Leyton Flats - an introduction

For a List of plant species found on Leyton Flats - click here

For a Map of Leyton Flats - click here

For photos of plants found on Leyton Flats - click here

For other aspects of Leyton Flats - click here

The majority of Leyton Flats lies within the London Borough of Waltham Forest. Because of the overall similarity between Leyton Flats and Wanstead Flats to the south-east, some comparison is made between these two areas in the text and further comparisons may be made by referring to "Wanstead Flats".

Leyton Flats is, like the somewhat similar Wanstead Flats, an open area in the southern reaches of Epping Forest, close to, and almost surrounded by, heavily populated residential areas. The borders of Leyton Flats are Whipps Cross Road to the south-west, Lea Bridge Road in the west, Snaresbrook Road in the north and the Central Line railway cutting and Hollybush Hill (road) to the south and the east. The private grounds of Snaresbrook Crown Court are in the north-east corner as is the Eagle Pond, which is part of Epping Forest. More forest land in the neighbourhood of Whipps Cross Hospital is separated from Leyton Flats by Whipps Cross Road.

Leyton Flats proper comprises about 75 hectares of land, of which 38 hectares is flat open grassland, 20 hectares woodland and the rest mainly ponds or wet areas. The whole lies on the Boyn Hill Terrace of pebble gravel and alluvium, for which past workings have produced the pits and spoil heaps to be found in parts of the area. The habitats thus formed account at least in part for a flora that differs to some degree from that of the superficially similar environments of Wanstead Flats, with which some interesting comparisons may be made. The same cattle grazed on Leyton Flats as on Wanstead Flats, though it seems that they had preference for the latter which might be related to differences in the vegetation of the two areas.

Poor drainage of rain-water from Leyton Flats give rise to considerable waterlogging of the grassland, particularly during winter. There are a number of drainage ditches across the area, of which some drain to the Hollow Pond or the Eagle Pond. Numerous other ponds or damp hollows are mostly the result of past gravel diggings and are scattered around the north and west edges. They have a variety of shapes and sizes, and of these only that at the west edge of the Flats by Lea Bridge Road normally has a covering of water for any length of time. At the north end of the large Hollow Pond is a much smaller expanse of water known as the Round Pond, which drains into its larger neighbour. The water that feeds this pond is mainly gathered from Gilbert's Slade to the north. There are some kiosks and a boat-house by the Hollow Pond, the only buildings on the Flats. In a birch wood adjacent to the fence of Snaresbrook Crown Court (once the Royal Wanstead School and before that the Infant Orphan Asylum) and close to the Eagle Pond, is Birch Well. This is a small spring enclosed by a stone surround about five feet across, once used for drinking water. Particularly in the north and west part of the Flats and mainly around the edge are areas of woodland; there is a scattering of trees elsewhere. For an account of water-courses on Leyton Flats in years past, see Wanstead Watercourses: the "River Holt" by Barry Hughes.

There are no deliberately planted groups of diverse species of trees as are to be found on Wanstead Flats, nor roadside lines or avenues. However, towards the east end of Whipps Cross Road there is a copse of trees which contain a number of Turkey oak Quercus cerris, evidently deliberately planted. There is in the south-east part of the area a quite extensive patch of mixed gorse and broom scrub, and another area predominantly of gorse north-east of the Hollow Pond. There are no close-mown playing-fields as on Wanstead Flats, the only mown grass being by Whipps Cross Road and used as a picnic or recreation area. The overall "roughness" of the whole area as compared to Wanstead Flats with its large areas of playing fields seems to put a different emphasis on the recreation and sporting activities which are undertaken. There is virtually no football, cricket or golf practice, nor model aircraft or boats, but there is horse-riding, and the hilly banks of the Hollow pond are used by numbers of motor and pedal-cycle riders as a sort of scramble course. This activity contributes to the sparsity of plant growth around these lakes. For these reasons, and as little deliberate seeding or planting takes place nor apparently is there much casual dumping of garden refuse, Leyton Flats presents a somewhat wilder appearance than does Wanstead Flats.

