Some proposals for Wanstead Park

On 14th December Tricia Moxey and I met up with the Head of Operations for Epping Forest, Geoff Sinclair. We were there to discuss some topics relating to the management of the Park, particularly with respect to its ecology, but also its aesthetics and accessibility.

wp chalet wood 061115 9062artChalet WoodWe began by entering Chalet Wood, well known these days for its display of bluebells, not little of which effect is due to lots of work by the Wren Conservation Group. The bluebells are almost a victim of their own success, as more spectators are leading to increasing damage due to trampling. Young plants begin to push through the soil as early as January, and with the autumn leaf-covering obscuring tracks through the wood it is easy to tread on them unknowingly. I believe that the desire-line tracks need to be delineated in some way, so that the route can be seen when leaf-covered. Some form of low edging might also act as a psychological barrier against walking on the bluebells when in flower.

From Chalet Wood we made our way to the Glade. This open area is designed to afford a clear vista down to the Ornamental Waters. However the Glade is becoming reduced in width with the encroachment of vegetation from its boundaries. Bramble is encroaching on the south side of Glade which could be dealt with to expose more bluebells in the spring. some of the planted oaks at the top of the Glade are too close together now, and Tricia pointed out that some of them still retain their protective guards. In addition, there are a number of small self-seeded oak saplings which should be removed before they become much larger.

The intended view from the Glade along the Canal is now obscured by some of the branches of the large oak at the edge of Ornamental Water. To remove such a fine tree would probably not be an option, but I suggested that the removal of a large branch on the left of the tree would increase the view of the Canal from the Glade.

Emergent vegetation at Perch Pond, Wanstead ParkEmergent vegetation at Perch Pond, Wanstead ParkI have often felt that the walk along the Ornamental Water-side northwards from the Glade is somewhat claustrophobic and dark. Opening up the path by clearing encroaching vegetation alongside the upside of the path so it can be mown once or twice a year would enhance the feeling of openness and allow the surface of the path to dry out more quickly. On the waterside edge of the path, excessive vegetation is hindering the view of the lake itself. A selective clearance could be undertaken, particularly opposite the inlet between Lincoln and Rook Islands, leaving occasional well grown alders and willows to frame ‘windows on the wilderness’ - as Tricia put it!

Work had already been planned for work to be undertaken in the vicinity of the Grotto, but I did ask if it would be possible to keep a Mock Orange bush which grows near to the Grotto as a feature. It is the only one in the Park. The planned work was to include the area within the Grotto enclosure itself. A kingfisher has nested in the façade of the Grotto in the past and individual birds are often seen near this structure. We asked if there was any possibility of creating an artificial kingfisher breeding bank near the Grotto to encourage this bird to breed once again within the Park.

Moving to the Perch Pond, one of my biggest concerns over the last few years has been what I perceive to be inappropriate management of the herb vegetation that grows along the east bank of this water. Geoff informed us that this work was essential to comply with the Reservoir Act, which constrains water-body owners to maintain the banks of bodies of water which are deemed “reservoirs” so that no breaching should occur. I have heard this “Reservoir Act” quoted many times in relation to this issue, and I am afraid that I wouldn't let go of the argument. Why is it not possible for the herbaceous vegetation to be retained during high summer, with a cut in spring and autumn, rather than being cut in July or August when the flowers are at their best? This is one of the best locations in the Park where emergent vegetation is present; this attracts insects and provides important stems up which emergent damsel and dragonflies can crawl. It is also attractive to humans! We discussed the possibility of removing willows along the north edge of Perch Pond to create an additional margin which could develop more such important emergent vegetation. At the other end of Perch Pond – nearer the tea hut – we pointed out the importance of removing the highly invasive pond-plant Floating Pennywort.

Wanstead Park, the PlainAnt hills on the PlainWe then walked across the Plain, emphasising the biological importance of the ant-hills and how they create mini climates and environments of their own. I got the impression that there is some move towards flattening some of these in favour of more picnic and play areas, but I hoped that our arguments about the relative importance of such issues may have swayed against that. There are – after all – some quite reasonable (and increasing, anyway) areas where picnic and play is already taking place. It would, though, be desirable to remove emergent broom, small oaks and other small trees from the Plain to stop it from becoming wooded. As for the picnic areas, scrub could be cleared from the vicinity of some large oaks to open up a larger picnic area close to the Temple.

Lastly – although we didn't walk it – I pointed out the overgrowth of vegetation along the path between the edge of Heronry Pond and Northumberland Avenue. Clearing this would help the path to dry out and make it more attractive to users of the Park as well as people walking it as an alternative to the nearby pavement.

Paul Ferris, 4th February 2014 (based on a report written by Tricia following the meeting)