-meaning but poorly informed people. The edges of the lake can often be seen to be full of decaying food which has given rise at times to very poor quality water. There are usually a few feral Greylag geese with the Canadas, and occasional a hybrid. A few "domestic" type waterfowl are still present, though no Egyptian Geese nor Muscovey Ducks. There are numbers of Moorhen and lots of Coot, which breed readily. Some years Little Grebe succeed in rearing a brood, and less often, Great Crested Grebe. A bird that may be seen soon on Alexandra Lake is the Ruddy Duck - which has been seen in nearby Wanstead Park.

Common Sandpipers occasionally frequent the lake in Spring and Autumn, and Heron and nowadays Cormorants can sometimes be seen.

Dames Road pond has been in a bad state of repair for many years now and only after periods of rainfall is water present to any degree. Thus the species that may be seen there will consist mainly of Canada Geese and gulls - Black-headed, Common and some Lesser Black-backed. Angell's Pond by Capel Road, since it was dredged actually retains a better level of water and has over the years accumulated more vegetation around its edge, so more birds perhaps than in 1980 make use of it. These tend to be Canada Geese, Coot, Moorhen and Gulls.

Roosting on the Flats themselves, Lesser Black-backs are much more numerous now, and Herring Gulls are frequently heard, though Great Black-backs are still very rare. Occasionally a Mediterranean Gull has been identified in Winter.

Yellow and Grey Wagtails continue to be seen annually, but infrequently, though Pied Wagtails are present all year, and often breed. The House Martins that used to be so common over Alexandra Lake as well as the other waters on the Flats are rare now, whereas Swifts are extremely common and still breed in nearby houses in Wanstead Park Avenue. Sand Martins may still be seen in small numbers on migration and Swallows may be seen from time to time.

After a period of absence, a resident population of House Sparrows have returned, particularly in the vicinity of the southern edge of the Flats by Capel Road and at the north-western edge by Leytonstone. Feral Pigeons continue to mass in large numbers by Alexandra Lake, taking advantage of the excess food mentioned regarding the Canada Geese. As in 1980, a few Chaffinches also make use of this food supply, as do Blue Tits and Great Tits, which are still common local birds. Other finches, however - the Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Linnet which used to be fairly common - are now rarely seen. The flocks of Starlings that were once a familiar evening spectacle are very much diminished, though these birds are still present locally. Green Woodpeckers sometimes make use of the Flats, and occasionally Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Skylarks, I am pleased to report, are still doing very well on Wanstead Flats and every effort ought to be made to enhance their environment and allow them to flourish. The Tawny Owls that I mentioned in 1980 are almost never heard now - particularly it seems after the cutting down of many trees in nearby Manor Park Cemetery. Meadow Pipits are still present, winter and summer. Yellowhammers are now much scarcer. Blackbirds, though not uncommon, are fewer in number now as are Song Thrushes. Mistle Thrushes seem to be as frequent as ever and young ones may be seen after breeding. Redwings and also Fieldfares may occur in winter.

Wheatears probably still occur during their spring and autumn migrations, though it must be said that there has not been too many recent records of this species. That is probably due more to lack of local observers than to lack of birds. Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers are still likely to be heard particularly from the vicinity of Alexandra Lake in spring. Sedge Warblers are still uncommon visitors as are Lesser Whitethroats, and there have been few recent reports of Spotted Flycatchers. Common Whitethroats are usually present in summer, particularly in the copses near the junctions of Centre Road and Aldersbrook Road.

Feral Pigeons have already been mentioned in association with Alexandra Lake, but these are less common now near to houses. Wood Pigeons remain more or less the same, and the numbers of Collared Doves may have increased slightly. Carrion Crows are still plentiful with sometimes hundreds being present. Magpies too have maintained if not increased their numbers. These crows have now been joined by another - Jackdaws. From a small number in the vicinity of Snaresbrook Crown Court twenty years ago, they seem to have gradually made their way into Wanstead, then Wanstead Park, and now Wanstead Flats. They are frequently heard and seen now in the vicinity of Alexandra Lake. Kestrels are perhaps not as common as in 1980 - it is now just as likely to see see a Sparrowhawk instead. Hobbies are a species that wasn't mentioned in 1980, but may be seen most summers over or near Wanstead Flats.

2004

A number of breeding pairs of Little Grebe were noted (but not counted) around Alexandra lake in 2004. Mentioned but not seen on Wanstead Flats in 2000 were Ruddy Ducks. As predicted, they arrived and bred, producing three young in 2001. These are now a common sight on Alexandra Lake, having bred again this Spring. A pair of Greylag geese also bred, presumably on Alexandra Lake, but sightings alternated between this lake and the newly refurbished Jubilee Pond. This was before the goslings were able to fly - so they must have walked back and forth between the lakes! It was noted that Jackdaws are now a frequent visitor to Jubilee Pond which since its renewal has acted as home, refuge and/or feeding station to large numbers of Canada Geese. Even prior to the refurbishment, bird-feeding enthusiasts had encouraged Feral Pigeons - to such an extent that one of the new islands has been unofficialy dubbed "Pigeon Island".

2005

Casual observations during 2005 seemed to show that Mallard numbers were increasing and that Ruddy Ducks were now quite frequent in small numbers on Alexandra Lake. During a period of low water-level in Alexandra Lake in the latter part of September, about a dozen Teal were present - apparently taking advantage of the change in habitat. Canada Geese and Feral Pigeons were still present in large numbers - these still taking advantage of the masses of feeding that persistently takes place. Kestrels are infrequent on the Flats these days, although Sparrowhawks are often present. A new species has been reported in the last couple of years from one of the copses - Little Owl. Stonechat have been reported, and also Red-legged Partridge apparently for a couple of years now. A Tawny Owl was heard in nearby Manor Park Cemetery for some nights in September.

2009

2009 saw not just some new birds, but also some new birders in the area. The presence of more pairs of eyes especially during the Spring migration showed a number of species to pass through that we might have missed in the past. Wheatears showed up as usual with the first males on 15th March. Thereafter there were sightings into mid-April. During this period, a Whinchat was seen and also a Ring Ouzel. Is it possible that the latter species might regularly use the Flats as a stop-over and there just haven't been observers to see them? Later on Reed Buntings were singing in the gorse, Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats started to move in, and Whitethroats. The common Whitethroats were even joined by some Lesser Whitethroats by May - a species I haven't seen here for many years. In mid-April too, the first Swallows flew across the Flats, with Swifts appearing a week or so later. There were a few Meadow Pipits present all winter, and the Skylarks started singing in March.In 2000 I mentioned that the Skylarks were doing well; I could have added that it would be easy on a stroll across the Aldersbrook section of the Flats to here perhaps six singing. On 10th May the Wren Group did a skylark survey across the whole Flats and 12 or 13 singing birds were noted. Wanstead Flats really is remarkable for its Skylark population. How many other areas of London within the boundaries of the North/South Circular Roads support this many. We should be doing everything we can to ensure their survival, and even to enlarge the habitat for them. This is possible: there are area of the Flats that are mowed even though they do not form football pitches or other necessary-mowed areas such as the Model Aircraft flying area.

