Introduction to Gilbert's Slade and Rising Sun Wood
For Map of Area - click here
For List of Plants - click here
Gilbert's Slade proper is a stretch of open grassland in an otherwise mainly wooded part of Epping Forest. However, the name is used here to encompass a survey area which includes adjacent and nearby forest land. The whole of this area lies between Snaresbrook Road in the south and the Waterworks Corner roundabout and the North Circular Road in the north. To the east, fences separate the forest from housing or playing fields. Gilbert's Slade is separated from Rising Sun Woods by the Woodford New Road. These woods are named after the public house that lies near St. Peter's Church. To the west, the boundaries consist of the road called Forest Rise, fences which separate the land from allotments or buildings, and Becontree Avenue. A number of buildings lie within these boundaries, particularly in the south, and include the church and the public house west of Woodford New Road, Forest School adjacent to Gibert's Slade, and dwelling houses.
The total area is about 75 hectares, predominantly of woodland, but with pieces of grassland as well as ponds and other wet areas. This predominance of woodland gives Gilbert's Slade and Rising Sun Woods a very different aspect in general from that of either Wanstead Flats or Leyton Flats, and differs too from the landscaped environment of Wanstead Park. The southern end of the area lies, like the adjacent Leyton Flats, on the river gravel deposits of the Boyn Hill terrace at about 30 m above sea level and the rest of it is principally London Clay, rising in the north to approximately 55 m. A number of streams or ditches are present in the area, flowing generally north to south, although some of these may lie empty except at times of high rainfall. During such periods however, many temporary watercourses may be formed particularly in the south part of Gilbert's Slade proper. Ponds or wet hollows are scattered about the whole area, the largest of these being Bulrush Pond. There are a number of marshy spots.
There is perhaps slightly less disturbance here as a whole than in other areas of southern Epping Forest. However, even Gilbert's Slade suffers the consequences of being close to east London. The most popular parts of the area are the vicinity of Bulrush Pond and in the open region of Gilbert's Slade itself which is used by both pedestrians and equestrians, as are the main tracks which run through it. Although the area is divided into three major sections by Woodford New Road and by Forest Road, these roads do not relate to ecological boundaries. It will therefore be convenient, when describing the area in detail, to divide it differently, starting from the southern end and working northwards. For a Map - Click Here
The Plants of Gilbert's Slade
The south-west corner of the area is somewhat detached from the rest by Forest School and three groups of residential blocks, and is both surrounded and dissected by a number of roads. It consists in the main of open grassland with trees lining the roads, and the Frying-pan Pond. This pond is so called by people living nearby because of its shape and appearance - simply a shallow bowl with what may once have been a ditch in the north-west providing the 'handle'. Broad-leaved pondweed Potamogeton natans is plentiful here, and bulrush Schoenoplectus lacustris is also present. Soft rush Juncus effusus and jointed rush J. articulatus as well as the common spike-rush Eleocharis palustris are associated with the pond's margin. In the grassland near to the pond heath rush J. Squarrosus and mat grass Nardus stricta are present, and elsewhere hoary cress Cardaria draba, upright hedge-parsley Torilis japonica and lesser stitchwort Stellaria graminea may be noted. The borders of the area near to the houses contain garden outcasts such as spring beauty Montia perfoliata, wood forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica and spotted dead-nettle Lamium maculatum. Also in similar locations are such colonisers of disturbed ground as ivy-leaved speedwell Veronica hederifolia, Buxbaum's speedwell V. persica and a white form of the red dead-nettle Lamium purpureum. Garden outcasts, including greater celandine Chelidonium majus, may also be found east of the road called The Forest in the strip of land between the houses and Snaresbrook Road. In the more grassy parts of the locality, to the east, there is an abundance of tormentil Potentilla erecta and heath bedstraw Galium saxatile, reminiscent of similar areas on Leyton Flats. At this point, a south-flowing stream is encountered, which eventually flows into the Eagle Pond on Leyton Flats. Northwards, this stream is bounded on one side by houses and on the other by a track and the woodland which extends towards Gilbert's Slade proper.
