London Natural History Society The place for wildlife in London

London Natural History Society - The place for wildlife in London

This article was first published in the Newsletter of the London Natural History Society, No. 240 February 2016

On a day of sombre skies and a nagging north-easterly Nick Bertrand met 10 others on the scruffy, tacky, traffic ridden, Thames-bounded, north-pointing, expensive tongue of land on which the Dome sits, to explore the flora of TQ3979. The Greenwich Peninsula has undergone a lot of change in the past 20 years, a process which is far from complete, but although there are still brownfield sites access to them is difficult. I wonder what the place looked like a couple of thousand years ago.

We started over many metres of sterile stonework before coming to flower beds coated with a mat of the small pinnate leaves of what may be Leptinella Cotula squalida, interesting to see but all planted, as were Bladder Campion Silene vulgaris, Hoary Plantain Plantago media and other species sown by the wild flower planters. Do they know what “wild” means?

Undismayed, we found a definitely unplanted corner near the Thames between barriers and a security kiosk occupied by a man who ignored what he may have perceived as a small band of eccentrics, but we know otherwise. Here, Tall Nightshade Solanum chenopodioides and Narrow-leaved Ragwort Senecio inaequidens were thriving. The latter is common hereabouts in ruderal places, ie: almost everywhere. With them was Common Toadflax Linaria vulgaris, a plant that I like to see. At the edge of the river nearby, under TfL’s cable car, was a tangled heap of scrap metal with the meaningless title “Quantum Cloud”. A quantum is “the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction” and I am unable to relate the pile of metal to the title in any way.

Back in the real world of science we were able to relate a dead-nettle to Henbit Lamium amplexicaule by its unstalked, clasping leaves and cleistogamous flowers, and the tiny green rosettes on bare gravelly ground to Common Whitlowgrass Erophila verna by its spathulate leaves with stellate hairs.

Peering over the embankment wall we could see a dense strip of Reed Phragmites australis, the tallest native British grass. The only other plants we saw on the foreshore were Sea Club-rush Bolboschoenus maritimus and Sea Aster Aster tripolium, a bit further downstream.

The strip of grass between the riverside path and a fenced-off greyfield site (most of it was crushed concrete) was more productive, including two stonecrops, Wall Pepper Sedum acre with tongue-shaped leaves and White Stonecrop S. album with cylindrical ones, abundant rosettes of Knotted Bur-parsley Torilis nodosa, leaves of Parsley-piert Aphanes arvensis, and much else. Sea Buckthorn Hippophaë rhamnoides is a native of fixed dunes, so the single sapling at the foot of the fence is likely to have been bird-sown from planted ones nearby.

One of the team, David Notton, knew his bees so pointed out the first one of the day, a passing Common Carder-bee Bombus pascuorum. A tall, grey, planted shrub in flower was Shrubby Orache Orache halimus. By the sea wall were a few clumps of Wild Onion Allium vineale, easier to spot in the cooler months when its grey-green leaves stand out above the shorter grasses. An older name for it is Crow Garlic, i.e., a garlic fit only for crows, once a pest of dairy farms because milk from cattle that eat it tastes oniony.

A Rat Rattus norvegicus, symbolic of the area, ran across the footpath as we turned south-west into John Harrison Way with its multicoloured balconies. In the beds in the centre of the road was a sapling of a Sorbus sp., determined by Rodney Burton as Swedish Service-tree S. hybrida, self-sown from a nearby planting and the second record for this species from West Kent (VC16).

After lunch in a square in the glorious Millenium Village we went through the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, virtually devoid of nature, to West Parkside, two parallel roads with traffic going both ways down each of them, separated by a vegetated strip with nature of a sort, if a little untidy. Luckily there didn’t seem to be much traffic to give Atropos a chance to snip our threads of life with her abhorred shears. There was more Narrow-leaved Ragwort with other ruderals, including Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense still in flower, Corn Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis and Lesser Sea-spurrey Spergularia marina taking advantage of the salty road verge.

A side road had a wall covered with flowering Ivy Hedera helix where various Diptera and Hymenoptera nectared in plenty, but not one of them was an Ivy Bee Colletes hederae. At the foot of the fence on the north side of Millenium Way were the leaves of an Oxalis, their pronounced fish-tail aspect indicating Garden Pink-sorrel Oxalis latifolia, and next to it was flowering Common Fumitory Fumaria officinalis. We looked at the ripe fruits of Bladder-senna Colutea arborescens in Boord St. before reaching the smell and hideous hum that Indicat Motorem Bum on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road.

On the north-east side was an expanding patch of Dwarf Elder Sambucus ebulus, much larger than when Nick first saw it 10 years ago. On the south side were tufts of a grass resembling a large, coarse Schedonorus sp., but with no auricles and awnless pooid spikelets, named by Eric Clement from the leaf texture and purple stem base as S. arundinaceus, lack of auricles notwithstanding. I have a piece to grow on. There was also another piece of “art”, recognisable at least: an upside-down pylon.

We finished on a small area of rough herbage with a Snapdragon Antirrhinum majus, an escaped Pot Marigold Calendula officinalis and a Beet Beta vulgaris of some sort, probably a cultivated one but close enough to the tidal Thames to admit the possibility of Sea Beet B. vul. ssp. maritima. We ended up with 169 species and thank Nick for a pleasant and informative meeting.

George Hounsome