Other small birds commonly encountered are Starling, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Greenfinches, Chaffinches and, by some roadsides, House Sparrows. Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds are all common.

Little Owls are still present, with one in particular often stared at by dog-walkers and bird-spotters alike. The bird just stares back. Both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers are frequently seen or heard in the copses, or flying between them. Kestrels. Sparrowhawks and, in summer, Hobby are seen occasionally but do not seem common.

Carrion Crows are present in their usual, sometimes enormous, numbers and Jackdaws are a very frequent sight and sound. Magpies and Jays are not unusual.

After many years, some Egyptian Geese started to frequent the lakes on the Flats during April. Whether they will remain like the two in the 70's did remains to be seen. Other waterfowl remained much as always, although my perception was that Alexandra Lake is not so varied as it used to be. Hundreds of Canada Geese still flock there - as do feral pigeons - and  Greylag and Canada/Greylag hybrids are often present in small numbers. There are still Little Grebes, but Great Crested Grebes don't seem so common. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were often seen well into April with obviously potentially good pickings off the ponds and the playing fields. Numbers of Common Gulls compared to Black-headed appear to have risen.

Overhead, Herons are not unusual, sometimes landing by the lakes for a fishing expedition, and the flights of one, two, three or four Cormorants usually NW to SE in the mornings and SE to NW in the evenings continue. A species which I have only encountered on Wanstead Flats before as an escape is Ring-necked Parakeet. Two separate sightings of a group of three birds belting from the direction of the City of London Cemetery towards Manor Park Station were reported in April, and as is well known now, these birds are almost certainly part of the continuing expanding colonisation of this species in Britain.

Little Egrets have been sighted one or two times over the last few years in the area. In July 2009 one was reported to be present by the Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park, and a week or so later on the 20th, thre were two. The mass invasion came on 3rd August, when seven were present on the pond. At least some of these were present for about a week, taking advantage of the low water levels whilst the pond was undergoing maintenance.

 

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The Plants of Wanstead Flats

 

The following is based on an article published in 1981 (FERRIS, P.R. 1981. The Flora of Southern Epping Forest. Part 2: Wanstead Flats and Bush Wood. Lond. Nat . 60: 6-19). It has been updated and changed to some extent for reproduction here to provide an introduction to the plants to be found on Wanstead Flats.

 

For a list of the plants that have been found on Wanstead Flats, click here

For a map showing the recording grid, click here

 


 

Playing Fields

Large areas of Wanstead Flats are maintained as playing fields, mostly for football and comprising about 66 pitches. Because of the particularly unnatural constitution of this grassland, no account has been taken of the grasses used by the City of London Corporation in seeding and re-seeding the worn patches. However, some of the seeds used may find their way into adjacent rough grassland and so increase the number of species to be found there. Plants that occur spontaneously on the playing fields include an abundance of daisy Bellis perennis and dandelionTaraxacum officinale, both of which can make a beautiful show if not mown too soon. Other plants here include birdsfoot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, white clover Trifolium repens, black medick Medicago lupulina and where the soil has become bare, knotgrass Polygonum aviculare. Sand spurrey Spergularia rubra is plentiful on a football pitch to the west of the '1953' plantation and is also found on the Fairground site and by Jubilee Pond.

Rough Grassland

Much of Wanstead Flats that is not used for football pitches is rough grassland. Though basically untended, it used to be grazed by cattle until the BSE crisis which began in the late 1980s stopped that. The last cattle were grazed on the Flats in 1996. During dry weather, the Flats are somewhat prone to fires, either accidental or maliciously deliberate. Some of the most abundant grasses appear to be common bent Agrostis tenuis and red fescue Festuca rubra rubra, with much meadow foxtail Alopecurus pratensis. Wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa may be found mixed with these and is also in some areas the dominant grass, forming extensive patches. Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus is locally common across the whole area, as is cocksfoot Dactylis glomerata. Timothy Phleum pratense and smaller cat's-tail P. bertolonii are widely spread and common, but crested dog's-tail Cynosurus cristatus is much less so. Another grass which is widespread but not abundant is mat grass Nardus stricta. Wall barley Hordeum murinum is found in disturbed locations such as that on the edge of the Aldersbrook changing rooms, by the car parking area. It is also found by roadsides. Tufted hair-grass Deschampsia caespitosa is perhaps most common to the south of the '1953' or Coronation plantation.

Creeping willow Salix repens grows in a few widely scattered patches across the Flats. An example of this are the two patches that grow to the south-west of Alexandra Lake. It should be noted that one of these patches is adjacent to the area mown as playing fields, and suffers from that mowing infringing onto the rough grassland. Heath bedstraw Galium saxatile occurs mainly on the Fairground Section of the Flats, where there is also a small amount of lady's bedstraw Galium verum. White campion Silene alba is scattered in patches over much of the Flats, as too are numerous brambles Rubus fruticosus agg. These include the cut-leaved bramble, Rubus laciniatus. Other plants which are quite common in the rough grassland include curled dock Rumex crispus, sheep's sorrel R. acetosella, patches of stinging nettle Urtica dioica, and common vetch Vicia sativa. In the 'Garlic Patch' area, so called because of the amount of crow garlic Allium vineale, one of the less common species is tansy Chrysanthemum vulgare. Just to the south of Alexandra Lake there was a small but well-established patch of heather Calluna vulgaris, but the laying of a drainage ditch destroyed this. To the east of the lake were some plants of harebell Campanula rotundifolia, otherwise recorded only from the vicinity of Long Wood, although these have not been seen in recent years as bramble scrub has invaded. Similarly, some wood sage Teucrium scorodonia near the bus stop opposite St Gabriel's Church in 1992 has also been invaded by bramble, but was still present in 2016. This is probably of natural occurence, although a small amount found in July 2016 on the slope that leads down to the playing-field area known as the Brickfields or the Dell may have been accidentally introduced by way of the machines used to clear the gorse there. It is not known elsewhere on Wanstead Flats, although there was a patch at the edge of Bush Wood by the north end of Belgrave Road wayleave, although this could not be found in 2014 and subsequently.

