The following has been adapted from an article that I wrote and was published in 1980*. Here, it has been updated and changed to some extent to provide an overview of the park and particularly the plants to be found.
The description generally follows a circuit of the Park, starting at the west end, working east, then north, turning south then west.
For a list of plants - click here
For a Map - click here
To enter Wanstead Park from its western end is by means of an unimpressive opening in the fence giving access from Blake Hall Road, with a sloping path leading down into Reservoir Wood. Strictly speaking, this part of Epping Forest is not part of what we now know as Wanstead Park. Its by-laws are those of Epping Forest proper, and not those of the Park. However as it was historically part of the Wanstead Parklands, is contiguous with the Park and is regarded by most people as part of the Park, it is right that it be included here.
Only Blake Hall Road separates Reservoir Wood from Bush Wood, whose tree flora is remarkably similar. However there is a marked difference between the tree flora of these areas and that of the other areas of southern Epping Forest. Reservoir Wood is bounded to the south by the garden fences of the houses of Woodlands Avenue, and to the north by Wanstead Golf Course. At its eastern end, a noticeable embankment marks its limit - the embankment of the reservoir from which the wood takes its name. This reservoir should have feeds both from the Basin to the north, and by drainage from what is now the Lakehouse Estate west of Blake Hall Road. It is regrettable that so little water now issues from the Basin and, although Blake Hall road may be almost flooded at times nearby, almost none is allowed to drain off into the stream. Conduits from the other side of the road were blocked for many years, but in 2009 - following efforts by Alan Cornish of Wanstead - these were opened and an increased flow resulted. The Reservoir Stream was also re-dug, although it was regrettable that soil excavated in the process was simply dumped, with no efforts of re-landscaping. Regrettable too was the fact that a large hybrid black-poplar Populus x canadensis with huge spreading branches was cut-through to allow access for the digging machines. The destruction of much of the delta where the stream flows into the Shoulder of Mutton Pond may give rise to a failure of the vegetation which formed the delta to absorb pollutants either from Blake Hall Road area - or perhaps particularly from chemicals that may be used on the golf-course.
The reservoir was probably constructed with the aim of providing a steady source for the ponds down the valley to the east of it, and was built about 1730. The northern embankment appears to be the rising ground within the adjacent golf course; the south embankment has long since disappeared. The western embankment now forms part of Blake Hall Road and is the reason for the sloping path that gives access to the wood from the road. The main path through Reservoir Wood cuts through the original eastern bank of the reservoir (photo). Beyond, the wooded aspect gives way to an open area of grassland beyond which is the Shoulder of Mutton Pond. Barry Hughes in his article "Wanstead Watercourses: the "River Holt" states: "On older maps Reservoir Wood is shown as a pond but on a map of "Wanstead Park" (page 130) forming an estate lease book of 1833 (D/Dcy, P3, ERO [Essex Record Office]) this is labelled as, 'Great Pond now drained and planted' ". This gives some indication of when the pond became a wood; the reservoir survived until 1814-1815.
The dominant tree in the wood is English oak Quercus robur, with numerous hornbeams Carpinus betulus; some splendid mature specimens of both may be found. One of the Park's finest trees is to be found in Reservoir Wood: a sessile oak Quercus petraea known as the 'Repton Oak'. Some of the oaks, and some holly, almost certainly survive from the original plantings after the lake from which the wood gets its name was drained in 1814-1815.
Enchanter's nightshade Circaea lutetiana can be found in both Reservoir and Bush Woods and is more plentiful here than elsewhere. Other plants recorded here include green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens, which grows at the side of the ditch which carries water from the Basin (photo) to the Shoulder of Mutton Pond, and snowberry Symphoricarpos rivularis near the houses. The houses of Woodlands Avenue on the wood's southern side have access to rear garages by means of a gravel track known as the Woodlands Avenue wayleave. By one of these garages was found some small specimens of black spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-nigrum together with hart's-tongue fern Phyllitus scolopendrium growing in a damp mossy patch on the brickwork. Soon afterwards, however, this wall was renewed with the subsequent loss of the plants. The former was the only specimens of this fern known from Wanstead Park and the latter only otherwise known from the Dell.
Both accidentally and deliberately, garden plants from these houses find their way into the wood. Particularly in early Spring, a variety of colourful plants may be found along the south edge of Reservoir Wood. These include hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis, grape hyacinth Muscari sp. and hybrid daffodil Narcissus spp. Most of these are not found very far into the wood, and seem to do no harm. That cannot be said of the Spanish bluebells Hyacinthoides hispanicus that are common here. Wanstead Park is a wonderful site for the native bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta but as is well known, the Spanish bluebell hybridizes with the native one, and the Spanish genes become dominant. Where the eastern embankment of the old reservoir crosses the track there is a large patch of yellow archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon, probably introduced from the houses. In January 2016 two clumps of stinking iris Iris foetidissima were found by the side of the wayleave. This species had only been known from the bottom of Florrie's Hill and in Chalet Wood.
From within the golf course, not far from the Blake Hall Road, a stream emerges into Reservoir Wood, at first flowing southwards but near to the way-leave flowing eastwards near the southern edge of the wood. Forming a surprisingly deep valley through the eastern embankment of the old reservoir (photo), it passes under a small footbridge and then flows almost unnoticed through an area of fallen trees and scrub to emerge as the feed into the Shoulder of Mutton Pond.
