On this page is a summary of the plants, birds and animals of southern Epping Forest. This includes Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats and habitats not part of Epping Forest but adjacent to it or nearby, such as the City of London Cemetery. For an area that is so close to the built up parts of residential east London, it has a remarkably varied and extensive wildlife population.
Use the Wildlife Information part of the menu on the left to chose a particular type of wildlife.
Use the other menu on the left to find out more about the Wildlife Sites within this area. The information in each section relates mostly to the botanical aspects of the sites, but may also contain an overview of the area, and information about birds and animals.
Algae and Lichens
As with the Mycetazoa, apart from a few photographs Algae and Lichens are poorly covered in this website. This is simply due to lack of expertise.
Mycetozoa and Fungi
In recent years the expertise to identify these two groups has not been available. The Mycetozoa (commonly called slime moulds) was studied by the local botanist Gulielma Lister (see here). In her work The Mycetozoa. Lister, G. 1918. (Essex Field Club Special Memoirs vi. Essex Field Club; Stratford, Essex.) she listed 18 species from Epping Forest as a whole, fourteen of which are noted as specifically occurring in Wanstead Park. Local records of those slime moulds that are grouped in the Myxomycota were included in The Fungi of Southern Epping Forest by C.W. Plant and G. Kibby (The London Naturalist, No. 63, 1984). In this, 49 species are listed.
In the same publication records of more than 250 species of Fungi found in southern Epping Forest are made available. It is recommended that reference be made to this work for more detail about southern Epping Forest's fungi. On this website, only those perhaps more readily identifiable species have been listed, together with photographs of these if available.
Liverworts and Mosses
The expertise to identify many of the Liverworts and Mosses has not been available. Those that are included on this site are mostly those specimens of which photographs have been taken.
In the order of 780 species of higher plants have been recorded - these include ferns but do not include mosses, lichens or fungi. On Wanstead Flats alone, 34 species of tree are known. For more details, see the pages relating to specific areas such as Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats etc. (left)
An American Signal Crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus was found by Heronry Pond in August 2001, and more have been seen since. It is no surprise to know that they are also in Perch Pond, where one was netted out during a "bio-blitz". In 2008, a representative from the angling club that fishes the Basin in Wanstead Golf Course reported that over 50,000 (!) had been caught there over the last few years. Also reported from the River Roding as far north as Redbridge roundabout are the Chinese Mitten Crab Eriocheir sinensis. The Common Rough Woodlouse Philoscia muscorum, the Common Woodlouse Porcellio scaber and a Pill Bug Armadillium sp. are the smaller representatives of crustacea that we have records of.
Spiders and Harvestmen
By 2014, 39 species of Spider have been found, together with a few Harvestmen. Records are continuing to be made of those encountered by myself and other recorders. The publication "A Nature Conservation Strategy for Redbridge" states that over 100 species have been recorded, including the rare Alopecosa cuneata.
Millipedes and Centipedes
Not a well-studied group, these. By 2014, only four species have been identified - two millipedes and two centipedes.
28 species of Butterfly had been recorded at the end of 2014, the most recent being a single specimen of a Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus, found in Wanstead Park in July 2013. Also in 2013, a colony of Green Hairstreak butterflies Callophrys rubi were discovered on Wanstead Flats. Butterfly records have been mostly from the southern part of the area. A large number of Moth species (something like 200) have been recorded, mostly from a moth trap located in my garden in Capel Road and another in a garden in the Lakehouse Estate at the other end of Wanstead Flats. 16 species of Dragonflies and Damselflies have been identified. Wanstead Flats is home to some important hymenoptera, including the sphecid wasp Diodontus insidiosus and the Bee Wolf Philanthus triangularum. (source: "A Nature Conservation Strategy for Redbridge", London Ecology Unit, 1998). Wanstead Park holds a population of the Essex-vulnerable species Andrena cineraria, the Grey Mining-bee. Many other species of Insects are known, but specialist knowledge would doubtless identify many more.
Also included here are Barklice (Psocoptera) including booklice, and Springtails (Collembola), although the latter are no longer considered insects.