The Plants of Leyton Flats

The grassland

The major expanse of grassland lies to the east and south-east of the Hollow Pond and, apart from a small woodland area near Whipps Cross Road, has trees mainly around the edges, with a scattering elsewhere. Scrub, mainly of gorse Ulex europaeus and broom Sarothamnus scoparius, occurs in patches. One large area near Hollybush Hill is a mixture of these species, and another by the Hollow Pond consists mainly of gorse. This scrub gives protection to a number of oak seedlings. Particularly in the south-east part of the Flats, such grasses as perennial rye-grass Lolium perenne, cocksfoot Dactylis glomerata and Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus are abundant, together with some crested dog's-tail Cynosurus cristatus. Common mouse-ear Cerastium holosteoides, white clover Trifolium repens and yarrow Achillea millefolium are typical common plants to be found amongst these grasses. Some upright hedge-parsley Torilis japonica has also been found here. North of this, in the central part of the Flats, are extensive areas of mat-grass Nardus stricta, as well as brown bent Agrostis canina subsp. montana, common bent A. tenuis and wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa. Amongst these, sheep's sorrel Rumex acetosella is common and heath rush Juncus squarrosus is widely scattered. One patch of heather Calluna vulgaris occurs in the north-east portion. Further north still, the grassland merges into mixed birch and oak woodland, together with some damp hollows in the vicinity of the Eagle Pond. Within the wooded area that stretches along much of Snaresbrook Road are some small areas of grassland that retain a plant community that suggests a possible relic heathland flora. Such species as tormentil Potentilla erecta, heath bedstraw Galium saxatile and many-headed woodrush Luzula multiflora grow amongst mat-grass and brown bent. In slightly damper conditions in these locations are also to be found common sedge Carex nigra, a small amount of carnation-grass C. panicea, some patches of creeping willow Salix repens and heath grass Sieglingia decumbens. This interesting flora is in some danger of being encroached upon by birch scrub.

The woodland and trees

English oak Quercus robur and silver birch Betula pendula are the dominant tree species on Leyton Flats, together with holly Ilex aquifolium and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. A mixed birch and oak woodland extends along the northern edge of the area, with oak becoming more predominant at the west end of the Flats. A somewhat isolated wood by Whipps Cross Road further south comprises mainly English oak, but has some specimens of Turkey oak Quercus cerris. Elsewhere, trees are to be found mainly around the edges of the open grassland, while a few, mainly oaks, grow by the sides of the drainage ditches. Within the oak/birch woodland of the north-east corner there is a group of aspen Populus tremula, and a single seedling yew Taxus baccata, a species not otherwise known on Leyton Flats. Although some of the older birch here is dying, as on Wanstead Flats, there are mature trees and an abundance of saplings. Rowan Sorbus aucuparia occurs here as saplings only. It may be noted that this species, in sapling form, has increased over the whole southern Epping Forest study area in the last year or two. The reason for this is not known, but it is thought that an increase in local street and garden planting of this species has given rise to bird-sown seedlings. No mature rowan trees are known in this part of the forest. In places the wood is quite dense, with holly, bramble Rubus fruticosus agg., and bracken Pteridium aquilinum. Both field rose Rosa arvensis and dog rose R. canina occur. In the wet areas, particularly in the north-west of Leyton Flats, willow is common and sometimes abundant. Both great sallow Salix caprea and common sallow S. cinerea subsp. atrocinerea occur, but more work needs to be done on the identification and distribution of Salix spp. Between the site of an old lido and the Hollow Pond, oaks are virtually the only plants to grow on the compacted sandy gravel that occurs here. Near here there is a large common lime Tilia x europaea and a hybrid black poplar Populus x canadensis var. marilandica, as well as a Japanese privet Ligustrum ovalifolium. By Whipps Cross Road and between this road and the Hollow Pond, holly is abundant and there are numerous specimens of wild cherry Prunus avium, some elder Sambucus nigra, and a single small Turkey oak. Further south the trees thin out as the grassland is met, and a specimen of laburnum Laburnum anagyroides is found. By Hollybush Hill both apple Malus sp. and pear Pyrus communis seem evidence of deliberate planting. Although the total number of tree species to be found on Leyton Flats is similar to Wanstead Flats, and the majority of the species are the same in both areas, the distribution differs considerably. Leyton Flats is dominated by large numbers of few species to an extent that Wanstead Flats with its deliberately planted groups of diverse species is not.