The Shoulder of Mutton Pond (once known as House-field Pond - or perhaps Horse-field Pond) is the first of a chain of four lakes through the Park. When it is not dry, the stream that flows through Reservoir Wood helps maintain the Shoulder of Mutton Pond. However much of the water which should comprise the stream is overflow from the lake known as the Basin within the nearby Wanstead Golf Course. The excess is used to irrigate the course, thus depriving the lake system.
The Shoulder of Mutton Pond is the Park's smallest lake, being about 1.21 hectares, and takes its name from its shape. When the initial survey was made in the 1980s, this was the most open of the four lakes. There were two main reasons: first it lacks islands and second few tall plants grew around its margin. By 2008 it was noticeable that substantially more plant growth had occured, both on the margins of the lake and by the side of it, particularly perhaps at its eastern end. By 2009 a large patch of common reed Phragmites australis had become establshed here. An area of mostly soft rush Juncus effusus and great water grass Glyceria maxima with some yellow flag Iris pseudacorus was present on the southern edge of the lake; amongst these plants could also be found spike rush Eleocharis palustris. Some hard rush Juncus inflexus, water mint Mentha aquatica, and trifid bur-marigold Bidens tripartita may also be found at the water's edge. The gravelly north bank is largely devoid of vegetation apart from various grasses, although Great reedmace Typha latifolia forms a good patch at the north-east corner. In about 2014 a substantial amount of clearance of woody vegetation - such as willow scrub - that had grown up along the eastern edge was cleared, although in 2015 it was noticeable that similar scrub was becoming well established along the southern bank. This southern edge of the lake, edged with grassland and the variety of waterside plants already mentioned, is a valuable habitat and the wooody scrub will not enhance this and should be cleared. Too, the aspect across the water and beyond towards St. Mary's Church in Wanstead is a particularly fine one and should not be allowed to become lost. With the exception of common reed and hard rush, which have only been found at this location, and spike rush, which has only been found here and in the Heronry Pond, the other species just mentioned are to be found around all of the Park's lakes.
South of the pond, near to the Woodlands Avenue wayleave, can be found more of the persistent garden escapes and outcasts from the nearby houses. Here is another patch of yellow archangel and a well-established patch of large cuckoo pint Arum italicum subsp. italicum as well as a couple of clumps of spring snowflake Leucojum vernum. Even a garden tulip Tulipa gesneriana has persisted here for a couple of years. In the spring several varieties of Narcissus and Crocus grow at the edge of the wood, and these include early crocus Crocus tommasinianus. Also by this lane are some specimens of the tree balm of gilead Populus x jackii. Are these the trees that were recorded in the Flora of Essex of 1974 as "Wanstead Park...border hedge by playing fields"? Some large specimens of these which existed in the small wood near Park Road are now dead or dying.
To the east of the pond, an area of open grassland with some areas of trees and some nice solitary silver birches is encountered before the Heronry Pond is reached. The grassland is quite rough, but there are some attractive patches of lesser stitchwort Stellaria graminea, and is favoured by Green Woodpeckers. Amongst the more mature trees there were until about 1990 two walnut trees Juglans regia, possibly remnants from the plantings of walnuts in the area that were so favoured in earlier centuries*. Alas, these are now gone. Near to where the walnuts were there is a nice patch of bugle Ajuga reptans in a grassy area..
* John Evelyn, the diarist and author of "Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees" (1664) visited Wanstead in March, 1683 and wrote: "I went to see Sir Josiah Child's prodigious cost in planting walnut trees about his seate..."
The Heronry Pond is the next lake in the chain and with an area of 4.45 hectares is the second largest. It differs from the other lakes in possessing sloping concrete banks all around. The west end is somewhat the narrower and is more closely surrounded by trees and other vegetation. One of this water's two islands is situated at this end, reducing further the width of the water. During 2004 a patch of the invasive weed floating pennywort Hydrocotyle ranunculoides was noted at this end of the lake, near the outflow from the Shoulder of Mutton Pond. The Wren Conservation Group attempted to remove this in April 2005, and it has not reappeared. The pond has always had problems with its water supply, and since wartime bomb damage further affected the water retaining properties of the lake, this resulted in a muddy environment as the lake lost water in the summer months. In this environment may be found floating sweet-grass Glyceria fluitans and its hybrid G. x pedicellata, although searches for the other parent, G. plicata have proved fruitless. Amphibious bistort Polygonum amphibium is particularly common in the Heronry Pond, as is water crowfoot Ranunculus peltatus, whose white blossoms have at times covered much of the lake's surface in early summer. This species has also been found in the Ornamental Water, but not in either the Shoulder of Mutton or Perch Ponds. Since a borehole was sunk in 1999 it is now possible to fill the lake from an underlying natural reservoir, thus changing dramatically both the appearance and the environment of the Heronry Pond. In the year 2000, for the first time to any degree in years, a variety of wild birds were to be seen in numbers on the lake and there were numerous breeding records. About half way along the northern edge of the pond the fence and gateway to Wanstead Park proper is encountered. The south bank of the lake is outside of the Park's special by-laws, and is mentioned below.