Various shrubs and bushes are distributed about the Flats; bramble has been mentioned, and gorse Ulex europaeus is quite common. One of the thickest scrub areas is near where the spring used to be (see below). Here gorse, hawthorn and bramble grow together, as well as some broom Sarothamnus scoparius. The slopes that lead down to the playing fields area knoawn as the Dell or Brickfields are noted for the insect-life there - particularly mining bees. As such attempts have been made to clear some of the gorse, but this quickly returns. In 2016, amongst newly-emerging gorse, five patches of heather were found, the only plants of that species known on the east side of Centre Road. Also present nearby were a few plants of wood sage and also one or two flowers of tormentil Potentilla erecta. This had never been found on Wanstead Flats before, the nearest known plants being within the graveyard of the Quaker Meeting House in Bush Wood. Along the lower edge of this slope a considerable amount of hare's-foot clover was also found. Previously, this species was only known from a small patch near Jubilee Pond. Is this too a result of machine-movements on the Forest? A large patch of blackthorn Prunus spinosa could be found near Aldersbrook Road, just north of the spring area, but this whole area has been cleared of scrub to a great extent in recent years, primarily to try to limit some nefarious activities which may take place here. Heath rush Juncus squarrosus is found in small quantities widely scattered about the grassland.  A few patches of petty whin Genista anglica were present, and one patch at least was known in 2002, but none have been found in recent years. The loss of this species seems to coincide with the cessation of cattle grazing on the Flats in 1996 following the BSE outbreak.

Across Centre Road, to the west, some patches of heather Calluna vulgaris are also well established and some work was done in 2006/7 involving a shallow scraping of part of the area in an attempt to re-establish some of the finer grasses and enhance the heather. Broom is abundant here and can cover an extensive area, thus in 1981 I actually called this 'the Broomfields'. Another clearance of the area adjacent to the heather patches took place in 2014, partly to try to limit invasive birch growth that was taking place. This resulted in a small patch of yellow ratlle Rhinanthus minor being found. Here too are some buddleia Buddleja davidii and dog rose Rosa canina, and Hairy sedge Carex hirta has been found in the rather dry grassland near Lake House Road.

Ponds and Wet Areas

Angell's Pond, more commonly spelt Angel Pond nowadays but also known as the Bandstand Pond or Capel Road Pond, is the smallest of the permanent open waters on Wanstead Flats and has been colonised by comparatively few species of plants. Of these floating sweet-grass Glyceria fluitans and soft rush Juncus effusus are prominent. Also present on the mainly bare banks is common spike-rush Eleocharis palustris. In 2000 a considerable amount of New Zealand pigmyweed Crassula helmsii was noted as well as some of the other increasingly invasive aquarium plant, parrot's-feather Myriophyllum aquaticum. A more pleasing find at the same time was a very small amount of buttonweed Cotula coronopifolia. In August 2007, the first purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria plant to be found on Wanstead Flats was discovered in the pond. The following year a patch was noted by Alexandra Lake. Angel Pond does suffer at times from a severe lack of water; in 2008, a seedling rowan Sorbus aucuparia was found growing considerably far into the pond from what should be the dry bank.

Jubilee Pond was before 2002 stone edged and steep sided with no shallows, being some feet deep close to the edge, and known as the Model Yacht Pond. All around the pond the earth was well trodden and compacted and so supported little plant-life. For some years the pond had not retained water. When it did, Canadian pondweed Elodea canadensis as well as an abundance of curled pondweed Potamogeton crispus was present. In 2002 the lake was renovated and renamed Jubilee Pond. Some plants were introduced deliberately, others occurred spontaneously and a record of the changes were being made. For more information about this click here. However, subsequent to the renovation it was found that the new pond suffered from severe water loss, and so further work was done in 2013 and 2014 to try to rectify this. The result is that many of the plants - introduced and otherwise - that had begun to establish there were lost, and a new succession is taking place. (2016)

Alexandra Lake, also known as the Sandhills Pond, is the largest of the waters and when this report was originally written in 1981 had relatively few plants around the edge except for numerous clumps of soft rush, a small amount of trifid bur-marigold Bidens tripartita, some grasses, and white clover Trifolium repens. In recent years many more plants have become established at the pond's margins, including silver birch and willows Salix sp. This may coincide with the loss of the cattle that once used the lake as a source of drinking water, but the aspect of the lake is changing rapidly. In some parts - particularly opposite the parade of shops on Aldersbrook Road - the lake is even becoming difficult to see. New Zealand pigmyweed Crassula helmsii has become established on the gently sloping banks, particularly on the south margin of the lake. In 2004 a patch of galingale Cyperus longus was found at the south edge of the lake, although this could not be found in 2014. The protection afforded by the two islands of the lake had even prior to 1981 enabled a greater variety of plants to exist here. Yellow flag Iris pseudacorus and great water-grass Glyceria maxima are present by the waterside on the higher (the eastern) island, and great willow Salix caprea on both of them. On the low island silver birch Betula pendula is numerous. In August 2008, a patch of purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria was found by the lake, in the bay opposite Aldersbrook Parade.

A smaller and lesser-known pond is the Cat and Dog Pond on Bush Wood Flats, quite near to Lake House Road. A youngster that I encountered there years ago explained to me that it was so-called because it is only there "when it has been raining cats and dogs". It probably never has much depth of water in it, but is probably always damp, and frogs find it attractive, as do dragonflies. There is a considerable amount of soft rush, and yellow flag is common. There is common reed Phragmites, too, and this increased significantly since the original survey was made, so much so that only a small amount of 'open' water (if water at all) was present. At some time - possibly during 2020 or early 2021, some quite major work was undertaken to remove much of the reed and - particularly after large amounts of rain during the winter of 2020/21 - the pond really did look like a pond, even large enough to reflect the images of the tower blocks to the west.

In the north-west corner of the Aldersbrook Section where the ground level rises slightly used to be a spring. This gave rise to a small wet area on the edge of the area known as the Brickfields (or sometimes the Dell) which are used as playing fields. Because of the continuing outflow from the spring, it was usually the wettest of the 'marshes' to be found on the Flats. Great water-grass and soft rush were the dominant plants, and amongst these jointed rush Juncus articulatus and toad rush J. bufonius could be found. Celery-leaved crowfoot Ranunculus sceleratus was present and the plants that occur here had a more rounded fruit-head than is usual in this species. Possibly because of changing climatic conditions, but probably due to pipe-laying work along Centre Road, the spring now no longer exists and the marshy area is now dry. Another large area of 'marsh' was to be found across Centre Road on the Fairground Section, consisting predominantly of soft rush, but with some hard rush Juncus inflexus. However, this too is drying up leading to a loss of an important habitat which harboured an interesting collection of rushes, sedges, mosses and liverworts.