The woodland which stretches northwards from Snaresbrook Road towards the open area of Gilbert's Slade is predominantly of English oak Quercus robur, with hornbeam Carpinus betulus and some silver birch Betula pendula. Holly Ilex aquifolium is also common here as it is in many parts of the whole area. The eastern boundary of the forest here consists of a ditch and a concrete fence. Beyond the fence, and thus outside Epping Forest and the study area proper, is a plot of disused land about 400 m in length, stretching north form Snaresbrook Road between the Forest and nearby buildings. This land is very overgrown and, being private, less disturbed than the Forest itself. Some interesting plants are to be found here, including a luxuriant patch of bamboo Sasa. Also present are common horsetail Equisetum arvense, male fern Dryopteris filix-mas, cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis and hairy bitter-cress C. hirsuta. On the Forest side the fence some specimens of remote sedge Carex remota are situated by the ditch, and also some marsh thistle Cirsium palustre. A very small pond near the fence often contains rubbish as the relics of children's games, but also provides a habitat for a variety of plant species that manage to persist. These include a water starwort Callitriche, Canadian pondweed Elodea canadensis, narrow-leaved water-plantain Alisma lanceolatum and common duckweed Lemna minor. Another patch of remote sedge is present by the pond, and willow Salix overshadows it. Within the woodland are some small grassy open areas in which species such as tormentil, creeping willow Salix repens and many-headed woodrush Luzula multiflora may be found. Elsewhere, three-veined sandwort Moehringia trinervia and patches of enchanter's nightshade Circaea lutetiana are to be found near woodland paths. At the edge of the wood, along which flows the stream to the Eagle Pond, garden outcasts from the nearby building have included honesty Lunaria annua and a yellow crocus Crocus sp. At the north-east corner of these buildings a open area of grassland is encountered which separates the houses from the Forest School, at the south-west corner of which lies Manor Pond. This pond, which derives its water from the previously mentioned stream, is in its present state the result of extensive 'tidying-up' of an older very overgrown pond in early 1980. Some of the plants that are now present may have been deliberately introduced at that time; a guelder-rose Viburnum opulus that was well established in 2009 may be an example of this because it has not been found elsewhere in the area. Yellow flag-iris Iris pseudacorus is prominent in clumps at the edge, where also are found celery-leaved crowfoot Ranunculus sceleratus and trifid bur-marigold Bidens tripartita. Present in the water are water-plantain Alisma plantago-aquatica and common duckweed, while on the bank are two large crack-willows Salix fragilis as well as some Japanese privet Ligustrum ovalifolium which is also present more abundantly within the school grounds. The banks of the stream and the edge of the woodland in the vicinity have been much disturbed, partly in the process of re-forming Manor Ponds. A number of species are present which have taken advantage of this situation. These include opium poppy Papaver somniferum, hedge mustard Sisymbrium officinale, cleavers Galium aparine, groundsel Senecio vulgaris and pineapple weed Matricaria matricarioides. Northwards the woodland begins to thin out as the southern end of Gilbert's Slade is reached. The stream by the school and its playing-fields has a more luxuriant vegetation associated with it than the adjacent grassland. Species include great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, willow Salix, gipsywort Lycopus europaeus, soft rush and great water-grass Glyceria maxima. Away from the stream, floating sweet-grass G. fluitans has choked a small pond at the edge of the grassland just to the north-east of Manor Pond.