Perch Pond has an area of 2.23 hectares and maintains a fairly constant level of water. When the Heronry Pond is full to capacity overflow water may pass directly into the Perch Pond by a conduit which discharges into the northwest corner of the lake. The lake has at times been used extensively during the summer months for fishing, which activity has resulted in much erosion of the banks, and patches of bare earth can be seen at intervals. The carelessness of some anglers has also regrettably been the cause of litter and problems to wildfowl caused by discarded line and hooks.
A few small islands at the west end of the lake yield birches Betula pubescens and B. pubescens x pendula hybrids, alder Alnus glutinosa and various willows Salix spp. The other vegetation is largely Glyceria maxima and yellow flag Iris pseudacorus. Many of the Park's alder trees are to be found around this lake, particularly along the northern bank, or in the Dell, through which overflow water passes from the Perch Pond to the Ornamental Water. During the 1990s, silting-up of the waters between the banks and particularly the southern-most of the small group of islands at the pond's west end has resulted in the creation of a carr habitat, in which a Water Rail has been seen annually during winter. During this time also, a significant amount of pendulous sedge Carex pendulosa has developed. This is a species which formerly was only known from one patch in Reservoir Wood, but is now increasingly common here and by the Ornamental Water.
On 26 September 2008 a patch of the invasive floating pennywort was noticed by the south bank (photo), and by 2010 was also present at the western end of the pond. This presents a serious threat to the pond as it can spread so rapidly and extensively. Despite repeated mentions of its presence to City of London Staff, by 2013 the original patch at the west end was huge and other patches were present all around the lake. However, in early 2014 the largest - and original - patch was removed by CoL staff, and subsequently left-over pieces and some smaller patches were removed by members of the the Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group. Much still remained, however, in small patches on all banks of the lake. and it was evident that these needed to be dealt with as the threat to lakes by this species is well known. My fears were justified, as by the summer of 2015 there was a vast amount of the weed stretching almost continuously around the edge, and progressing towards the centre.
December 2015 and January 2016 saw some quite extensive removal of some of the vegetation that had encroached upon the banks of the pond, and appeared to have been done sensitively, leaving some good specimens of birch and alder and a more visible and attractive look to the water. Personally, I hope that the carr habitat at the SW corner is not significantly disturbed.
Adjacent to the south edge of Perch Pond, and between it and the 1970s development of the Aldersbrook Estate, is an area of land to which I have called Aldersbrook Wood. This was the site of an isolation hospital and is now mainly woodland, with some small area of rough grassland. The area requires to be investigated more thoroughly for its wildlife, but apart from a Corsican pine Pinus nigra ssp. laricio and a Lombardy poplar Populus nigra "Italica", it is not expected that it will show any surprises. Its main value is that it is there and forms a pleasant 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? See here for more information on Aldersbrook Wood.
Situated between the Perch Pond and the Ornamental Water is a damp, tree-filled hollow known as The Dell, though is shown on early maps as the Square Pond. Water flows through this area from the Perch Pond into the Ornamental Water. Alders and birches are significant trees here, and reed grass Phalaris arundinacea is present in greater strength than Glyceria maxima. Water forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides can be found here and, apart from some small patches by in the Ornamental Water, is not known to grow elsewhere in the park. Yellow loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris also grows here but the dotted loosestrife L. punctata recorded by Jermyn (1975) has been found only in Reservoir Wood. At the Dell's eastern end, a stream of overflow water from Perch Pond flows under a red-brick bridge, known as the Dell Bridge. A shallow dam was constructed here by the Wren Conservation Group to back the water up somewhat and produce a more marshy habitat in parts of the Dell. This has been particularly effective, and has given rise to a habitat in which the elusive bird the water rail may be found in the winter. On the east side of the bridge in 2007, the first specimen of hart's-tongue Fern Phyllitus scolopendrium to be found in Wanstead Park was noted to be growing out of the brickwork. By 2010 this had increased to two plants growing from the brickwork with another at the base of the bridge. In 2011 another of this species was growing on the western side of the bridge and by 2013 there were numerous plants growing from the brickwork of the bridge particularly at the S.E. side.