Little account has been taken of fish thus far, but "A Nature Conservation Strategy for Redbridge" mentions Chub Leuciscus cephalus, Roach Rutilus rutilus, Dace Leuciscus leuciscus and Minnow Phoxinus phoxinus as being present in the Roding north of the Liverpool Street to Southend railway line. Mark Hanson in his "Epping Forest through the eyes of a naturalist" lists Eel Anguilla anguilla, Pike Esox lucius, Carp Cyprinus carpio, Crucian Carp Carassius carassius, Goldfish Carassius auratus, Tench Tinca tinca, Bream Abramis brama, Roach Rutilus rutilus, Perch Perca fluviatilis and Pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus. Some of these are from stocks for angling, others ornamental species that have been released. I remember as a youngster pulling what must have been Stone Loach Neomachilus barbatulus from the Roding adjacent to Wanstead Park, and have seen Minnows and Roach in Heronry Pond and Mirror Carp in the Eagle Pond. Flounders Platichthys plesus may sometimes be seen in the Roding by Wanstead Park. This flatfish enters freshwater after spawning in the sea in the spring.
Smooth Newts are common, particularly in the area of the Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park. Common Frogs are abundant in this area also, though many are killed by cars while migrating to the lake from nearby gardens in the Spring. Common Toads have been less often found, though they may well live quite happily in nearby gardens; however during 2009 numbers of toads were seen in Wanstead Park and reported from nearby gardens.
The Grass Snake is one of our commonest reptiles, though often overlooked by casual visitors to such areas as Wanstead Park or the City of London Cemetery and the old Sewage Works site. Surprisingly, perhaps, I have had no reports of these from Wanstead Flats. For more on grass snakes, click here. Perhaps even more common are Red-eared Terrapins Trachemys scripta elegans - most of the local lakes and ponds have these - and there are Yellow-bellied Sliders Trachemys scripta scripta in smaller numbers. There is just one record of another species, thought to be a Mississippi Map Turtle Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni.
We are fortunate in having a wide range of habitats for birds. These include lakes and ponds, open rough grassland and mown playing fields, and woods and trees. Including birds seen overhead more than 150 species have been listed. Of these, approximately 50 are known or thought to breed or have bred here. On Wanstead Flats, perhaps the most significant bird is the Skylark. For much of the summer from about early March onwards, these could be heard over the rough grassland and the playing fields. This is a familiar sound to the different users of the Flats, and has been for years, but it wasn't really until a number of surveys were done during 2009 that we realised that there were at least 16 territories present, ranging particularly across both sides of Centre Road. They are also present during the winter when groups may be seen feeding on the playing fields. Number of pairs of Meadow Pipits have been present during the summer, with more during the winter. By 2022, however, the numbers of both Skylarks and Meadow Pipits that have actually bred on the Flats had dropped considerably.
The migration period shows a variety of species using the Flats as an overnight staging-post, with regulars such as Wheatear, occasional Ring Ouzel and various warblers. Increasing numbers of bird-watchers to the area have also discovered that even nationally rare birds - such as Wryneck - and in 2011 for two days a Stone Curlew - can be found using the Flats. During winter, Fieldfares and Redwings are common visitors, whilst vast numbers of gulls - primarily Black-headed and Common, but with Lesser-Black-backs and others as well, may be present on the playing fields for long periods. The playing fields also host many grazing Canada Geese - sometimes up to 200 - usually together with increasing numbers of Greylag and Egyptian Geese, particularly in the morning hours before humans become busy. During the day, these - and numbers of gulls - may well repair to the lakes to join the Mallard and Tufted Ducks - with Shoveller, Pochard, Teal and others frequently present in Winter. In late 2013 an article on the Wren Conservation Group website (www.wrengroup.org.uk) suggested that Gadwall numbers in Wanstead Park during recent winters have shown the Park to be a site of national importance for the species, although subsequently numbers have dropped considerably. Great Crested and Little Grebe are also usually to be found on the lakes, and Common Sandpiper are sometimes seen by Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park or by Alexandra Lake on the Flats, but usually early in the morning before dog-walkers and joggers have disturbed them. Although the Flats are a very important grassland habitat and the lakes are attractive to water-birds, what is lacking are marshy habitats. These used to be slightly more extensive than now, but changes in water-supplies due to road and pipe-works have cut down the area significantly. The most important that still remains is an area on the Fairground Flats where Snipe are sometimes put up - usually in the early mornings.
