Though called Wanstead Wildlife, as explained in the introduction, the website looks at plants and other wildlife not only in Wanstead, but in nearby areas. The photograph below puts this in perspective - the hart's-tongue ferns Phyllitus scolopendrium that grew under the arch of Wanstead Park Station were a nice natural touch until renovation of the damp brickwork caused them to disappear, but Wanstead Park Station is very much part of Forest Gate rather than Wanstead. It might perhaps have been better called Wanstead Flats Station as the Flats are just a few hundred metres away! Near Wanstead Flats, at the corner of Woodgrange Road and Capel Road and at the edge of the lawn by Capel Point, common stork's-bill Erodium cicuarium and dwarf mallow Malva neglecta have been found, neither of which are well known elsewhere in the area. These may serve as an illustration of what may be found in our streets.
Wanstead Park Station, Forest Gate. The arch had a good population of Hart's-tongue Ferns
Manor Park Station, also near to Wanstead Flats, did have a nice selection of ferns in an open drain channel on Platform 1. These included hart's-tongue fern, black spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-nigrum and male fern Dryopteris filix-mas. Hart's-tongue fern does remain on the brick wall to the south of the station platforms, but the rest are now gone as the drainage channel has been covered over. In more recent years - certainly from 2012 and through to 2015 - between the rails at the station was a good crop of tomato Lycopersicon esculentum - the result of someone's sandwich, perhaps?
Near to Manor Park Station, in Manor Park Road and adjacent streets, shaggy soldier Galinsoga ciliata grows, particularly near the bases of roadside trees. Considering that this has not been found in areas surveyed more in depth than the streets, this was thought worthy of a mention. A millet, as yet unidentified, grows profusely in Manor Park Road also. At the base of St. Nicholas Church in Gladding Road, and also by old walls elsewhere in the vicinity, grows pellitory-of-the-wall Parietaria judaica. This species has been seen to increase during recent years, perhaps helped by a lessening of the pavement plant-poisoning routine nowadays. Along Capel Road towards Forest Gate a healthy specimen of polypody Polypodium vulgare was noticed growing on top of the wall of the Golden Fleece pub in January 2016, and further down the road a specimen of black spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-nigrum was growing on a front-garden wall in March 2012, with more of the same species joined by wall rue Asplenium ruta-muraria by 2016 - the first of this species recorded in the area. These houses face north, and are therefore shaded from much of the Sun, which may help the development of ferns. At the base of my own wall in Capel Road, mind-your-own-business Soleirolia soleirolii has occurred, and may be seen in similar locations by other houses.
To the east of Manor Park station, across what is known either as the Triangle or Manor Park Flats, lies Rabbits Road bridge, carrying Aldersbrook Road across the railway to Romford Road. Here, incidentally, is the tree - a London plane - that is the most south-easterly in the whole of Epping Forest. Close by, between the railway and the City of London Cemetery railings, is a footpath known locally as the Bridle Path - though officially it is not a horse-ride. This path is adjacent to the City of London Cemetery railings for all of the cemetery's southern and eastern boundary, and for much of the northern boundary. The southern section eventually widens considerably as it drops down to the Alders Brook (see here), and close to the brook - growing on the railings by the railway - is a mass of hop Humulus lupulus. This is not common in the area and perhaps it is relevant that in Little Ilford just across the railway lines used to be Whitbread's Brewery? For more details about the Bridle Path, click here. To cross the railway lines, it is better to take the foot-tunnel that gives access to the Bridle Path from Little Ilford. Emerging from the tunnel, you are in Aldersbrook Lane, evidently an old route which connected the small settlement of Little Ilford (now part of Manor Park) to Aldersbrook Manor. Unfortunately it is not possible to continue alongside the brook itself - though it should be. The brook and its banks from here to its confluence with the River Roding is quite choked with vegetation including a substantial amount of Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica and nearer the Roding, traveller's-joy Clematis vitalba.
Still in Manor Park, but separated by Wanstead Flats, is the Edwardian housing estate of Aldersbrook. Here, near to Wanstead Park, garden escapes have included garden lobelia Lobelia erinus growing from a crack in the pavement of Wanstead Park Avenue and tobacco plant Nicotiana sp. growing by a garden fence in Northumberland Avenue. At the east end of this road access may be made to the area which I have called Aldersbrook Wood. Passing the last house at the end of the road - detached and with something of a country feel about it - a wooden gate appears to bar the way into the wood area, although I have found it to be unlocked. There is a Lombardy poplar Populus nigra 'Italica' in the wood nearby, and small groups of snowdrops Galanthus nivalis and hybrid daffodils Narcissus sp. are present in Spring. More information about Aldersbrook Wood is available here.