By the Dell bridge on its southeastern side is a large locust tree Robinia pseudoacacia and something of the remains of an avenue of limes Tilia x europaea which interestingly appears to continue into what is now the Aldersbrook Exchange Lands. This is outside of the Wanstead Parklands boundary, and historically under different ownership, so it would be interesting to know what prompted the planting of the avenue. Also close to the south end of the Dell bridge is a specimen of large-leaved cockspur thorn Crataegus coccinioides, which has been mistaken for a wild service tree. Is this possibly the "wild service tree" recorded in the Flora of Essex (1974) as being present in Wanstead Park, for no tree of this species is known there? Indeed at a glance it does appear similar, even to the leaf-shape. The thorns at least should give it away, but seem to be overlooked! This is an American thorn, and why it should be present here is not clear. However, an American garden is known to have existed from about 1818; This was possibly situated slightly to the north-east of the house. Is it possible that this species is a remnant from that garden? Certainly it is nowhere near the possible site of the garden, but saplings have been found, presumably from seed, elsewhere in the park. A good example that in 2006 produced lots of berries existed at the north end of the park - again near the Ornamental Waters - but was felled in March 2007, to my mind totally unnecessarily. (photo) There were at least two other mature trees known on the east bank of the south arm of the Ornamental Waters. These were cut down during the 1980s when an attempt was made to stop too many leaves from falling into the lake! In destroying these trees, are we destroying a link to the historic Wanstead Parklands? Interestingly, a fairly mature specimen of this species was discovered in 2008 growing on Whisker's Island, which is separated from the rest of Wanstead Park by the River Roding. (see below)
The Ornamental Water is the largest lake in Wanstead Park, comprising 6.07 hectares of water and 4.05 hectares of islands. It is also arguably the most aesthetically pleasing. However, as with the Heronry Pond, difficulty has been encountered in maintaining the water level during summer. When required water has been pumped from the adjacent River Roding, but this could only be done to a certain extent and when the conditions of the river were appropriate as informed by the river authority. Thus all too often in the past considerable areas of mud have been exposed, which soon dried hard allowing human access to the larger islands: Lincoln Island to the north and Rook Island adjacent to the south. These islands otherwise serve as a sanctuary for flora and fauna. Near to a fine and well known specimen of cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani - which is shown on Edwardian postcards leaning over the lake as it does now - there is a small island known as Round Island or, on older maps, Engine House Island. The Fortifications nearby are a group of small islands largely overgrown with bramble Rubus fruticosus agg. and ivy Hedera helix, and are rarely ventured upon by the general public. The large size of the Ornamental Water and the great length of its winding bank (it is about 2 miles around) provide a considerable range of habitats for a variety of plants growing both in and around the water. Yellow water-lily Nuphar lutea grows in profusion opposite the Grotto as well as in that part of the lake which forms a fine ornamental 'canal'. Rigid hornwort Ceratophyllum demersum and duckweed Lemna minor are common, and ivy-leaved duckweed Lemna trisulca is present. Broad-leaved pondweed Potamogeton natans can be found at the north end of the lake in particular. Gipsywort Lycopus europaeus and cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis occur all around the lake on the banks, and in the mud purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria and water pepper Polygonum hydropiper abound. In January 2007 a single plant of laurustinus Viburnum tinus was found growing out of the bank of the Ornamental Waters near the bottom of Florrie's Hill. Though this may well occur in nearby gardens, the nearest known plant associated with the park is in Warren Lane, the track that extends from Warren Road. The track alongside the lake below Warren Wood is known as "The Boards", and also growing from the bank here are numerous alders, some bracken Pteridium aquilinum - which is not common in the Park - and a London plane Platanus x hybrida, which is certainly not a deliberate planting. Excess water from the lake may flow over a weir at its southern end and through the wood into the River Roding near to Coronation Bridge.
In early 2016, I noticed some small patches of the invasive pondweed floating pennywort along the east edge of the lake, south of the top north-eastern corner. These could quite possibly have been removed without leaving any vegetative parts to multiply, and I did inform the Wren Conservation Group and asked them to "officially" contact the Conserevators of Epping Forest as a warning. I am afraid that the same problem that has occured in Perch Pond (see earlier) will be repeated here.
The east bank of the river - apart from the area called Whisker's Island (see below) - is not part of Wanstead Park. As such, it should really be treated in the section relating to "Other Areas", but for simplicity is treated here (below). The west bank of the river is part of Wanstead Park proper and is heavily wooded and mostly steep-banked; it is thus difficult to access apart from just a couple of places. One of the sights of the river is the amount of purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria that grows along the banks in summer. A footbridge (known as the Coronation Bridge, although this name strictly relates to a previous bridge which was opened in June 1902) leads from the Park to Wanstead Park Recreation Ground, belonging to London Borough of Redbridge, which is mainly laid out as playing fields. This bridge, however, was deemed to be in a dangerous condition and so has been blocked since 2012. The bridge is the responsibility of the London Borough of Redbridge, and it was still not accessible in 2016.
Branched bur-reed Sparganium erectum has been found at the waters edge near here, but Sparganium emersum, noted by Jermyn (1975), has not been located. In the river by the east bank near the bridge arrowhead Sagittaria sagittifolia grows, whilst on the west bank is a specimen of crack willow Salix fragilis. Crossing the footbridge from the Park proper, immediately to the right the top of the river embankment may be followed, towards the concrete bridge which spans the river leading into Aldersbrook Exchange Lands (the old sewage works site). Adjacent to the track is a large domestic apple tree Malus domestica, which has very edible fruit in the autumn. Turning left, or northwards, from the Coronation Bridge, either the top of the river embankment or the lower level nearer to the river may be taken. The vegetation by the river bank is regularly mown by the river authorities, but before the mowing, cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris, nettle Urtica dioica and white dead-nettle Lamium album are common. After some couple of hundred meters, the edge of Whiskers Island forms the boundary of the recreation area and the trees that comprise this wooded area tower above the river and its embankment.
