Lewisham, which is in south-east London, despite being densely populated with people, shops, and businesses and forming part of Inner London, has many green open spaces for its residents to enjoy from allotments to sports facilities and parks with play areas to nature reserves.
Many of these parks and open spaces have been given the Green Flag status which means that they all offer first class facilities and are maintained to the highest standard possible.
Today we will be looking at the eighteen nature reserves that are in the borough of Lewisham, how they sustain wildlife and the various plants and trees that can be found.
Apart from providing invaluable habitats for different forms of wildlife they give local people tranquil and peaceful havens away from the hustle and bustle of a busy town which is so necessary for both mental and physical health. These sites also provide excellent opportunities for school children too, enabling them to get outdoors and in touch with nature, not easy when living in Inner London, teaching them the importance of conservation for future generations.
All these sites have different opening times and some are locked so do check before turning up! Many of these sites also run various events so do look out for those too and for anyone interested in volunteering, most have plenty of opportunities to do so.
If you also enjoy a bit of wild gardening as opposed to the unnaturally manicured look, I can highly recommend that you visit some of these locations.
Albion Millennium Green, Forest Hill, Lewisham
Despite being a relatively new site, having been created at the turn of this century, Albion Millennium Green still has a lot to offer and you will find plenty of wildlife and their habitats present as well as some peace and tranquillity in this otherwise very busy area of Lewisham.
The site covers approximately 1.7 acres and has an urban woodland, pond, open meadow areas and an orchard of mulberry, plum, cherry, apple and pear trees. Other trees to be found on this site range from chestnut, oak, birch, ash, sycamore and hornbeam.
Just a few of the various wildlife you may spot are birds, leaf beetles and an assortment of butterflies, moths, dragonflies and shield bugs which just love the patches of nettles and brambles.
Beckenham Place Park, Lewisham
Having ninety-eight hectares makes this park the largest green space in the London Borough of Lewisham.
As well as offering many sporting facilities it is an important wildlife site too and there are many vast areas of ancient woodland to explore.
A large variety of mature trees can be found across the parkland and golf course and some may even be from a time when this whole area was woodland. Trees to look out for include mature pedunculate oaks, ash, sweet chestnut and Turkey oak, while mature London plane, lime and horse chestnut trees form glorious avenues along some of the main pathways and edges around the park.
The ancient woodland covers an area of about 20 hectares and is found mostly in two separate areas, the middle and to the western edge of the park.
The central woodland can be found on a map that dates from 1745 while the northern part of the wood is shown on a map dating from 1863 as an ash plantation.
Parts of the middle wood are dominated by pedunculate oak along with a few silver birch and sweet chestnut trees while other native trees that can be found are a large wild service tree, downy birch, hornbeam, common whitebeam, rowan, wild cherry and a mature wild pear. In the northern part of the woods, ash trees can be seen, while in the southern part are some more mature wild service trees.
Two non-native trees that were planted at some point are the sycamore and Norway maple both of which are invasive to the detriment of both our own native trees and wildlife.
Just some of the ground flora to be found in this woodland are dog’s mercury, wood anemone, early dog-violet, wall lettuce and masses of bluebells that form a breathtakingly beautiful carpet of blue flowers.
The narrow woodland found on the western edge of the park has many mature, veteran oak trees as well as sweet chestnut, ash, beech, hornbeam and field maple trees.
On the former lake, a wet woodland (willow carr) can be found with grey and crack willow trees along with some alders. The various ground flora includes reed sweet grass, great yellow cress, yellow iris and pendulous sedge.
These woodland areas support a broad range of animals including the grey squirrel, bats, hedgehogs and foxes, many types of beetles and the purple hairstreak butterfly.
For keen birdwatchers, there are woodpeckers, treecreepers, spotted flycatchers, goldcrests, chiffchaffs, tawny owls, blackcaps and on some occasions sparrowhawks.
Besson Street Community Gardens
This haven for nature, wildlife and people are surrounded by hedges and trees, thereby offering a peaceful retreat despite a constant flow of noise, heavy traffic and has an awful lot to offer.