The gate from Northumberland Avenue into Aldersbrook Wood
The wood may be also accessed from a depressingly small gap in the railings at the end of Westmorland Close. This route, muddy and much-strewn with rubbish, leads through the wood past a Corsican pine Pinus nigra ssp. laricio to a gap in the fence of Wanstead Park, by the Perch Pond. The site was that of an isolation hospital and is now mainly woodland with very much a bramble understory and some small area of rough grassland. The wildlife of the area needs to be investigated more thoroughly for the last (and somewhat cursory) plant survey was done in 1980 (for list, click here). Its main value is that it is there and forms an important buffer between the Park and the housing estate. With some tidying and some maintenance it could be a very valuable addition to the Forest. The forest's "Buffer Land" is all in the north - is it not about time that an area such as this could not be given permanent status before it becomes just another housing area to the detriment of Wanstead Park?
Beyond Aldersbrook Wood to the east is Aldersbrook Riding School and to the south a newer development of Aldersbrook Estate adjacent to Aldersbrook Allotments. The allotments of course harbour a variety of plants not deliberately associated with those grown there, and of particular interest was butchers broom Ruscus aculeatus. Whether this was a deliberate planting is not known. On the other hand, the hard-surfaced lane which is a continuation of Empress Avenue and provides access to the stables and to the Aldersbrook Exchange Lands (see here) finds itself populated with plants that originate from the allotments. One such is love-in-a-mist Nigella damascena which is grown ornamentally on one of the plots and has found its way not just immediately through the allotments' chain link fence but across the tarmac to the opposite grass verge. Californian poppy Eschscholzia californica, on the other hand, has remained closer to where it is grown! Other plants that have been found growing in this area - the ground of which can be quite disturbed for a variety of reasons - include common poppy Papaver rhoeas.
Wanstead Park itself forms the basis of the study area covered by Wanstead Wildlife, but east of the Park and on the Ilford bank of the Roding north of Ilford Golf Course is a considerable tract of land between the river and the A406 North Circular Road. This, together with the golf course, is the flood plain of the Roding and because of its association with the Alders Brook area and Wanstead Park should be considered here - at least as far as the houses near to Redbridge roundabout. Indeed part of Wanstead Park itself lies in this bank of the river, the area called Whiskers Island. There is a vehicle bridge that crosses the Roding from the Exchange Lands area, and, nearby, a footbridge close to the south-east corner of Wanstead Park that link the west bank to the east bank. Both of these lead to an area of mown grassland - Wanstead Recreation Ground. Along the river, a raised flood-protection bund continues northwards along the river, passing Whiskers Island, and then an area that was once allotments. These were closed down and the area became an incredibly over-grown waste of bramble, almost inpenetrable but probably a good site for nesting birds and other wildlife. Beyond the old allotment site, an area of mown grassland comprising football and sports grounds stretch as far as the houses of Royston Gardens.
The embankment and the terrace above the river supports an attractive and varied flora, with some species that are not common in nearby Wanstead Park. These include lady's bedstraw Galium verum, meadow cranesbill Geranium pratense, and lucerne Medicago sativa. The latter may have originated from the disused allotments, as may a double-flowered variety of soapwort Saponaria officinalis, though this may as easily have originated from garden-plantings in nearby houses. Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria grows along here and a cut-leaved bramble Rubus laciniatus was found growing at the edge of the bank above the river in 2008.
For a long time it has been possible to walk alongside the River Roding on the east bank by means of an unofficial footpath which is in great contrast to the woody aspect of the west bank of the river in Wanstead Park proper. However, when the back gardens of houses in Royston Gardens are reached there are no provisions to access either Wanstead Park or - at least officially - this part of Redbridge, its station and the riverside walk along the Roding Valley Way northwards. Unofficially though, it has been possible to walk along the edge of the playing fields here, with the back gardens of houses to the left, and to reach the Redbridge roundabout. An unofficial break in the high wire fence has provided egress. In early 2016 a broken link in the Roding Valley Way was eventually made good in the form of a cycle/foot path that followed the river as far as the sports fields, then dog-legged right then left towards the A406 and the Redbridge roundabout, thus creating an official route. The hole in the wire fence was repaired.