Trees

Including the smaller species such as elder Sambucus nigra, holly Ilex aquifolium and hawthorn Crataegus spp., 35 species of trees have been found on Wanstead Flats. These can be growing singly in copses and woods, in lines along roadsides, or in avenues. The total number of trees is quite large for an area which could so easily be seen as 'just grassland'. One of the most widespread species is hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, which occurs as isolated specimens, with other species in woods or copses, or even forming something of a small wood itself, as in the area to the east of Alexandra Lake. A solitary tree growing near the south-east corner of this lake is a Midland hawthorn C. oxyacanthoides, in this case a variety with red flowers, although by 2020 this could not be found. Another of these grows by Capel Road and a few more on Manor Park Flats. Also in this area, near Forest View Road, are a number of specimens of flowering cherry Prunus serrulata and apple Malus sp. These are perhaps relics of gardens attached to wartime prefabricated houses that stood on this part of the Flats until about 1960. A specimen of mock orange Philadelphus coronarius here almost rates as a tree, and may also be such a relic. Elder and holly may be found growing wild almost anywhere on the Flats, they often appear as seedlings amongst other vegetation. Another small tree is laburnum Laburnum anagyroides; one specimen is known near Lake House Road and another by Aldersbrook Road. There are also some aspens Populus tremula, by the edge of the hawthorn wood near NW of the Brickfields. Two other species of poplar are present. There is a Lombardy poplar Populus nigra 'italica' close to a house near the western end of Evelyn's Avenue (see below), and thgere was another on a mound that is the site of the underground toilets which were near the junction of Dames Road and Lake House Road. This tree - prominent from distant parts of the Flats - had been felled by 2016. An impressive grove of hybrid black poplar Populus x canadensis finish the avenue of trees - Evelyn's Avenue - that crosses from Bush Wood to the western extremity of the Flats. Hybrid black poplars are also found spaced along Centre Road, particularly at the northern end.

Evelyn's Avenue - although somewhat depleted particularly as it crosses Wanstead Flats - is a double avenue of common lime Tilia x europaea. Tree avenues such as these were a popular feature during the 17th century. John Evelyn recommended limes as 'most proper and beautiful for walks' and that they should be planted 'at a distance of eighteen to twenty foot'. What may remain of the original 'Evelyn's Avenue' are some impressive sweet chestnut trees within Bush Wood. (photo) The limes are clearly of a later date.

Other trees that have been used for lining roadsides are English oak Quercus robur, London plane Platanus x hybrida and horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum. A specimen of sessile oak Quercus petraea is known from Capel Road, near the "Golden Fleece" pub, though this was only noticed in 2007! There is a red-flowered horse chestnut A. x carnea by Aldersbrook Road.

The groups of trees that were planted on Wanstead Flats as an amenity feature often contain a variety of species, although in many oak species and beech Fagus sylvatica may outnumber the rest. The wood by the north side of Alexandra Lake, for example, contains about sixteen species of which beech is the most abundant. There are, however, almost as many English oak and just one red oak Q. borealis. A single alder Alnus glutinosa which was present in 1980 is now gone, though a Corsican pine Pinus nigra laricio is - apart from yews - the only conifer on the Flats. The yews, when mentioned in 1981, were stated as being "small and few"; in 2007, although there are no large trees, the numbers have risen substantially. Many of the more recent trees may be found adjacent to mature trees such as London planes growing by roadsides (photo). On the Fairground Section there is a copse that contains about equal numbers of the two species of oak just mentioned, plus a few hornbeam Carpinus betulus. In the 'East Copse' on the Aldersbrook Section, beech is the most abundant species, but with almost as many oaks comprising almost equal numbers of red oak and English oak. There were also two whitebeams Sorbus aria, although these are now dead (photo). There are a number of silver birch Betula pendula, although in 1979 only one of these was still alive. In the 'North Copse', there are three locust trees Robinia pseudoacacia; one of these has suckered badly, and these are now spreading south and east onto the rough grassland (photo). In the 'South Copse' is a specimen of sweet chestnut Castanea sativa. In 1979 the majority of birches all over the Flats were dead or dying. These trees were probably at the end of their natural life-span here, and the drought of 1976 may have helped to hasten their end. Only on the islands of Alexandra Lake were there many still living. However after the cessation of cattle grazing on Wanstead Flats in 1996, birches were able to re-establish themselves and by 2000 there was virtually a new wood of them on the Fairground Section, and in subsequent years they have been spreading to such an extent that this section - an SSSI - is threatened. The elms Ulmus spp. too, are mostly gone as large trees, although many persist as suckers from a dead tree or its stump, particularly at the west end of Capel Road. Exceptions to the missing large elm trees are two or possibly three East Anglian elms Ulmus minor ssp. minor by Belgrave Road Wayleave. Mistletoe Viscum album has been found on a few trees, both hybrid black poplar and hawthorn, on the section of the Flats nearer to Bush Wood, and in 2016 two mistletoe plants were seen in trees on the Aldersbrook section, not far from the junctions of Aldersbrook Road, Centre Road and Blake Hall Road.

The Coronation Plantation is a small area on the Aldersbrook Section of the Flats which was planted with trees in 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Many of the trees are oaks which are all very small, though interestingly they decrease in size from south to north. The northern part of the original plantation - which until 1979 had a wire fence surrounding it which gave some protection from grazing and trampling - is thus primarily grass.  A small patch of heath bedstraw Galium saxatile occurs here, a species which is known elsewhere on Wanstead Flats, but particularly on the Fairground Section. Other plants to be found in the plantation area include white campion Silene alba and numerous brambles Rubus fruticosus agg. These include the cut-leaved bramble, Rubus laciniatus.

For more information on the trees of Wanstead Flats, click here.