Separated from the rest of Wanstead Park by the River Roding, Whiskers Island is a roughly rectangular area of trees with the River Roding along its west edge and a ditch that transfers surface water from the Ilford area into the river on its southern edge. It is not a true island today; part of the ditch which almost surrounded it and indeed part of the area itself was lost with the construction of the A406 road between Redbridge and Beckton. The plant of particular interest here during the 1980s was lesser water-parsnip Berula erecta, but this no longer can be found. The area is fairly open woodland, with a mix of trees which include oak, sycamore, Norway maple, field maple, beech, ash, hawthorn, wych elm, and a magnificent sweet chestnut amongst others of the same species. A surprise here - found in 2008 - is a large-leaved cockspur thorn Crataegus coccinioides. This species has been remarked upon here.
River Roding, East Bank
Beyond Whisker's Island towards Redbridge the riverside track continues, together with the river embankment. Much of the land north of Whisker's Island between the Roding and the Redbridge-Barking link road was used for Wanstead Park Road allotments, but these closed for some years and the land became almost impenetrable bramble. Near to the river, however, some plants which are not so common in Wanstead Park just across the river in are found. These include lady's bedstraw Galium verum, meadow cranesbill Geranium pratense, and lucerne Medicago sativa. The latter may have originated from the now disused, allotments, as may a double-flowered variety of soapwort Saponaria officinalis. Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria grows along here and cut-leaved bramble Rubus laciniatus growing at the edge of the bank above the river and particularly along the top of the bund separating the river from the old allotment site. The riverside walk could be continued as an unofficial footpath which is in great contrast to the woody aspect of the west bank of the river in Wanstead Park proper, as far as the back gardens of houses in Royston Gardens, Redbridge. It is unfortunate that no provisions are made here either for access to Wanstead Park or - officially - to Redbridge, its station, and the riverside walk along the Roding Valley Way northwards. Unofficially, however, it is possible to walk along the edge of the playing fields, with the back gardens of houses to your left, and to reach Redbridge roundabout. Where a hole is cut in the wire fence which allows people this access, there is a lane leading southwards to what was the entrance to the allotments. These are now abandoned, and the lane eventually becomes a grass track and then peters out altogether. This is quite near to the east edge of Whisker's Island, and could have perhaps made a useful route for the proposed Roding Valley Way, Indeed, in August 2009 it was noted that a post with a 'Roding Valley Way' pointer actually indicated this direction from Royston Gardens - but it certainly wasn't passable! What was also noted, however, is that the whole of the allotment area - although terribly overgrown with bramble, formed a wonderful site for wildlife. With suggestions that some of the threat from the River Roding flooding property along its course might be alleviated by allowing temporary flood plains, this might have been considered a good candidate for this, with the possibility of creating wildlife habitats such as scrapes for migrating birds. However, in early 2016 a surfaced cycle/footpath was opened, as part of the Roding Valley Way, passing along the top of the river-defense bank as far as the north end of Whisker's Island, and then continuing along the lower - nearer-to-the-river - bank as far as the sports field. Here the new path dog-legs eastwards to then join the afore-mentioned lane, parallel to the road.
With the construction of this path, numbers of trees and a considerable amount of wildlife-habitat undergrowth was cleared as it passes Whisker's Island, and the ex-allotment bramble patch was also cleared. The proposal is to re-establish the allotments. As the surfaced path adjacent to this site uses the lower river-bank, much of what was a nice green track suitable for pedestrians and plants has been swept away. Doubtless recovery will be made, but it remains to be seen whether all of the plant-species previously recorded along here will remain.
This area was created in 1972 when an attempt was made to dredge the Ornamental Water which was in an advanced state of eutrophication. Preceding this a large number of trees and much holly Ilex aquifolium were felled around the lake to prevent leaves from falling into the water. The dredgings from the lake were pumped to the site of what is now called The Bund, where the water was drained slowly back into the lake. The result was a large expanse of mud on what was once deciduous woodland. The first plants to colonise this area were predictably wetland plants, presumably from the lake itself. Great reedmace Typha latifolia was amongst the first to appear, but full investigation of the early stages of colonisation was not possible because the depth and soft nature of the silt made access impossible. Recolonisation of the clay banks around the silt, now largely levelled, is better documented and in 1974, two years after completion of the banks, 45 species of plants were recorded there, including coltsfoot Tusillago farfara, which in 1979 was the largest patch of this species in the Park. For a time prickly lettuce Lactuca serriola became abundant on the dried-out silt area, but in 1979 willow scrub was taking over to a large extent. A variety of vetches were present, including Vicia cracca, V. sativa, V. hirsuta and V. tetrasperma. Other plants found here have included cut-leaved cranesbill Geranium dissectum, comfrey Symphytum officinale, various species of dock Rumex and daisy Bellis perennis, which is not common in the Park.
River Wood and the Islands of the Ornamental Water
River Wood is the name given to the area between the Roding and the Ornamental Water north of the Canal. The trees here are a variety of species including a number of ash Fraxinus excelsior, sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus and field maple Acer campestre. In some parts cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris is the dominant species, whilst in other areas it is nettle Urtica dioica. Just north of the Canal a patch of sowbread Cyclamen hederifolium lies hidden in the wood.
The Fortifications are a group of about five small islands, opposite which on the banks of the Ornamental Water the only meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria that was known in the Park could be found. This is another species which seems to be increasing somewhat, because more patches have been found in recent years elsewhere by the Ornamental Water.
