The Wanstead Park Liaison Group has identified three ways to improve protection for the park’s iconic bluebells, which have drawn increasing visitor numbers in recent years. Richard Arnopp reports
Last month, I wrote about Wanstead’s bluebell season, which is a major attraction for visitors to Wanstead Park. As I explained, bluebell management is discussed every year by the Wanstead Park Liaison Group, which consists of Epping Forest management and other stakeholders. In recent years, they have taken measures to protect the bluebells from trampling, notably by demarcating paths through Chalet Wood with logs.
Bluebells are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), and are easily damaged by trampling, taking several years to recover and flower again. It is therefore important park visitors are encouraged to respect these iconic wild flowers.
This year, the perception of increased visitor pressure raised anxiety among local people, several hundred of whom signed up to a letter of concern on Facebook, asking Epping Forest to look at ways to protect the delicate flowers better. Links to the Facebook discussions were circulated to members of the Liaison Group, and bluebells were on the agenda of the meeting on 25 May. A number of new initiatives were agreed.
Firstly, there is an area within Chalet Wood that has long been used for den-building by children, using fallen branches from trees. Nobody wishes to stop children from playing and, in fact, the lack of play facilities locally has led to plans for a new play area in Wanstead Park. However, in this instance, the location was felt to be inappropriate. Accordingly, the den-making material will shortly be moved elsewhere and the existing location, which has been badly trampled, will be fenced off. A soil regeneration project is being discussed.
Secondly, the current arrangement of paths delineated by logs has been generally successful, but more and heavier logs will be brought in for future years.
Thirdly, it was agreed that signage in Chalet Wood needed to be reconsidered. At the moment, it is present for two months of the year. However, it was felt that permanent signs may be a better option, rather like those used on Wanstead Flats in relation to the skylark area. Design options will be worked up. Also, small temporary signs may be appropriate to warn the public off little meandering paths and bare patches created by people in the past. It was often not understood that walking on those areas prevented the plants from recolonising them.
The Liaison Group continues to feel a balance has to be struck between protecting the bluebells and preserving the natural feel of Chalet Wood. They hope the changes they propose will get this balance right for 2023 and future years.
For more information on Wanstead Park, visit wnstd.com/park