Roadside Verges and Houses

Nearly all of Wanstead Flats is surrounded by either roads or by the back gardens of houses. The roadside verges often consist of a ditch, sometimes with a bank. All too often the ditches need to be cleared of dumped rubbish, creating a disturbed situation in which many plants are to be found. Creeping thistle Cirsium arvense and lesser burdock Arctium minus are common in this situation. Red dead-nettle Lamium purpureum and black horehound Ballota nigra are quite common along the banks, the latter particularly in stretches along Capel Road. Some less common plants also manage to survive in the ditches. There was for some years one tiny patch of ivy-leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis hanging on to the side of a ditch by Capel Road. Rather more prominent by the end of this road near Angel Pond was some wormwood Artemisia absinthum. Mugwort A. vulgaris is much commoner by the roadsides. Man's disturbance of the verges has resulted in more species of plants on Wanstead Flats than would otherwise occur. The rubbish deposited here includes outcast garden plants and seeds. The double-flowered forms of feverfew Chrysanthemum parthenium and soapwort Saponaria officinalis that are well established may be examples of species introduced in this way. There are a few species of shrubs that have become established, possibly by being cast out from houses, but the possibility of deliberate planting should not be excluded. By Capel Road, in the section nearer to the Golden Fleece pub which has more of a hedge than much of the rest of the Flats, there are specimens of Oregon grape Mahonia aquifolium, laurustinus Viburnum tinus and tree mallow Lavatera arborea. Many daffodils are planted along here, and probably also the sweet violets Viola odorata that are spreading across the bank near the Golden Fleece. There was for a time a mass of soapwort by Aldersbrook Road at the Manor Park end of the Flats.

A patch of alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum was noted in Lake House Road not far from the junction of Dames Road in 1998. By 2005 this species had spread along the road-side almost to Centre Road. By 2006 there were patches along Centre Road on the Fairground side of the Flats, and in 2007 the first patch was noted on the Aldersbrook section at the side of Centre Road opposite Lakehouse Road. The species was also noted in scrub at the north end of the Belgrave Road Wayleave on the Bush Wood section of the Flats. In 2015 some alexanders was noticed at the wast end of Capel Road, and in 2016 a large patch was present in the wooded area just west of Aldersbrook changing rooms. Near the old wall that surrounds Aldersbrook petrol station and Heatherwood Close (a remnant of Aldersbrook Farm), there are a number of species which have probably been either cast out or deliberately planted. These include some snowdrops Galanthus sp., yellow archangel amiastrum galeobdolon ssp. argentatum and large cuckoo-pint Arum italicum . The wall itself has harboured some ferns - maidenhair spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes and hart's-tongue Phylliyus scolopendrium. It is the wall itself that gives these the opportunity to survive - only one other hart's-tongue is known from Wanstead Flats and that was noticed in 2016 on the side of the ditch parallel to Centre Road, near Long Wood. Also by Centre Road in the vicinity of Long Wood, a patch of longleaf Falcaria vulgaris in 2008 was stretching along something like a 2 metre length of the roadside bank; unfortunately, half of the width of this was mowed away in August of the following year. However, in 2016 it is still present. The edge of the Flats by the back gardens of the houses in Belgrave Road is particularly rich in unusual plants, including balm Melissa officinalis, snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, three-cornered leek Allium triquetrum and spotted dead-nettle Lamium maculatum.

Although more species surely still remain to be discovered on Wanstead Flats, and the distribution, particularly of the grasses, needs further investigation, an overall impression gained during the survey undertaken in the early 1980's was that of the 250 species recorded, many of these were few in number. It was found that something like 60 species are to be found on Wanstead Flats that are not present in Wanstead Park, and 105 species in the Park that do not occur on the Flats.

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Wanstead Flats - Trees

 

Wanstead Flats forms the southern-most extent of Epping Forest and comprises about 135 Hectares, mostly of open grassland and football pitches.

The overall impression one gets of the area is just that - flat, open grassland. But in fact there are a large number of trees to be found here, hundreds of specimens of some 36 species. These are present typically in planted copses and as roadside plantings, or - in the case for example of Hawthorn - in either small groups or as isolated specimens.

A survey of the trees of Wanstead Flats was made in 1979 as an addition to the general plant survey of Wanstead Flats (Ferris, 1981), and covers the same area.

Each separate 0.25 x 0.25Km. square of the plant survey map (Map) was investigated and the species present therein listed (Table 1). The trees found in each square were listed alphabetically using the scientific name. The number of specimens of each species should generally be treated as approximate, especially in the larger groups of trees where counting precisely is more difficult.

The term 'tree' should be taken to include some of the smaller types that may in fact be little more than shrubs. This is particularly true of elder (Sambucus nigra).

36 species were recorded on 1979, although some of these - particularly Elm, Birch and the single Alder (Alnus glutinosa) - were in poor condition or dying.

A list of the 36 species in alphabetical order is included in Appendix 1.

P. R. Ferris

TABLE 1.

Trees recorded from Wanstead Flats listed alphabetically by species per grid square.

(specs. = specimens)

D3/D4 (Wood by Harrow Road)
Acer campestre 2 specs.
Acer pseudoplatanus 3 specs.
Carpinus betulus 1 spec.
Crataegus monogyna A few trees
Populus x canadensis 1 spec.
Quercus robur 2 specs.
Sambucus nigra 1 spec.
Ulmus sp. 4 specs.

D4
Populus nigra 'italica' 1 spec. by houses at edge of Flats

D5 (Edge of Flats)
Platanus x hybrida A line of trees

(Wood opposite school)
Crataegus monogyna The predominant species
Sambucus nigra 1 spec.

(Group of trees near Ferndale Rd.; inc. part of D6)
Crataegus monogyna A few trees
Populus x canadensis A number of fine trees
Tilia x europaea 5 specs. amongst poplars

(S.W. edge of tree avenue (Evelyn's Avenue) leading to Bush Wood)
Platanus x hybrida Forming part of Evelyn's Avenue
Populus x canadensis

D6
Populus tremula One tree at edge of Flats opp. Stanmore Road.

E3
Platanus x hybrida Lining Harrow Road

E4 No trees except possibly two Crataegus monogyna in S.E. corner of square

E5
Platanus x hybrida Comprising tree avenue (Evelyn's Avenue)
Populus x canadensis

E6 (Avenue of trees)
Crataegus monogyna A few trees
Tilia x europaea Main avenue of trees

(Lining Bushwood)
Platanus x hybrida

(Wood by Bushwood)
Acer pseudoplatanus 1 spec.
Crataegus monogyna Some in wood; a few elsewhere
Fagus sylvatica 1 spec.
Quercus robur Predominant species

F2
Platanus x hybrida Lining Dames Road and Sidney Road

F3
Acer pseudoplatanus A few specs. on old toilet site
Crataegus monogyna Numerous specs.
Fagus sylvatica 1 spec. on site of old toilets
Platanus x hybrida Lining S. side of Lake House and Dames Roads
Populus nigra 'italica' 1 spec on old toilet site.