Lincoln Island is the northern-most of the islands. Passing around the northern end of the Ornamental Water there is another patch of daisies just beyond the shade of a stand of fine horse-chestnut trees Aesculus hippocastanum. Opposite this point on the island is a group of long-established daffodils (narcissi) including Narcissus x biflorus. Here too a few flowers of both Narcissus poeticus and N. pseudonarcissus were recorded in the late 1970's, but cannot now be found. A solitary Scots pine Pinus sylvestris, also on Lincoln Island slightly further on, was in 1979 the only example of this species in the Park, but has now gone. A survey of the trees and shrubs on Lincoln Island was undertaken by Pete Saunders of Leytonstone during 2006/7. A list of the species he has found can be viewed here.
Warren Wood, The Glade, The Grove and Chalet Wood
Warren Wood lies west of the Ornamental Water at the north end of which the land rises sharply from under 10 m to over 20 m above sea level. This wood was largely composed of elm Ulmus sp., but since the epidemic of Dutch elm disease all of the elm trees have died. In the interests of public safety most of the dead trees were removed in the late 1970s (photos). With the clearance went much of the undergrowth, a good deal of the top soil having been bulldozed away. These events had a great effect on the wood and its flora. Where once flourished the bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, a plant characteristic of shaded woodland floors, an area of soft rush Juncus effusus and literally thousands of sycamore saplings grew amongst the elm suckers arising from the remaining stumps. Extensive work was undertaken by the Wren Group to remove some of these unwanted trees, and other more friendly species were planted. Subsequently, many yew saplings were planted in the wood by the City of London Corporation in an attempt to recreate the serpentine hedges that trailed through the wood in parkland times. However, these were never maintained into a hedge and now they are of such a size that it is doubtful that they could ever become a hedge! Happily the extensive tracts of bluebells can once again be seen in Warren Wood, and would be a wonderful sight in the spring were it not for the dead and fallen wood that abounds hereabouts. Willow-herbs Epilobium sp., Canadian golden rod Solidago canadensis, red campion Silene dioica and Buddleja davidii were all growing here and a small number of plants of scarlet pimpernel Anagallis arvensis were also found, and barren brome Bromus sterilis was a prominent grass. However, this was in the early stages of the regrowth of the wood, and many of these would be few in number by 2000. A patch of wood anemone Anemone nemorosa benefited greatly from the clearance of the elms; where there was once only a small patch there are now several larger patches, and the Wren Group has had a number of winter-time task days doing clearance work to enhance these; initially on the northern side of the path leading from Warren Road down to the Ornamental Waters (known as Florrie's Hill), and gradually working into Warren Wood south of the path. Two patches of early crocus Crocus tommasinianus have been exposed during this work, and in 2002 they presented a lovely splash of colour in the mid-February woods. Lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria is abundant in this area also. As the floor of the wood falls to the south-east, more of the trees and the undergrowth remain, although since the trees are in the main part dead elms light penetration is still greater than it was and the flora has changed. There are some good specimens of hornbeam Carpinus betulus here. In March 2013, a solitary larch Larix decidua was noticed by the east side of the "loop" path off the gravel track leading down to Florries Hill.At the very edge of the wood, halfway up The Glade, common dog violet Viola riviniana grows. Nearer to the Ornamental Water, again at the edge of the wood, there are patches of ivy-leaved speedwell Veronica hederifolia. At the edge of the lake at the bottom of the Glade is a solitary cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani, leaning over the water as it has done for years.
The Glade - also known as the Long Walk - provided Wanstead House with a view between the woods, across the Ornamental Water and along the Canal across to Ilford. Although the house has gone the view remains, at least as far as the east end of the Canal. The top of the Glade used to be open and wider than it is now, and rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus could be seen. However, some years ago many sapling oak trees were planted. These were inappropriately closely spaced and have - to my mind - not only spoiled the aspect of the Glade when entering the Park from Warren Road, but may have also had an adverse effect on the habitat used by the rabbits. The grasses here include meadow foxtail Alopecurus pratensis, brown bent Agrostis canina montana, Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus and creeping fescue Festuca rubra rubra. Other plants include meadow vetchling Lathyrus pratensis, creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens, black knapweed Centaurea nigra and lady's bedstraw Galium verum. In 2008, some grass vetchling Lathyrus nissolia was found. A large example of a garden rose Rosa sp. is well established near to the top of the Glade. Why this is here is not known; perhaps it was planted by a visitor to the park just to enhance it, or perhaps even as a commemoration? Further down the Glade the grasses smaller cat's tail Phleum bertolonii and crested dog's tail Cynosurus cristatus occur. About half way down the Glade on the south side was a solitary Weymouth pine Pinus strobus, however this blew down in the strong winds of 18th January 2007 (photo).