Wanstead Park has more varied habitats, the woodlands supporting many of the more common species that one would expect to find, including the 'garden' ones. Great-spotted Woodpeckers are frequent, Lesser are scarce, although the latter have been known to breed here. For some reason Nuthatches and Tree Creepers - which used to be not uncommon - certainly are rare now. Green Woodpeckers are common in the Park. I have exaggerated in the past about tripping over them on the Plain - the park's main grassland area. This area supported at least one singing Skylark just about every year for many years, but in 2009 works took place during their breeding season and they have not returned. The park's lakes support a similar variety of water-fowl as Wanstead Flats with usually a Mute Swan family on each of the three lakes. In the colder parts of most winters, ducks such as Goosander and Smew are occasionally present for a short time. Cormorants are frequent visitors the Park, and Herons too - although they do not - as some people think - breed there. An increasing number of Little Egrets are visiting and recent invaders are Ring-necked Parakeets, which by 2012 were numbering over 50 in flocks. A small areas of carr-type vegetation by the Perch Pond has given a winter home to at least one Water Rail for many years, and subsequently they have been observed by the Shoulder of Mutton Pond, The Dell, and by the River Roding.
The mammal population is relatively small, due to human disturbance, traffic and predation. Foxes are very common, though as with most places it is now more usual to see them in the vicinity of houses than in "the wild", in fact in the City of London Cemetery they have been known to take food from the hands of visitors to the cafe there. There are plenty of Grey Squirrels, and Wanstead Park did have a population of Rabbits for many years. However, signs of these were scarce by 2008, and by 2010 there was no longer any indication of their presence. Brown Rats can be easily seen, particularly near Alexandra Lake on Wanstead Flats and by Heronry Pond and the Perch Pond in Wanstead Park. House Mice are of course present in houses in the area, and Wood Mice are present in gardens adjacent to Wanstead Park. Hedgehogs have not been so common in recent years (up to 2009), but one was reported from Manor Park Cemetery and adjacent gardens in June 2009 and a young one of about 4 weeks was found in Wanstead Park in July 2013, and another near Chalet Wood in December 2013. Mole hills are a common sight in parts of Wanstead Park and the adjacent areas such as Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, particularly so on the banks of the River Roding. They are not seen, however, on Wanstead Flats. Common Shrews can often be heard, but those that are seen are more usually the dead ones. We have had reports of Bank Voles, and Water Voles returned to the Roding in 1998 - but were not reported again until one was seen in Wanstead Park in mid July, 2004. During the winter of 1998/99, three American Mink, Mustela vison were seen in Wanstead Park. One was seen by the River Roding in Wanstead Park on 14th April 2006 and again on 31 July 2007. In 2011 four were seen at one time by the Ornamental Waters, which may indicate breeding. Signs of Otters were reported on the Roding during 2009 from as far south as Ilford. Stoats and Weasels are present, and may also be seen in the Park. Populations of feral Cat have been known in the City of London Cemetery, and of course domestic cats haunt both the Flats and Wanstead Park in search of prey. The Pipistrelle is our commonest bat, and both Common and Soprano species are present. There are Noctule and Daubenton's as well. In 2013 a Serotine was identified for the first time, in Wanstead Park, and it is possible that Leisler's are also present. The lakes of Wanstead Park - particularly Perch Pond - and Alexandra Lake on Wanstead Flats are good places to see bats. There have been occasional and increasing sightings of Muntjac Deer in the area. Although not often being seen south of the Green Man roundabout, there have been occasional sighting, including from the 2020s in the City of London Cemetery.
For an explanation of abbreviations and information on locations, click here
Lister, G. 1918. (Essex Field Club Special Memoirs vi. Essex Field Club; Stratford, Essex.The Mycetozoa
C.W. Plant and G. Kibby, The London Naturalist, No. 63, 1984. The Fungi of Southern Epping Forest
London Ecology Unit, 1998 A Nature Conservation Strategy for Redbridge
Hanson, R.W. (ed.) (1992). Epping Forest - Through the eye of the naturalist. Essex Naturalist, N.S. 11.
Paul Ferris. Original Publication July 2009. Updated March 2023.