F4 (Lining Lake House Road; west side)
Platanus x hybrida A number of trees
Populus x canadensis 6 specs.
Tilia x europaea 1 spec.

(Edge of Flats by houses)
Acer campestre 3 specs.
Acer pseudoplatanus 1 spec.
Betula sp. A few specs.
Carpinus betulus 2 specs.
Crataegus monogyna Abundant
Ilex aquifolium Some bushes
Platanus x hybrida Comprise most of tree avenue
Populus x canadensis
Quercus robur 2 specs.
Tilia x europaea 2 specs.
Ulmus sp. 2 trees; many suckers

F4 (S.E. side of Lake House Road)
Crataegus monogyna
Platanus x hybrida Lining Lake House Road
Tilia cordata A few specs. in copse
Tilia x europaea Dominant species in copse

F5
Acer campestre 1 spec.
Betula sp. 2 specs.
Carpinus betulus 2 specs.
Crataegus monogyna
Platanus x hybrida Forming avenue of trees by houses
Populus x canadensis
Tilia x europaea

F6
This square includes part of Bush Wood, dealt with separately. Only those trees
that are S.W. of the footpath between Belgrave Road and Bushwood are included here.

Crataegus monogyna Abundant
Ilex aquifolium Abundant
Platanus x hybrida Lining Bushwood
Quercus robur Abundant
Tilia x europaea Tree avenue

G2 (By houses in Woodford Road and Sidney Road)
Aesculus hippocastanum
Acer campestre
Acer platanoides 1 spec.
Acer pseudoplatanus
Carpinus betulus
Crataegus monogyna
Fagus sylvatica
Ilex aquifolium
Quercus robur
Tilia x europaea
Ulmus sp. Unidentified elm
Ulmus glabra

(Lining Sydney Road)
Platanus x hybrida

G2 (By Centre Road)
Crataegus monogyna 1 spec.
Tilia x europaea 1 spec.

G3 (By Centre Road)
Acer pseudoplatanus 1 spec.
Crataegus monogyna
Tilia x europaea 2 specs

G3 (Copse to W. of Centre Road)
Carpinus betulus 3 specs
Crataegus monogyna
Quercus borealis 5 specs.
Quercus robur 8 specs.

(Elsewhere)
Crataegus monogyna Scattered on Flats

G4 (Roadside)
Crataegus monogyna
Malus sp. 1 spec. by Lake House Road
Quercus robur 3 specs. by Lake House Road
Sambucus nigra
Tilia x europaea 2 specs. by Centre Road

(Copse east edge of F4)
Crataegus monogyna
Tilia x europaea Dominant species

G5
Acer pseudoplatanus One small tree by Lake House Road
Crataegus monogyna Plentiful
Fagus sylvatica 1 spec. in dip E. side of Centre Road
Ilex aquifolium 2 specs.
Laburnum anagyroides 1 spec.
Platanus x hybrida Lining E. side of Centre Road
Populus tremula 1 spec.
Sambucus nigra Approx. 3 specs.
Sorbus aucuparia A sapling near Lake House Road
Tilia cordata 1 spec.
Ulmus glabra 1 spec.

H1 (Avenue by Capel Road)
Aesculus hippocastanum 1 spec.
Fraxinus excelsior 2 specs.
Platanus x hybrida Avenue by Flats plus 2 dead trees by road
Tilia sp. 6 specs.
Ulmus sp. One or two nearly dead trees; lots of regeneration in ditch

(Bandstand circle)
Platanus x hybrida

H2 (An avenue of trees by Woodford Road)
Acer pseudoplatanus 4 specs.
Platanus x hybrida Comprise that side of tree avenue by pond
Populus x canadensis 1 spec.
Tilia sp. 1 spec.

H3 (Lining Centre Road)
Acer pseudoplatanus 1 spec.
Aesculus hippocastanum 1 spec.
Populus x canadensis 1 spec.
Tilia sp. 4 specs.
Ulmus sp. 2 specs; one nearly dead, but regenerating in ditch.

H4 (By Centre Road)
Acer pseudoplatanus 1 spec.
Crataegus monogyna
Platanus x hybrida 1 spec.
Populus x canadensis 5 specs.
Tilia sp. 3 specs.
Ulmus sp. 1 spec.

(Long Wood: western section)
Aesculus hippocastanum 1 spec.
Carpinus betulus 5 specs.
Crataegus monogyna Plentiful. particularly at edge of wood.
Fagus sylvatica 2 specs. , one with white bark.
Ilex aquifolium Some bushes
Platanus x hybrida
Quercus sp. 2 unidentified oaks near Centre Road
Quercus robur Predominant species..
Sambucus nigra 1 or 2 bushes.
Tilia sp. 5 specs. plus one isolated to N. of Long Wood.

(Long Wood: middle section)
Betula sp. 1 dead tree.
Carpinus betulus 4 specs.
Crataegus monogyna Plentiful around edges and at E. end.
Fagus sylvatica Co-dominant species with Quercus robur.
Quercus sp. One tree with large leaves.
Quercus borealis 2 specs.
Quercus robur Co-dominant species with Fagus sylvatica.
Sambucus nigra

(Long Wood: eastern section inc. part of I4)

Betula sp. 3 specs. alive; 1 dead
Crataegus monogyna
Fagus sylvatica Co-dominant species with Quercus robur.
Quercus sp. One unidentified tree.
Quercus borealis 2 specs.
Quercus robur Co-dominant species with Fagus sylvatica.
Sambucus nigra
Tilia sp. 3 specs.
Ulmus glabra 1 spec.

H5
Carpinus betulus 2 specs.
Crataegus monogyna
Fagus sylvatica 1 spec.
Ilex aquifolium 1 bush.
Quercus robur 1 tree plus some seedlings in grass.
Tilia sp. 1 spec. by track from spring to Centre Road.
Tilia x europaea 4 specs. by Aldersbrook Road.
Ulmus sp. 2 specs.

I1 (Copse just west of changing rooms)
Fagus sylvatica 9 specs.
Quercus robur Dominant species.

(Lining Capel Road)
Aesculus hippocastanum

I2 (South Copse)
Carpinus betulus 1 spec.
Castanea sativa 1 spec.
Fagus sylvatica Dominant species in S. part of copse.
Quercus robur Dominant in N. part of copse.
Tilia x europaea 3 specs.