The Grove lies south of the Glade (but no longer includes that section known as Chalet Wood - below) and adjacent to the south arm of the Ornamental Waters. Like Warren Wood, the elms are now long gone. Here, the bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta flourish, in a less than typical open situation, but with increasing competition particularly from bramble. There are some mature yews Taxus baccata around the Grotto, and numbers of the the purple-flowered rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum. Some of the tallest trees in Wanstead Park (as measured by Pete Saunders) grow here, between the Plain and the ornamental Waters. Patches of fern are to be found here, and are perhaps better here than in Chalet Wood now that area has been cleared to some extent to enhance the bluebells. Included among the ferns are male fern Dryopteris filix-mas and buckler D. dilitata. A sunny and sheltered area close to the Grotto, consisting of a large patch of mixed bramble-and-nettle, hosts many butterflies and insects during the spring and summer. This area had an old and very large ornamental mock orange Philadelphus coronarius, but the whole environment was cut to the ground in a tidying-up operation on 27 June 2002. The rank vegetation of course recovered quickly, but it wasn't until May 2006 that the mock orange was once again in flower (photo).
Chalet Wood is situated between the Plain and the Glade and named from 'The Chalet' - a refreshment building that was situated on the edge of the Plain. The wood includes silver birch Betulus pendula and hairy birch B. pubescens, species which hybridise freely in the Park. Grey poplar Populus x canescens is also present. Chalet Wood was perhaps the best area of the park for cryptograms: bracken Pteridium aquilinum, male fern Dryopteris filix-mas and buckler D. dilitata have been found but D. pseudomas, recorded by Jermyn (1975), is apparently absent. Clearing of undergrowth some years ago led to a decline in these plants, but a further programme of thinning of dead wood and tidying of undergrowth by the Wren Group has led to this wood being a glorious site for bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta in the spring. At the edge of the track through the wood leading to the Keepers Lodges is an impressive mature specimen of sweet chestnut Castanea sativa. Near here a small patch of three-veined sandwort Moehringia trinervia was present in 2000, but not seen again until the species was re-found nearby in the woods behind the keepers' lodges in 2009 (photo). By the south edge of the main track from the gates at Warren Road to the Temple the Wren Group has tried to encourage some patches of wood anemones that grow here. In 2009 a stinking iris Iris foetidissima was noticed growing in the wood just south of the main vehicle access track, only the second specimen of this species known in the Park.
South and west of the Grove and south of Chalet Wood is an open grassland area known as The Plain, which is divided by a main track which runs between a park entrance off Northumberland Avenue and the Temple. To the eastern side of this track, the Plain - perhaps conveniently called here the Eastern Plain - is notable for the number of ant hills, created by the yellow meadow ant, Lasius flavus. The soil here gives the area something of the characteristics of acid grassland, although there used to be tennis courts covering some considerable part of the area. The ant hills have obviously developed since then and not only create a distinctive appearance, but also act in many ways to diversify the ecology of the area. They provide a habitat for a variety of plants, as well as insects and other creatures. The ants themselves provide a food source for Green Woodpeckers, a species - perhaps for this reason - which is common in Wanstead Park. Because of the difficulty the ant-hills create for walking across the area, this also makes it less disturbed, so that birds and other creatures may find a relatively safe haven from the increasing numbers of human visitors the Park is getting. Since the removal of an avenue of English elm Ulmus procera that crossed the area, this now presents an even more open aspect although some large oaks remain. In 1999 a bomb crater just south of the keepers lodges that had become filled with small trees such as willows was cleared to re-extend the Plain even further. However this has now substantially filled in again.
The Temple lies adjacent to the keepers lodges and is an ornamental garden house built after the style of the former Wanstead House. Following a major renovation, it is now used for functions and is open to the public at weekends. The enclosed garden to the Temple consisted of a carefully tended lawn surrounded until 2002 by small trees and ornamental shrubs. Following the renovations on the building, a number of changes were made to the garden. These included in 1996 some felling of mature trees, including the only red oak Quercus rubra in the Park as well as a drastic removal of the sheltering hedges inside the picket fence. Amongst these were Aucuba japonica, Mahonia aquifolium and a single yucca Yucca sp. The wooden fence was replaced in 2001 by a metal one, and many holly plants were planted inside the fence in February 2002 to form a hedge. Shortly after almost all of the remaining trees and shrubs within the fence and some of those outside were removed. (photos). This gave a totally different and - many have commented - a somewhat uninteresting aspect to the grounds of the Temple. The holly plants did not do well; by 2007 many were missing and the rest still very small. By the end of that year, they were all gone. The yucca still persists, though has been cut to ground level on numerous occasions (photo). One shrub that was allowed to remain was a laurastinus Viburnum tinus, near to the Temple at its south western corner. Other species that occurs in the gardens of the Temple include, on the grassy slope, another patch of harebell and patches of birdsfoot Ornithopus perpusillus, which were noted growing in 2007. Increasing use of the gardens by visitors - including a lot of trampling and rolling by children on the slope - may adversly affect these. Also present in the grounds are patches of field woodrush (Good Friday grass) Luzula campestris and heath bedstraw Galium saxatile, which is not common in the Park with some few patches on the Plain.
On the gravelly path in front of the keeper's lodges, sand spurrey Spergularia rubra and buck's-horn plantain Plantago coronopus occurs. Farther into the grassland stands a solitary and very un-typical specimen of Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron giganteum, planted in 1965 to commemorate the death of Winston Churchill. Apart from a variety of grasses including matt grass Nardus stricta, other plants to be found on the Plain include an area of broom Cytisus scoparius at the east end, and also to be found in this vicinity is pignut Conopodium majus.