One-half of the garden is run as a traditional nature area with a meadow, native mixed hedging and a pond containing numerous frogs while the other half of the garden is run as a multi-cultural garden to reflect the many different origins of the people living in this area.
With hardy species being planted from every continent there are plenty of interesting specimens to be seen from an Australian Eucalyptus tree, bamboo from Vietnam, Spanish-dagger native to the Caribbean, rice paper plants from China, Indian ginger, fan palms originating from North Africa to pomegranates and olives that hail from the Mediterranean.
This diverse range of plants ensures that something is flowering year round thereby supplying a constant source of nectar for bees and other local insects.
Also growing on the site are several species that are actually now endangered in the wild including Canary spurge which comes from the laurel forests in Madeira, a Mexican strawberry tree and a Chilean wine palm.
You will even find a small area of temperate rainforest which was planted in 1998!
Brookmill Nature Reserve, Lewisham
This small nature reserve can be found in the St Johns area of Lewisham on a disused railway embankment and has lots to interest wildlife and nature enthusiasts.
When this site was first taken over by Lewisham Council in 1979 the wooded, steep-sided embankment was covered in the mostly non-native sycamore tree which tends to dominate and strangle our own native species of trees. Since then many sycamore trees have been taken down and replaced with our own native trees including hazel and hornbeam. A large plum tree can also be found which provides plenty of fruit in the late summer months for both the human and bird visitors alike.
The North American stag’s horn sumach tree has also, very unusually, formed a dense stand in this nature reserve – these trees rarely reproduce to that extent in the wild.
As this site’s natural ground flora consisted of mainly ivy and cow parsley along with brambles they were supplemented with a variety of other species including, gorse, greater stitchwort, yellow archangel and wood anemone. At the top of the embankment, you can find wild marjoram, oxeye daisy, salad burnet, hedge bedstraw and common birds-foot-trefoil.
Foxes and birds love the ground cover provided by the bramble scrub and chalk grassland where they can forage safely for food and for such an urban site some of its bird visitors are very unusual including the lesser whitethroat, long-tailed tit and blackcap.
Three small ponds can also be found and at least two of these support frogs, newts and dragonflies.
Burnt Ash Pond, Lewisham
Burnt Ash Pond, apart from being very attractive to look at with its iris beds and trees, also supports numerous animals and aquatic birds and from an ecological point of view is considered as probably the best pond in the borough.
There is a plethora of plants and vegetation both below, above and on the surface of the pond to be found, including marginal plants of hoary willowherb, great willowherb and masses of yellow iris that put on a stunning display in the middle of summer.
The pond has a broad range of shrubs and trees growing around it including many exotic species all of which are thought to originate from when the pond was part of a large garden including a black mulberry bush which is rare by today’s standards.
The pond supports smooth newts, common toads, common frogs, water spiders, water beetles, and some nationally scarce species such as the soldier fly and skipping beetle.
Chinbrook Community Orchard, Lewisham
By the early 1990s, many of the allotment gardens on Chinbrook Meadows had fallen into disuse and were therefore taken over by the nature conservation section of Lewisham Council. With a grant provided by the Government’s urban programme and the help of children from local schools, many trees were planted between 1991–1992 and the site became Chinbrook Community Orchard, which is listed as a Grade II site for nature conservation.
Most of the fruit trees are traditional with many of the varieties hailing from Kent and include thirty varieties of apple trees, along with walnuts, plums, cherries, pears, greengages and filberts which can also be known as cobnuts.
To reflect different cultural backgrounds, exotic species have also been planted including South American-Chilean wine palms, cork oaks, olives, grape vines and pine nuts which all originate from the Mediterranean along with loquats, Japanese wineberries and lychees which all hail from Asia.
The grass that grows between the trees provides an excellent habitat for wood mice, slow worms, various invertebrates along with common lizards.
On the edge of the orchard, two small ponds can be found that have plenty of native aquatic and marginal plants are growing in them and provide homes for breeding smooth newts, toads and frogs.
Dacres Wood, Lewisham
This small area became a nature reserve in 1989 and can be found between Forest Hill and Sydenham alongside the railway line. Although called Dacres Wood, this reserve contains wetlands and ponds which are the source of much nature conservation interest.
