Loss of Creeping Willow on Wanstead Flats

I have tried to hang back a bit on being critical of work taking place on Epping Forest – or elsewhere, for that matter - for a lone voice in the “wilderness” doesn't have the clout a conservation group or a 'friends' group should have, and kickbacks and disappointments in the past have led to a feeling of “Don't bother” in more recent times..

Creeping Willow flower wf 060503 8513artIn flower on 3rd May 2006However, sometimes those groups miss small things that experience might show can lead to larger problems. I can cite New Zealand pigmyweed and floating pennywort as examples of small problems growing larger, and I can harp back to the loss of a nice insect-rich area of grassland in Wanstead Park which wasn't protected during and after path-laying. And today I saw another example – one which I have been afraid of and seen gradually increasing.

Creeping willow 160428 7700artThe Creeping Willow on 28th April 2016, after mowingWe have on Wanstead Flats five distinct patches of a low-growing shrub called creeping willow Salix repens. Country-wide, this isn't a rare plant, but apart from some on Leyton Flats, this is all we have locally. It is special enough to have been mentioned in some of the City of London's own publications relating to the Flats. It mightn't have the appeal of the Park's bluebells, but it may be the equivalent in “specialness”!

Creeping Willow bramble wf 110401 50472artThe other patch nearby, almost brambled - and canned - outI know that those five patches have been carefully plotted by GPS by Epping Forest staff, so they know where they are. In the past I have mentioned locally that one patch of two near Alexandra Lake is getting brambled out. That patch is hanging on – but the bramble may well prove the winner. The other patch nearby is just coming into flower, but unfortunately is at the edge of the playing fields. And that is where my worry has been for a long time. Each time the mower goes round, a little bit more is eroded away. This time, however, a lot more has been taken away – about two feet off the whole length of the west edge of the patch, I would say. The playing fields expand, and the wildlife diminishes.

So – two out of the five patches potentially lost. We should remember too, that it isn't just the loss of one plant that we might bemoan, but of the other life that might be associated with it. Collecting records of species found in our area is increasingly showing the associations that one organism has with another. And that might include people, as well.

Just to finish, I mentioned the floating pennywort, which many realise now is threatening the health of Perch Pond. Well, this year I have seen and reported three very small rooted clumps of this highly invasive species in the Ornamental Water, far from Perch Pond. They could easily be removed now, especially as the water-level is so low. I hope they are, or these small things could lead to larger problems. (note: I was unable to find these on a much later-in-the-year visit. The water level was very low and they had been close to the bank, so it is possible someone else saw them and simply grubbed them out.)

Paul Ferris, 28th April 2016