Gilbert's Slade itself is an area of open grassland which stretches northwards until it narrow to a track leading through the trees to the Waterworks Corner roundabout. Grasses which may be found in various locations in the Slade include heath grass Sieglingia decumbens, tufted hair-grass Deschampsia caespitosa and mat-grass Nardus stricta. Heath rush Juncus squarrosus and slender rush J. tenuis are also present, as well as common sedge Carex nigra. A small amount of petty whin Genista anglica persists and common cow-wheat Melampyrum pratense is to be found beneath the trees at the edge of the Slade in an area where tormentil is particularly abundant. A few ponds or marshy areas exist; plants that are particularly associated with these include toad rush Juncus bufonius and jointed rush J. articulatus, floating sweet-grass and great water-grass. The woodland which borders Gilbert's Slade consists mainly of English oak, hornbeam and holly. It may be noted that north of Gilbert's Slade, the hornbeam here is typically pollarded, unlike specimens in Bush Wood and Wanstead Park to the south. This woodland comprises the greater part of the whole area on both sides of Woodford New Road as far north as Forest Road and Waterworks Corner, apart from Gilbert's Slade and the Bulrush Pond and its adjacent area of marshy ground to the west of Woodford New Road. Sieglingia decumbens, tufted hair-grass Deschampsia caespitosa and mat-grass Nardus stricta. Heath rush Juncus squarrosus and slender rush J. tenuis are also present, as well as common sedge Carex nigra and oval sedge C. ovalis.
Bulrush Pond (photo) and its immediate surroundings have produced a greater number of species in one or two squares than perhaps any other part of the whole study area. Of particular interest in 1981 was an abundance of the water fern Azolla filiculoides, while other plants present include rigid hornwort Ceratophyllum demersum, watercress Ranunculus nasturtium-aquaticum, bog stitchwort Stellaria alsine, brooklime Veronica beccabunga and ivy duckweed Lemna trisulca. In 2008, the pond had white water-lily Nymphaea alba alba and fringed water-lily Nymphoides peltata. Just to the west of the pond, a different plant community is associated with an area of wet marshy land which further increases the variety of plants in this vicinity. Here may be found patches of heath rush, slender rush, toad rush and soft rush, as well as oval sedge and heath grass. Nearby, through not associated with the wet areas, honesty Lunaria annua and London pride Saxifraga spathularis x umbrosa are outcasts possibly from the nearby allotments. South of Bulrush Pond and the Rising Sun public house is St. Peter's Churchyard, which although not part of the Forest area, deserves a mention because of the wood anemone Anemone nemorosa and lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria which occur abundantly in the north-west corner of the churchyard, but hardly at all in the adjacent forest.
This area is separated to some degree from the rest of Gilbert's Slade by Forest Road and that part of Woodford New Road leading to the Waterworks Corner roundabout. The construction of this roundabout and the re-routing of nearby roads in 1970 involved considerable disturbance and landscaping of parts of this area, so that much of the flora is of comparatively recent origin and of generally common plants. These include such species as annual meadow grass Poa annua, cocksfoot Dactylis glomerata, couch Agropyron repens, black medick Medicago lupulina and coltsfoot Tussilago farfara. By Becontree Avenue numerous garden outcasts or deliberately planted species occur, such as Lawson's cypress Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, a Berberis, an azalea Rhododendron and Spanish broom Spartium junceum. Snowberry Symphoricarpos rivularis is abundant at the north end of the road. The woodland area which was not disturbed during the road building programme is predominantly of English oak, hornbeam and holly, with sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus and silver birch saplings also occurring in some parts. Within the wood lies Reedmace Pond, named from the presence of great reedmace Typha latifolia. Other plants present include water pepper Polygonum hydropiper, gipsywort, floating sweet-grass and great water-grass.
Two hundred and thirty-four species of vascular plants were recorded in Gilbert's Slade during 1981 and 1982 and unless otherwise noted the description of the area relates to that time. For a list - click here
A programme of practical work tasks has been undertaken in subsequent years - including by the Epping Forest Conservation Volunteers - particularly to try to stop the spread of invasive bramble and other vegetation into the open areas of the Glade proper. This has resulted in a substantial increase in plants such as common cow-wheat and a variety of sedges. An intensive review of the plant-life is desired.