Next to this railway cutting can be found a woodland containing young oak trees along with sycamore trees, rough grassland and also plenty of bramble scrub which all serve to compliment the habitats found in the nature reserve.
Many aquatic invertebrates, smooth newts and frogs live and breed in the pond along with various dragonflies and damselflies including the broad-bodied chaser and southern hawker, while the marsh contains much vegetation including floating sweet grass, great reedmace, brooklime and some young, small willow trees. To prevent the marsh from turning into a wet woodland, these willows will need to be coppiced by “tree surgeons in Lewisham” as and when needed.
A variety of birds can be found with some making nests in the woodland from time to time and include nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, chiffchaff and blackcap while the purple hairstreak butterfly can occasionally be spotted in the tops of oak trees.
The woodland has some gigantic Turkey oaks and growing beneath them can be found ash and pedunculate oak. Hawthorn is to be found in the shrub layer while the ground cover contains woodland flowers of bluebells, red campion and lords-and-ladies along with ivy and bramble.
Devonshire Road Nature Reserve, Forest Hill
At roughly two and a half miles long this important nature reserve can be found on the railway cuttings between Forest Hill and New Cross.
Forming three sections, there is much of interest to be found at the site and while woodland and scrub cover a lot of the cutting, there are a lot of grassland meadow areas and ponds to be found too.
The tallest trees at the reserve are mainly ash and sycamore along with pedunculate and sessile oaks and these have an understory of largely elder and hawthorn, although other trees and shrubs such as holly, wild cherry, holm oak, hazel, yew, horse chestnut and blackthorn may be found too.
The ground tends to be covered in bramble, ivy, nettle, cow parsley, male-fern, Spanish bluebells and pendulous sedge, while around the edges and clearings wood avens, stone parsley, hedge woundwort, wild garlic and garlic mustard can be found. Climbing plants can also be found such as clematis, honeysuckle and travellers joy.
The grassland areas tend to be of Yorkshire-fog, rough and smooth meadow grass, red fescue, sweet vernal grass, false oat grass, cocksfoot and perennial ryegrass. Some of the wildflowers are goat’s-beard, white and red clover, dog violets, dove’s-foot, cut-leaved crane’s bill, tufted vetches, yarrow, common knapweed, creeping cinquefoil and common bird’s-foot trefoil.
As well as common all garden birds many other types of birds can be spotted in the woods such as the garden and willow warblers, woodpeckers (green, greater and lesser spotted), redwings, coal tits, pied wagtails, blackcaps, tawny owls, chiffchaffs, bullfinches and many others.
Smooth newts and frogs can be found in the ponds and there are plenty of common lizards, slow worms, stag beetles, bees and common butterflies in the reserve too.
The mammals are a bit less diverse, bats and wood mice may be spotted and of course, Mr Fox.
Downham Woodland Walk, Lewisham
This narrow woodland walk is just under a mile in length and contains many trees and plants that indicate that this is indeed an ancient woodland and provides a much needed green area for the local residents of the Downham Estate.
Lime and beech trees can be found near the entrances of the walk and there are plenty of hornbeams throughout the woodland too, along with some field maples, ash, elm and a couple of wild service trees but the dominant canopy is provided by the beautiful pedunculate oak trees.
The dense understory contains a variety of trees and shrubs such as hazel, blackthorn, wild cherry, holly, hawthorn, crab apple, elder. A large hybrid black poplar and Midland Hawthorn, while the invasive snowberry tree has also appeared in a few places, the seeds probably having been dropped by birds from local gardens.
Our native bluebells grow here profusely although a few Spanish and hybrid bluebells have crept in with other ground flora such as wood meadow grass, wood millet, wood melick, remote sedge, wood anemone and dog’s mercury, all of which are indicators of this being an ancient woodland.
The woodland provides excellent habitats and foraging areas for numerous types of wildlife including, woodpeckers (green and great spotted) bullfinch, treecreeper, willow warbler and the long-tailed tit, along with leaf, fungus, jewel, stag and bark beetles and the brown ant.