The western side of the Plain has substantially less ant-hills and appears to be less acid in its consistency. It does however hold two or three patches of harebell Campanula rotundifolia, scarce in the area. The main threat to this area - particularly since about 2008 - is an apparently increasing amount which is being mown, not it seems as part of grassland management for wildlife, but to provide picnic and recreation areas for visitors. In the early 1990's a double avenue of sweet chestnuts was planted, running from The Temple, parallel to Chalet Wood and westwards towards the park fence by the Heronry Pond. This fence marks the perimeter of the Park, by a track-like extension of Warren Road which I have called Warren Lane. As well as the patches of harebell, there is field bindweed Convolvulus arvensis and sheep's sorrel Rumex acetosella. Nearer to the park fence grow some small trees, including English oak Quercus robur, a domestic variety of apple Malus and birch hybrids Betula pendula x pubescens. Here too may be found common sorrel Rumex acetosa and rosebay Chamenerion angustifolium. By the fence are some mature specimens of beech Fagus sylvatica and a small-leaved elm Ulmus minor ssp. minor, a species which was recorded in this vicinity (as East Anglian elm) by Mark Hanson. (Essex Elm M.W.Hanson Essex Naturalist No.10 1990). Unfortunately, in 2012 this tree was severely lopped and did not survive.
Warren Lane is the name given to the unsurfaced track that forms a continuation of Warren Road from the small car park at the main access to the Park at its northern edge. The actual status of the track is unclear - it is not part of Wanstead Park nor of Epping Forest as far as is known, but - forming the boundary between the Park and Wanstead Golf Course - is an integral and old aspect of Wanstead Parklands. Near to the park gate, and by the park fence, is a large patch of alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, together with some dog's mercury Mercurialis perennis. Also against the park fence and a few metres down the track is a shrub of laurustinus Viburnum tinus, displaying its flowers in January and February. Also in Warren Lane, a single specimen of broad-leaved helleborine Epipactis helleborine wad first found in 1998 and was present until 2006. It was not noted subsequently and when a new surface to the track was laid in 2010 to facilitate cycling, it was thought that it would not be seen again. However in 2010 it was re-discovered, just 30cm or so from the new track surface; remarkably, it had survived!
South of the Heronry Pond and between it and Northumberland Avenue is a stretch of Epping Forest consisting of a mix of open area, scrub and trees. Particularly by the roadside, elm Ulmus scrub is dominant. In spring, the elm seeds can look glorious. A single patch of few-flowered garlic Allium paradoxum was found here in April 2005. It hadn't been noticed before and wasn't known elsewhere in the area. However, a smaller patch was noticed on the edge of the slope leading down towards Heronry Pond in April 2008. Similarly, within the elm scrub, a large patch of sowbread Cyclamen hederifolium was noticed in 2006, and in succesive years more patches have been noted within the scrub adjacent to the Northumberland Avenue. It proves the point made when the original of this article was published in 1980 : "Doubtless there are other species of plants to be found and identified.....even the most frequently walked path could still produce an overlooked or unrecognised specimen." Near to the Park gates are some small patches of early crocus Crocus tommasinianus, but this species is much better seen at the other end of Northumberland Avenue near Park Road, where the number of flowers seem to be increasing year by year.
Near here is a third Park 'mount'. The two mounts that are inside Wanstead Park proper are often mentioned and are historically important as part of the park's Grade II* rating. This one is evidentally of more recent origin, but maintains (at least until the 1990s) a tradition that the others do not. On Palm Sunday of each year, a proccesion takes place from nearby St. Gabriel's Church, Aldersbrook, to the mound; a Palm Sunday service was held assembled on the top. Nowadays, as is true of many areas of the Park, the mound itself is too overgrown - particularly with bramble - to allow this, but the service still takes place near the base of the hill. (photos) The mound is sometimes known locally as "Bullet Hill", presumably from its shape, although this is less evident now with the excessive vegeatation cover. Between 1882 and 1907 it is thought that Bullet Hill constituted an island, with the waters of the pond running in a channel around it. This must have brought the lake very close to Northumberland Avenue. The channel it seems was filled in during renovation work on the pond in 1907, and the small remaining bay at the east end of Bullet Hill infilled in 1949.
Doubtless there are other species of plants to be found and identified in Wanstead Park, and even the most frequently walked path could still produce an overlooked or unrecognised specimen. A search of available literature has revealed nine species recorded in recent years and absent from the present records. The following are recorded by Jermyn (1975): Dryopteris pseudomas; Sparganium emersum; Hippuris vulgaris; Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani; Calluna vulgaris; Molinia caerulea; Festuca tenuifolia; Butomus umbellatus; Alopecurus aequalis. These may not all have been found within the boundaries of the study area defined earlier; indeed some have been found nearby. Also Senecio viscosus was recorded in Wanstead Park, on 3 September 1927 by F.C.Owen, and recorded in his notebook which was at the Passmore Edwards Museum in Stratford. A search of the herbarium material belonging to the Essex Field Club at the Museum, particularly that collected by Lister, would without doubt have revealed other species apparently no longer present, but sadly the museum itself is now closed.
* FERRIS, P.R. 1980, The Flora of Southern Epping Forest. Part 1: Wanstead Park. Lond. Nat. 59 : 8-21