The ponds and wet areas

The Hollow Pond is the largest area of permanent water on Leyton Flats. Muddy regions occur in places by the winding banks of sandy gravel, although the compacted soil away from the water is largely devoid of plant growth. Great reed-grass Glyceria maxima and soft rush Juncus effusus, with great reedmace Typha latifolia and yellow flag-iris Iris pseudacorus are typical plants to be found in these muddy waterside areas, as well as spike-rush Eleocharis palustris, duckweed Lemna minor and marsh pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris in places. In the water common plants are hornwort Ceratophyllum demersum and Canadian pondweed Elodea canadensis, while spiked water-milfoil Myriophyllum spicatum, curly water-thyme Lagarosiphon major, grassy pondweed Potamogeton obtusifolius and hair-like pondweed P. trichoides have all been found. Willow Salix sp. is present but not in quantity, around the edge. The numerous islands of the lake have not been investigated, but it can be readily seen that those particularly at the east end have much gorse cover, and silver birch is common.

Over-flow water runs in the Hollow Pond from a much smaller pond at its north-east corner. There are some patches of low plant growth around its banks, including toad rush Juncus bufonius, jointed rush J. articulatus, and of particular interest, near its north bank, slender rush J. tenuis. Canadian pondweed is also present in this pond, as are lesser pondweed Potamogeton pusillus and hair-like pondweed P. trichoides.

The Eagle Pond is the second largest of the permanent open waters, less natural looking than the others, partially due to the pavement of Snaresbrook Road which forms its northern perimeter. The east end and the south side of this pond, although forming the boundary of the study area, have not been investigated as they are in private grounds. Only the short length of the pond's western end adjoins the woodland area of Leyton Flats. At the water's edge grow pale persicaria Polygonum lapathifolium, water-pepper P. hydropiper, trifid bur-marigold Bidens tripartita and a specimen of white willow Salix alba. Also present are some hard rush Juncus inflexus and the only specimen of remote sedge Carex remota known on Leyton Flats. Nearby there is a spring, Birch Well, with a stone edge, which flows into the nearby Eagle Pond. This spring is about 1.5metres long and slightly less wide and contains much floating sweet-grass Glyceria fluitans.

The third pond in size and which usually has some water-cover is that at the west end of the Flats by Lea Bridge Road. This is closely surrounded by trees except on the side by the road, and willows are abundant particularly at the north-east end. Also at this end great water-grass grows luxuriantly and covers a wide area. Marsh pennywort is common here and in many of the damp hollows in this part of the Flats. Water starwort Callitriche platycarpa is to be found on the mud at the edge of the pond, as is one patch of bog stitchwort Stellaria alsine and some marsh foxtail Alopecurus geniculatus. The area of the North Pond, by Snaresbrook Road, is dominated by Salix, with an abundance of soft rush and great water-grass as well as bulbous rush, Juncus bulbosus, floating scirpus Eleogiton fluitans and velvet bent Agrostis canina subsp. canina. Numerous other damp hollows, ditches and areas liable to flooding exist on the Flats, and various combinations or representatives of the species mentioned are found in them, as well as others that are presented in the species list.