Garthorne Road Nature Reserve, Lewisham
This nature reserve is one of the three sections that forms the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve on the railway cutting between Forest Hill and New Cross.
The Garthorne Road part of the nature reserve has bitter vetch growing beneath some sycamore trees which is a particularly rare plant to London. It has pea-like flowers which begin life, like many other vetches, cerise in colour but they turn into a stunning and vivid turquoise with time, a sight to see.
The woodland canopy at this end also tends to be dominated by oaks and silver birch with the shrub area below mostly consisting of grass, bramble, fungi and bracken and at its most southern tip can be found elm scrub which is recovering after being ravaged by Dutch Elm disease.
For a more in-depth look at this site, please see the information on Devonshire Road Nature Reserve above.
Grove Park Nature Reserve, Lewisham
This nature reserve forms a circular walk of about half a mile and makes up part of the Green Chain Walk. A peaceful and wild space it is very popular with dog walkers, for those who just want a gentle stroll in peace or for those who like to forage for plums and blackberries.
To be found at the reserve is a woodland which was, at one time, a Victorian garden, along with open grassland glades, a very small stream and pond, chalk grassland, hawthorn thickets and a large thicket of plum trees, the fruit being enjoyed by humans and animals alike!
Notable trees are a few, very large horse chestnuts, limes and poplars, along with ash, hornbeams and oak, while growing below them can be found the shrubs blackthorn, hawthorn and holly, to name just some.
To the ground, Solomon’s-seal, lesser periwinkles and daffodils can be seen along with ivy.
The reserve has a variety of habitats and is able to support numerous species of animal life and keen bird watchers should be able to spot many different breeds including bullfinch, blackcaps, willow warblers, green and great spotted woodpeckers and the chaffinch.
Hilly Fields, Lewisham
As well as have plenty of facilities for playing sports such as cricket, football and tennis, along with a cafe and children’s play area, Hilly Fields has a very small area for conservation.
Although this conservation area offers little in the way of nature interest there are still things to be found, look out for the mature hawthorn trees that virtually form a woodland canopy, with blackthorn and a few elder that grow beneath.
An area at the foot of the hill is also managed as a meadow and is only cut once a year in the autumn. Some twelve species of grass can be found in this meadow including smaller cat’s-tail and meadow barley along with wildflowers for example, white clover and autumn hawkbit.
The reserve is also home to many butterflies and a lot of common birds nest in the scrub.
Hither Green Nature Triangle, Lewisham
This large nature reserve can actually be found between platforms four and five of Hither Green Train Station where you will be able to see mature trees, a pond and meadowland all from platform five.
The woodland area contains mainly birch, hawthorn and sycamore trees while the northern grassland slope includes many colourful wildflowers such as bladder campion, oxeye daisies, wild mignonette and common knapweed.
The ground cover is mainly tall herbs and bramble scrub making it an ideal nesting cover for whitethroats and on some occasions lesser whitethroats.
Much work is being carried out to improve this site, with many projects planned including restoring the pond.
Ladywell Fields, Lewisham
This public park which is about a mile long offers the local residents a lovely space in which to relax and enjoy themselves. Consisting of three historical fields with the river Ravensbourne running through it, there is also a small nature reserve to be found at the park’s northernmost section.
Parts of the park by the river feel very countrified and you may even spy a heron or kingfisher.
Some lovely mature trees can be spotted including field maples and a hybrid black poplar and on the riverbank, an elm tree is now one of the Great Trees of London.
Riverview Walk, Lewisham
This linear walk is a nature conservation area which follows the River Pool and has a variety of habitats including neutral grassland and woodland. A perfect, year-round spot for keen bird watchers where you may be lucky enough to hear or spot some of the five species of warbler that can be found here and a real delight for any nature lover.
Although the river is just a concrete channel there is a small weir, boulders, pools and fish shelters and with various fish to be found including dace and chub, a kingfisher is rarely far away.
Mallards and Moorhens frequent the river along with grey and pied wagtails while various wetland birds visit from time to time such as snipe, teal and grebes.
Butterflies, grasshoppers and crickets are a plenty and bats can be spotted on summer evenings.