It may be noted that Page 99 of The London Rivers Action Plan proposed 'Realigning of the flood bund against the A406 to reconnect the Roding with 12 Ha of its floodplain and to create wetland features'. This is the area that we have just looked at, but at least in 2016 it looked as though the idea of realigning the flood bund had been dropped.
For the whole length of the riverside we have just looked at, Wanstead Park has been on the opposite bank of the river - the west bank. Beyond the housing estate of Royston gardens lies a water works, and then the A12 road near to Redbridge roundabout. Opposite the water works - on the west bank - is a detached part of Wanstead Golf Course, which has not been surveyed for wildlife potential. It is sad that a west-bank footpath along the edge of the golf course and the river could not be made to allow immediate access to and from Wanstead Park at this point. Beyond the golf course, near to the A12, are the Roding Lane South Allotments. Some aspects of the wildlife of this site has been obtained from Roger Snook who, together with David Wright, has a plot here. Roger and David are wildlife photographers who maintain the East London Nature website. One plant found here that may be mentioned here is Valerianella locusta common cornsalad - not recorded elsewhere in the area. A list of their finds on the allotment can be seen here.
To the west of the allotments is Wanstead proper. Wanstead golf course and the "Warren Estate" was surveyed by the local naturalist Gulielma Lister in the late 1930's. A copy of the plant list from her work on this area is available here. Gulielma Lister presented her paper on the flora of Wanstead Park District in 1941, and it is interesting to compare the plants that she listed with those found today. She appears to have only recorded species native to this area, apart from trees. She did not list traveller's joy Clematis vitalba, a species not found hereabouts except - as already mentioned - at Little Ilford (pic) although there is a record of it by the east side of Wanstead Golf Course fence in Blake Hall Road. Nor did she record purple toadflax Linaria purpurea which grows at the edge of Overton Drive by the golf course, as does snowberry Symphoricarpos albus. In nearby Warren Road, by the railings and overlooking the golf course towards Redbridge, a specimen of pot marigold Calendula officinalis was nicely in flower on 22nd January in 2008, and a hollyhock Alcea rosea on 17th June 2009. It may well be that these have been deliberately introduced rather than self-sown. It is interesting to see how long garden plants such as these may persist. On the grass verge that separates the houses from the east side of St. Mary's Avenue in Wanstead, early crocus Crocus tommasinianus was found flowering on the same day.
At the corner of Wanstead High Street and the road called New Wanstead is an area of woodland known locally as Tarzy Wood. This unusual name is said to have derived from the tar-covered fence that a person erected to enclose an area of the wood - which is part of Epping Forest - and which he was forced to take down. The Tarzy, as the area is also known, deserves a more thorough investigation of its wildlife, but we could pick out greater celandine Chelidonium majus, yellow corydalis Pseudofumaria lutea, hazel Corylus avellana, cowbread Cyclamen hederifolium, green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens, buddleia Buddleja davidii, pendulous sedge Carex pendula, early crocus Crocus tommasinianus and purple garden crocus Crocus purpureus. Many of these, it may be noted, will have originated from adjacent gardens. On the pavement beneath the bridge that carries the Central Line tube trains, a specimen of garden pansy Viola x wittrockiana was found in 2008. It should be said that in subsequent years a number of apparently casual flowers have appeared in streets around this area, but many are probably the results of "guerilla gardening" that has taken place, and indeed is now condoned in an attempt to make the area more attractive.
In the grounds of nearby Snaresbrook Crown Court is a population of common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica. The lawns of the court also harbour harebells, but a mowing regime does not enhance these. There are some lovely specimens of planted trees in the ground - the cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani is a fine example. Unfortunately, presumably due to security concerns, the grounds are not made encouraging for casual visitors, and photography is frowned upon if not prohibited. There has been suggestions of the creation of some form of wildlife trial, but as yet this has not been forthcoming. (August 2008)
South again to Wanstead, west of the Green and parallel with the link-road which is in a deep cutting here, is a cycle/pedestrian route which connects Blake Hall Road with the Green Man Roundabout, and hence to Leytonstone. By this route is a created meadow, sometimes called Wanstead Meadow or Blake Hall Meadow. A regime of grass cutting has been instigated by Redbridge Council to enhance the wild-flowers that were seeded here at its creation. Perhaps the glory of the site is the host of cowslips Primula spp. that flower here during May. These are not of the wild variety, and many will have crossed with other primulas, but they certainly look lovely. Many other flowers are also here, including ox-eye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare. The area merges into the wood at the end of Woodcote Road, and Bush Wood itself, near the Green Man roundabout. In Woodcote Wood may be found much three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum, outcast no doubt from nearby houses, but taking a strong hold. The link-road is separated from Bush Wood hereabouts by a wire fence, behind which is a planted embankment. Through this are creeping one or two patches of pot marigold Calendula officinalis. How persistent these are remains to be seen.