Other plants and environments

Certain plant species persist on Leyton Flats in more restricted environments than discussed above, either within or adjacent to the other areas. A notable example of this, perhaps, is buck's-horn plantain Plantago coronopus which grows in a number of locations on areas of compacted gravel. Such soil exists on the track that lies adjacent to and along much of the length of Whipps Cross Road, on and beside some footpaths, and car parking areas. On the car park to the west of the lido procumbent pearlwort Sagina procumbens and sand spurrey Spergularia rubra are found. On a bank which separates the grassland from the track by Whipps Cross Road, one plant of columbine Aquilegia vulgaris was found, together with such plants as ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata, Oxford ragwort Senecio squalidus and groundsel S. vulgaris. A steep bank leads down to the cutting of the Central Line railway, from the drier grassland above to damp and muddy conditions below. Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara is abundant on the slope at the south end, and here too is some broad-leaved pea Lathyrus latifolius. Along the bottom of the slope where a wire fence divides the Flats from the railway, some plants of common horsetail Equisetum arvense occur, and there are many specimens of willow, as well as hawthorn, bramble and, actually on railway property which has not otherwise been investigated, silver birch.

Adjacent areas

Separated from Leyton Flats proper by Whipps Cross Road is another area of Forest land mostly beside and just to the south-east of Whipps Cross Hospital. Much of this land is wooded, with some clearings. Especially in the south, English oak is the dominant tree, with holly and hawthorn being abundant. Just at the edge of the Forest, near the ambulance station by James Lane, there are one or two patches of stinking iris Iris foetidissima. This may have originated from ornamental plantings just inside the hospital grounds, where there are other specimens. In early 2016 three clumps of stinking iris were noted just in the woodland at the side of James Lane, but across the road from the previously seen specimens. Slightly further north between the hospital and the road, there are a number of specimens of grey poplar Populus canescens, with much regeneration in progress. One locust tree Robinia pseudoacacia occurs by the hospital fence, and this is almost certainly originated from trees within the hospital grounds. Cut-leaved cranesbill Geranium dissectum occurs and goat's-beard Tragopogan pratensis is quite common in the roadside grassland. Just north of the hospital and near to the roundabout is an open area of perhaps somewhat unattractive-looking land, predominantly of grasses and common associated plants such as dandelion Taraxacum officinale agg. and cat's-ear Hypochoeris radicata. This area was wooded until 1979 when it was cleared to provide safe travel at night for nursing staff passing between the hospital and nearby bus stops. Similar clearance of roadside vegetation has been undertaken elsewhere in the vicinity of the hospital and in other parts of the study area, such as in Bush Wood by Blake Hall Road early in 1981. This obviously has a disturbing effect on the plant life, but on the land to the north of hospital, where a slight dip occurs in the middle of the area and drainage is poor, as well as soft rush and toad rush the less common slender rush Juncus tenuis and hairy sedge Carex hirta occurs in the habitat created by clearance.

The small area of Forest land separated from the rest of Leyton Flats by the railway cutting and situated between the cutting, the Green Man roundabout complex, and the road called Highstone, comprises an area of trees which are by the railway and an area of grass by the roads. The trees here are of more diverse species in a small area than on the rest of Leyton Flats, and include beech Fagus sylvatica and hornbeam Carpinus betulus. Lime Tilia x europaea is planted by the roadside. The grass area includes common mouse-ear Cerastium holosteoides and black horehound Ballota nigra as well as spotted medick Medicago arabica which has not been found elsewhere. A pile of building rubble and earth which had been tipped onto the grassland harboured at least twenty species of plants, including creeping cinquefoil Potentilla reptans, petty spurge Euphorbia peplus, wood forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica and germander speedwell Veronica chamaedrys. This area was considerably affected when work was undertaken during the 1990s for the Redbridge to Hackney relief road. This section, which is south-east of the Central Line railway cutting will be better classed as part of the Green Man roundabout system.