(Lining Capel Road)
Aesculus hippocastanum

I2/3 (North Copse)
Betula sp. Only one spec. still alive.
Castanea sativa Approx. 9 specs.
Fagus sylvatica Co-dominant with Q. robur.
Quercus borealis Approx. 12 specs.
Quercus robur Co-dominant with F. sylvatica
Robinia pseudoacacia 3 specs.
Tilia x europaea 5 specs. amongst poplars

(For '1953' plantation see I4)

I4 ('1953' plantation including part of I3)
Betula sp. 1 spec.
Carpinus betulus
Crataegus monogyna
Fagus sylvatica
Quercus robur

(For Long Wood see H4)

I5 (Aldersbrook Road-side)
Acer pseudoplatanus One sapling among hawthorns
Crataegus monogyna Scattered along roadside
Tilia x europaea 1 spec.
? Unidentified sapling planted by roadside opposite Brading Crescent.

(By bus stop)
Carpinus betulus Saplings
Crataegus monogyna
Fagus sylvatica Saplings
Quercus robur Saplings

J1
Acer pseudoplatanus Three groups of young trees E. of changing rooms
Aesculus hippocastanum Lining Capel Road
Quercus robur One spec. opposite 86 Capel Road

J2
Aesculus hippocastanum Lining Capel Road

J2/3
Betula sp. Only 1 spec. alive
Fagus sylvatica About 16 specs.
Quercus borealis About 14 specs.
Quercus robur About 10 specs.
Sorbus sp. 2 specs.
Tilia x europaea 1 spec.

J4
(No trees)

J5
Aesculus x carnea Isolated small tree opposite Park Rd.
Crataegus monogyna Plentiful

(West edge of walled area)
Aesculus hippocastanum 2 specs.
Acer campestre 2 specs.
Acer pseudoplatanus 5 specs.
Carpinus betulus 1 spec.
Quercus robur 6 specs
Tilia x europaea 11 specs.

(South edge of walled area)
Acer pseudoplatanus 4 specs.
Aesculus hippocastanum 2 specs.
Fagus sylvatica 10-20 specs.
Fraxinus excelsior 1 spec.
Quercus robur 10-20 specs.
Tilia x europaea 10-20 specs.

(East edge of walled area)
Acer pseudoplatanus A few specs.
Aesculus hippocastanum 2 specs.
Carpinus betulus 1 spec.
Fagus sylvatica Co-dominant species with Q. robur
Quercus robur Co-dominant species with F. sylvatica
Tilia sp. A few specs.
Betula sp. In playing field building enclosure
Platanus x hybrida Lining Aldersbrook Road

K1/2 (Capel Road-side)
Acer pseudoplatanus One sapling opposite 111 Capel Road
Crataegus monogyna Roadside hedge
Crataegus oxyacanthoides One specimen opposite 94 Capel Road
Quercus robur Lining Road

K3 (For islands of Alexandra Lake see I3)

K4
Platanus x hybrida Lining Aldersbrook Road

L1
Acer pseudoplatanus 2 small trees, opposite 152 and 159
Crataegus monogyna Capel Road-side hedge
Quercus robur Lining Capel Road

L2 (By Capel Road-side)
Crataegus monogyna A few specs.
Ulmus sp. One tree stump regenerating

(East of Alexandra Lake and elsewhere on Flats)
Acer pseudoplatanus 2 specs.
Betula pendula 1 spec. E. of Alexandra Lake
Crataegus monogyna Predominant species
Crataegus oxyacanthoides 1 spec. S.E. corner of Alexandra Lake
Ilex aquifolium Some small bushes
Sambucus nigra Some small trees

(For islands of Alexandra Lake see L3)

L3 (Alexandra Wood - north of lake)
Acer campestre 2 specs.
Acer platanoides
Acer pseudoplatanus 5 specs.
Aesculus hippocastanum 4 specs.
Alnus glutinosa 1 spec.
Betula sp. 2 spec. alive
Carpinus betulus 10 specs.
Crataegus monogyna Common
Fagus sylvatica Most abundant species
Ilex aquifolium A few specs.
Pinus nigra laricio 1 spec.
Platanus x hybrida 1 spec. in wood; rest lining road
Quercus borealis 1 spec.
Quercus robur 15 specs.
Tilia x europaea 14 specs.
Ulmus glabra 1 tree; 1 stump

(Islands on Alexandra Lake; inc. K3 and L2)

The islands have not been closely studied but the following species are thought to be present:
Betula sp.
Prunus sp.
Quercus robur
Salix caprea caprea

M1 (West side of Forest Drive)
Acer pseudoplatanus One small tree among hawthorns
Crataegus monogyna Scattered

M2 (West side of Forest Drive)
Crataegus monogyna Scattered in rough grass and in wood
Platanus x hybrida Lining Forest Drive

(Wood west of Forest Drive)
Acer pseudoplatanus 4 specs.
Carpinus betulus 4 specs.
Fagus sylvatica 1 spec.
Pyrus communis 12 spec. by roadside
Quercus borealis 1 specs
Quercus robur Predominant species

(East side of Forest Drive)
Acer pseudoplatanus 3 specs. in W. part of wood
Carpinus betulus 5 specs. in W. part of wood; 1 in E.
Fagus sylvatica Co-dominant with Q. robur in wood
Platanus x hybrida Lining Forest Drive
Quercus borealis 1 spec. in W. part of wood
Quercus robur Co-dominant with F. sylvatica
Tilia x europaea 4 specs. in W. part of wood

M3 (South side of Aldersbrook Road)
Crataegus monogyna Scattered
Platanus x hybrida Lining Aldersbrook Road

N1
Acer pseudoplatanus 2 specs.
Crataegus monogyna Scattered
Crataegus oxyacanthoides 2 specs.
Malus sp. 1 or more specs.
Platanus x hybrida Lining Forest Drive and Forest View Road; and surrounding the fenced area.
Prunus avium 2 or 3 trees in S.W. corner of square; 2 trees in N. edge of square
Prunus serrulata 8 specs.