The Green Man Roundabout complex, which separates Bush Wood from Leyton Flats, was rebuilt and subsequently landscaped and seeded in 1999. Whether part of the seeding or plants that have taken advantage of the situation, the system is quite rich in a variety of wildflowers. A species abundant here that is not found elsewhere in our study area is chicory Cichorium intybus. Wild parsnip Pastinaca sativa is also common here, as is wild carrot Daucus carota. Lady's bedstraw Galium verum is another nice plant to be found here. In June 2012 a few planyt of bee orchid Ophrys apifera were present just east of the roundabout and adjacent to Bush Wood North. More were found in the same location during 2016. On the pavements outside the Green Man pub (not its present name), shaggy soldier Galinsoga ciliata has been seen. More information about this area, including a plant list, may be found here.
A stormy view of the Green Man roundabout underpass. July 2007
In August 2008, a superstore nearby concreted over some of the wildflower areas adjacent to the roundabout. This was on the pretext of rat problems, but probably was intended to enhance parking for deliveries to the store. Intervention by local wildlife conservation people managed to have at least some of this stopped. The land that was to be concreted over was believed to be actually part of Epping Forest, given as part of the exchange deal relating to the creation of the Hackney Link Road. The photograph above shows the aspect of some of the land that could have been lost.
Elsewhere in Leytonstone, in the conservation area of Browning Road, one or two gardens have successfully grown good specimens of banana Musa sp., visible towering over garden walls. Further afield, between the Central Line railway by Leytonstone Station and Gainsborough Road, is a created area of grassland, kept mown as something of a meadow. This area, which I have called Leytonstone Meadow, also has a wonderful display of cowslips Primula veris, first noted in May 2006.
Local parks, gardens, churchyards and allotments are also worth looking at. A visit to West Ham Park concentrated on looking at the collection of trees in the park. These, of course, are all planted, but apparently the Park Office did not have a list, so a partial one - of those specimens noted - is available here. Subsequent to that visit, at the end of 2008 a leaflet was published by the City of London Corporation entitled 'Tree Trail - West Ham Park Walks'. A visit to the park is recommended to anybody interested in trees and shrubs. Another park worthy of a visit is Little Ilford Park, at the Ilford end of Manor Park. Somewhat tucked away, nevertheless this recreation-style park covers a fairly large area and Newham Council have evidently done well in planting a number of ornamental tree-species to enhance the variety. There are some interesting ones to be seen here, and further details are available here. Adjacent to and accesible from Little Ilford Park is an area known as Webster's Land. This is managed as a meadow by the London Borough of Newham and as it has been seeded contains a wide variety of flowers, shrubs and trees, some not found in the area otherwise. More information is provided here.
Gardens, with their deliberate plantings, should be considered. In the garden of a house in the newer part of the Aldersbrook Estate nearby, there is a fine example of a loquat Eriobotrya japonica. In this sheltered position, the tree flowers and fruits profusely. Slightly nearer to Wanstead Park is a large blue gum Eucalyptus globulus in flower at Christmas. At the other end of the Aldersbrook Estate, in the grounds of St. Gabriel's Church, is a specimen of black mulberry Morus nigra, and by Blake Hall Road a fine mimosa Acacia dealbata grew in a front garden until damaged by severe weather in the winter of 2009/2010. This was replaced by a new tree, although of course substantially smaller!
Also what should be mentioned in this section are some of the trees that are to be found as roadside plantings. These can include the likes of some good specimen trees of more common species, but also some perhaps more unusual ones. In Wanstead Park Avenue are one or two specimens of claret ash Fraxinus angustifolia ssp. oxycarpa 'Raywood' - striking in the Autumn colours which give the common name. Monkey puzzles Araucaria araucaria have long been a favourite and are well known, and the loquats have already been mentioned, but there are also some palm trees including Chusan palm Trachycarpus fortunei and Canary palm Phoenix canariensis, for example. When will somebody plant the first Wollemi pine in Wanstead?
In building up a picture of the plant-life of the Wanstead area, particular attention has been paid to areas such as Wanstead Park, and very little to some of the localities mentioned in this section. It is hoped that this may gradually be rectified, but it is likely that this will be a slow process!