Species known to have been recorded in recent years from the Leyton Flats area include nine that are all specifically mentioned in the Flora of Essex (Jermyn 1975), which have all been re-found. The earlier Flora of Essex (Gibson 1862) includes 58 species from such areas as "Whipps Cross" and "Snaresbrook", of which only 23 are known to be still present. The 35 species not found during the present survey are all listed in Table 1 below.


TABLE 1. Species included in The Flora Of Essex (Gibson 1862) from the vicinity of Leyton Flats, and not found in the present survey.

Abbreviations of recorders' names

F............... Forster, Edward, F. L. S.

G.............. Gibson, G.S.

J.F............ Freeman, J.

J.T.S......... Syme, J.T., F. L. S.

W. L......... Lister, William Henry.

W.G.......... Garnons, W.L.P.

Athyrium filix-femina  Lady Fern.  Snaresbrook. F.
Dryopteris dilitata  Broad Buckler Fern.  Snaresbrook. W.G. 
Thelypteris limbosperma  Lemon-scented Fern.  Nr. Snaresbrook. F. 
Chenopodium urbicum  Upright Goosefoot.  Snaresbrook.
Oxalis acetosella  Wood Sorrel.  Snaresbrook. J.F.
Frangula alnus  Alder Buckthorn.  Snaresbrook, not common. F. 
Ulex minor  Dwarf Gorse.  Leytonstone. W.G. 
Ononis spinosa  Spiny Restharrow.  Epping Forest near Stratford. J.F. 
Trifolium medium  Zigzag Clover.  Snaresbrook. W.G.
Ornithopus perpusillus  Bird'sfoot.  Epping Forest near Stratford. J.F.
Rubus leucostachys  Bramble. Sm.  Snaresbrook. W.G.
R. carpinifolius  Bramble. W. & N.  Snaresbrook.
(Note: Rubus spp. covered in present survey by R. fruticosus agg.)
Drosera rotundifolia  Round-leaved Sundew.  Between Leytonstone and Snaresbrook. Gough. 
Peplis portula  Water Purslane.  Epping Forest, Stratford. J.F. 
Epilobium palustre  Marsh Willowherb.  Snaresbrook. F. 
Apium inundatum  Lesser Marshwort.  Snaresbrook. W.G.
Rumex pulcher  Fiddle Dock.  Nr. Leytonstone. F. 
Salix aquatica  Willow. Sm.  Common on the Forest. F.
Erica tetralix  Cross-leaved Heath.  Snaresbrook. G.
Hyoscyamus niger  Henbane.  Forest near Snaresbrook. F. 
Pedicularis palustris  Marsh Lousewort.  Forest near Stratford. J.F.
Mentha x piperita  Peppermint.  Near Whipps Cross. F. 
Viburnum lantana  Way-faring Tree.  Snaresbrook. W.G.
Chamaemelum nobile  Camomile.  Leytonstone. W.G.
Serratula tinctoria  Saw-wort.  Forest near Snaresbrook, very uncommon. F.
Damasonium alisma. Starfruit.  Snaresbrook. J.F.
Zannichellia palustris  Horned Pondweed.  Snaresbrook. W.G.
Juncus subnodulosus  Blunt-flowered Rush.  Snaresbrook. W.G. 
Lemna polyrrhiza  Greater Duckweed.  Snaresbrook. G. 
L. gibba  Fat Duckweed.  Forest near Leytonstone. F.
Eleocharis quinqueflora  Few-flowered Spike-rush.  Bog on Epping Forest, between Wanstead and Walthamstow. F. 
Carex flava  Large Yellow-sedge.  Snaresbrook. W.G. 
C. riparia  Greater Pond-sedge.  Snaresbrook. W.G.
C. pulicaris  Flea Sedge.  Between Walthamstow and Woodford.
Catapodium rigidum  Fern-grass.  Snaresbrook. W.G.