N2
Acer pseudoplatanus Both sides of Aldersbrook Road
Platanus x hybrida Both sides of Aldersbrook Road

O1
Acer pseudoplatanus 1 spec.
Crataegus oxyacanthoides 3 specs.
Platanus x hybrida Lining Forest View Road and Aldersbrook Road



Appendix 1

SPECIES LIST OF TREES OF WANSTEAD FLATS

1 Acer campestre FIELD MAPLE
2 Acer platanoides NORWAY MAPLE
3 Acer pseudoplatanus SYCAMORE
4 Aesculus x carnea RED HORSE CHESTNUT
5 Aesculus hippocastanum HORSE CHESTNUT
6 Betula sp. BIRCH
7 Alnus glutinosa ALDER
8 Carpinus betulus HORNBEAM
9 Castanea sativa SWEET CHESTNUT
10 Crataegus monogyna HAWTHORN
11 Crataegus oxyacanthoides MIDLAND HAWTHORN
12 Fagus sylvatica BEECH
13 Fraxinus excelsior ASH
14 Ilex aquifolium HOLLY
15 Laburnum anagyroides LABURNUM
16 Malus sp. APPLE
17 Pinus nigra laricio CORSICAN PINE
18 Platanus x hybrida LONDON PLANE
19 Populus nigra 'Italica' LOMBARDY POPLAR
20 Populus tremula ASPEN
21 Populus x canadensis HYBRID POPLAR
22 Pyrus communis PEAR
23 Prunus avium WILD CHERRY
24 Prunus serrulata JAPANESE CHERRY
25 Quercus borealis RED OAK
26 Quercus robur PEDUNCULATE OAK
27 Quercus serrulata TURKEY OAK
28 Robinia pseudoacacia LOCUST TREE
29 Salix caprea caprea GREAT SALLOW
30 Sambucus nigra ELDER
31 Sorbus aria WHITEBEAM
32 Sorbus aucuparia ROWAN
33 Tilia cordata SMALL-LEAVED LIME
34 Tilia x europaea COMMON LIME
35 Ulmus glabra WYCH ELM
36 Ulmus procera ENGLISH ELM

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Man-made Features

Buildings, Constructions, Stones and Signs, Foundations.

This section contains some features of Wanstead Flats that may not be so obvious to the casual visitor, or may have been overlooked or disregarded by those more familiar.

 

1. Cattle Pound. This wooden-fenced enclosure was situated between the east wall of Heatherwood Close and the Playing Field Buildings by Aldersbrook Road. A notice informed that "Entry to this enclosure is strictly forbidden....£200 Maximum Fine" By 2005 the enclosure had been removed. (photos)

1b. Cattle Signs. These roadsigns are not in the Forest, but are on adjacent roads in various locations. An example in Forest Drive, Manor Park was finally removed on 16 February, 2007. (photo)

2. Drinking Fountain - Wanstead Flats. This is near the junction of Capel Road and Woodford Road, Forest Gate. The fountain is dedicated to the memory of Joseph Fry, 1809-96. Joseph Fry was a Quaker and philanthropist, the son of Elizabeth Fry the famous prison reformer. He was the Chairman of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, and the inscription reads: JOSEPH FRY / BORN SEPT 20 1809 / DIED DEC 25 1896. It is of polished granite or marble, approximately 300cm high x 110cm at widest point, the bowl. There is no water supply and the taps and chained bowls for provision of water are missing. (photo)

3. Ceramic Drains - Alexandra Lake, Wanstead Flats. Still just visible in 2002 were pieces of the drain pipe that was installed a year or two after Alexandra Lake was created early in the 20th century, to take surface water from Aldersbrook Road into the lake. One is located opposite the shops and part of it is now buried within the root system of a London plane tree. Presumably the drain and the tree were planted about the same time and the girth of the tree has now encompassed the drain. The other is more intact, and is closer to the car parking area at the NW corner of the lake. (photos)

4. Overflow Drains - Alexandra Lake, Wanstead Flats. Two cement-faced structures in the NE corner of the lake are to prevent the lake from reaching such a height as to overflow onto Aldersbrook Road. (photo)

5. P.O.W. Goalposts - Wanstead Flats. The last of the wooden uprights of goalposts, erected it is said by prisoners of war interred on Wanstead Flats, was still present until about 1998. No sign is now visible. They were west of Centre Road, about half way along the length of the Flats here. (photo)

6. Foundations of Buildings - Wanstead Flats.

(a) The foundations of two buildings can be found in the trees comprising Long Wood. They are thought to have been Nissen Huts, about 50 metres apart, and the eastern one is said to have housed telephone equipment and operators. (photos)

(b) A public toilet was situated north of Alexandra Lake just in the wood and almost opposite Wanstead Park Avenue. No outward sign remains, though a bramble patch lies in the approximate location.

(c) Another public toilet was located at the junction of Dames Road and Blake Hall Road. This was built as an underground structure, above which was a tree covered mound surrounded by railings. The mound is still a prominent feature and it is possible that much of the structure is still present below ground.

7. Tree Groups - Wanstead Flats. Apart from groups of trees planted for aesthetic reasons in various locations on the Flats, three may be of particular interest:

(a) Tree Circle. Near Angel Pond, Capel Road. This marks the position of a bandstand, surrounded by railings, erected at the turn of the 19/20th centuries by the Corporation of West Ham and demolished in 1957. (photo)

(b) Tree Circle. On Manor Park Flats 150 metres from the end of Capel Road. These, together with a metal fence, surrounded an underground Local Government Command Centre (London Borough of Newham). The fence has been removed, the above-ground entrance dismantled and the below-ground structure presumably has been filled in. (photo) A bandstand is also known to have been present in this vicinity.

(c) 1953 Plantation. A rectangle of tree known as the 1953 Plantation, planted to commemorate the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. (photo) (See also no.8 below.)

8. Commemorative Plaque. This plaque is mounted on a low concrete plinth on the east edge of a rectangle of tree known as the 1953 Plantation. Though damaged by fire, it is still visible amongst brambles. The attached sign reads: THESE TREES COMMEMORATE THE CORONATION OF HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II 1953. FUND RAISED BY LOCAL SUBSCRIPTION (photo)

9. Metal Posts. Four metal posts situated 100 metres or so SW of the 1953 Plantation. They are probably tensioning posts for a wire fence which surrounded a rectangular area used for parachute-jump training purposes, certainly into the 1950s. It has been suggested that they may have been used to tether the barrage ballons which were used on the Flats during the war, but it is unlikely that they would have been substantial enough for that task. (photo)

10. Bus Shelter - Opposite St Gabriel's Church, Aldersbrook Road. This simple but attractive bus shelter stood on the edge of the Flats opposite Park Road for many years, but was removed in 2004. It was brick built, with a wooden roof, and seating was provided facing the road for bus passengers and - divided by a central wall - facing the Flats. Although the road-side seating was reasonable, that facing the Flats tended to be mis-used - sometimes slept in overnight or used for dubious purposes. For a number of years the structure had suffered damage by local youths in the form of graffiti and even burning of the seats and roof. This probably had considerable influence on the decision to remove it, although the area had also been proposed as the site of a children's playground. Whatever the reason, an attractive and unusual structure has now gone. (photo)

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