A lot to lose

cata-1Emperor moth caterpillar at the allotments (June 2021)

In the fourth of a series of articles by plot holders at the Redbridge Lane West allotments – which are under threat from the adjacent gas works – Iain Ambler explains the site’s importance for local biodiversity

The proposal by our neighbour Cadent, the global gas company, to use all or part of Redbridge Lane West allotments as a compound to support their works has put the future of the site at risk. This hidden natural jewel in the middle of Wanstead is a diverse and rich habitat with a strong tradition of wildlife conservation, and I believe the site should continue to be conserved for the benefit of wildlife and all Wanstead residents.

From historic maps, it would appear the allotments were originally glebeland (meadows belonging to the Rector of Wanstead), becoming allotment land by 1915. We have found exemplar flora in some of the undeveloped areas between plots that suggest these are relict patches of old natural grassland.

In recent years, there has been a history of active wildlife engagement by plot holders, working together and with the council. Previous conservation efforts have included tree planting, installing a large pond and bog pond, and creation and management of a wildlife area in the middle of the site. The wildlife has been beautifully recorded in images on the website East London Nature (eastlondonnature.co.uk), currently maintained by one of our plot holders.

The site, opposite Wanstead Leisure Centre, is triangular in shape and is squeezed in between Redbridge Lane West on one side and the A12 on the other. It boasts mature trees on each of its three sides, including hornbeam, Lombardy poplar, lime, London plane, silver birch, ash, Norway maple, sycamore, apple, and several weeping balsam poplar adjoining the Cadent gas site. Thick hawthorn hedging runs down the Redbridge Lane West side. This makes the site a fantastic habitat for nesting birds: we recently undertook an early morning breeding bird survey and recorded 15 to 20 nesting territories, including blackcap, jay, wren and great spotted woodpecker. The site sits at the end of a green corridor from Wanstead Park over the golf course: we have recorded common pipistrelle bats foraging on site, which we think roost in the park.

It’s simply amazing what diversity of wildlife exists under our feet, and what it does when you leave it alone! This summer, we recorded over 150 species of flora on the site. A number of these are grasses including false oat grass and Yorkshire fog. A fox and her cubs have been living in a den here this year and we have found wood mice and bank voles. Recently, an emperor moth caterpillar was spotted – a first for Wanstead.

The importance of urban microsites like our allotments and others locally, such as Tarzy Wood and George Green, for conserving and increasing biodiversity in the face of wider declines cannot be overemphasised.

To view the petition to save the Redbridge Lane West allotments, visit wnstd.com/rlw

Author: Editor