As the walk continues downstream to enter the old park and Vineries Meadow the landscape starts to look a lot more natural with willow trees overhanging the river in various places, while a woodland of ash, sycamore, alder, crack willow, and white willow trees all line the river in many places.
Some of the birds that can be spotted visiting this woodland area are whitethroat and lesser whitethroat, siskin, blackcap and chiffchaff.
Out of sight behind willow trees is a damp meadow called Vineries Meadow on which dragonflies and butterflies are plentiful and field voles have even been spotted – a very rare sight in London indeed.
Sue Godfrey Nature Park, Deptford, Lewisham
In the 1970s, this site was just a common waste land but after much campaigning by local people eventually became a nature park in 1984.
A wide range of wildflowers, trees and shrubs can be found at this park and over two hundred various different species have been recorded. Many hail from foreign climes such as the Mediterranean sulphur cinquefoil, North American Michaelmas daisies, Canadian fleabane and Chinese mugwort!
Various butterflies abound including the gatekeeper butterfly, large, small and Essex skipper butterfly and the common blue butterfly, along with crickets and grasshoppers.
To maintain the high diversity of habitats and species found in the park, it is necessary to stop shrubs and trees from overrunning the area and this is achieved by cutting about fifty to seventy-five percent of the grass each year, with shrubs and trees being coppiced as and when required
Sydenham Cottages Nature Reserve, Lewisham
A good part of this small nature reserve lies within a former oxbow although today there is virtually no wetland habitat remaining.
Due to its small size, the reserve is not particularly diverse but many common butterflies can be seen along with Roesel’s bush cricket and meadow grasshoppers.
An ancient hawthorn hedge can be found at the reserves entrance from which several mature trees emerge including field maple, oak and ash while behind the hedge there is an area of developing woodland and scrub where goat willow, hawthorn, field maple, hazel and damson trees can be found beneath the mature oaks.
A smaller and similar area of woodland can be found on the other side of the reserve and a large meadow sits between these two wooded areas.
Sydenham Wells Park, Lewisham
This is another one of Lewisham’s parks that have a nature reserve area attached to it. The park itself is considered to be one of the borough’s finest and along with the nature reserve the garden itself has water features, an ornamental garden, sensory garden, mature shrubs and trees and a formal garden.
For the children there is a playground and water play area and for the sports minded there are two tennis courts and a further ball court for various ball games.
The nature reserve occupies the site of the once Wynell Road Nursery and has been much loved by the locals ever since it first became a reserve in 1988, many of whom help by carrying out various different manual tasks from keeping the area free of nettles and brambles to sitting on the management committee.
The reserve itself is a mix of rough grassland, scrubby woodland and scattered trees, many of which have been planted over the last few years. For interest you will find British elms, hazel, dog rose, beech and hawthorn trees along with a monkey puzzle tree and a handkerchief tree, all of which help add great variety to the reserve as well as providing food and shelter for various animals and birds.
The grassland is managed by an annual autumn cut and mainly consists of Yorkshire-fog and false oat grass. Goat’s rue (which resembles a giant vetch) also covers a large area and looks splendid during the summer months with its stunning show of white and pink flowers, a scarce sight to see in areas other than the waste and grasslands of London!
For keen bird watchers, many birds such as the grey heron, mallard, tufted duck and moorhen are attracted to the large pond at the reserve. Other birds such as woodpeckers, tree creepers, chiffchaffs, coat tits, goldfinches, redstarts, greenfinches, jays, nuthatches, wagtails, sparrow hawks and chaffinch can also be spotted throughout the park and reserve, along with blackcaps nesting in the trees at the reserve.
Butterfly enthusiasts should be able to spot a fair few including meadow brown, holly blue and speckled wood, particularly during the summer months when they can be found enjoying the nectar in the flowering patch of brambles close to the gate.
The nature reserve is also used as a horticultural therapy centre for local residents suffering from serious illnesses as a way to try and help them recover their lives by taking part in creative and outdoor work. This service is run by the Sydenham Garden Project for anyone who may be interested.
Article Source: http://www.graftingardeners.co.uk/lewisham-nature-reserves/