Community planting day at Sutton Common – Wednesday 24th October

Wednesday 24 October 2018 – Help shire horses Nobby and Heath make Sutton Common bloom! We will be enriching the grassland by planting wildflowers to bring pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies.

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Community planting day at Queen Mary’s Woodland – Sunday 21st October

Sunday 21st October – Come and join us in planting 600 spring bulbs to provide pollen and nectar early in the season for butterflies and bees.

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Sutton Common Scrape all planted up!

As mentioned in my previous post on Sutton Common, October 25th was set to be a planting day – and plant we did!
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With a great group of volunteers we sunk over 100 new plants into the thick, sticky clay substrate at Sutton Common scrape. We even did some seeding and thistle pulling to round out the day – well done everyone!

All the plants selected for planting at Sutton Common scrape had been chosen for their ability to tolerate dampness, wetness and even periods of drought. As the seasonal pond is filled entirely by rainwater and dries out naturally in the summer, using hardy wetland and pond margin plants is important to ensure they survive year on year.

These plants will provide not only nectar and pollen sources for invertebrates but shelter and food for animals throughout the year. The plants chosen will send up flowers at different times, growing at different heights and densities to help diversify the habitat of the pond, allowing it to be useful to wildlife in as many ways as possible each year.

Here are the species we planted, so you can keep an eye out for them in the future! It’s worth noting though, it may take some time for them to become properly established.

Common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) Pic ©
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This native member of the daisy family is a pretty feature of damp settings throughout England, supplying Bees, Hoverflies and Butterflies an important source of pollen and nectar in the late summer. This densely hairy plant can grow up to a metre tall in good conditions and the 15-30mm flowers grow in clusters from July to September.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) Pic ©
Creeping JennyCreeping Jenny is an attractive plant of pond margins, wet grassland and river banks, common particularly in the South of England. As the name suggests it creeps, low to the ground through other vegetation, preferring the shade to full sunlight. It has heart shaped or rounded green leaves and sends up cup shaped yellow flowers in the summer from May to August.

Cuckoo Flower/ Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) Pic©

Lady's smock2Cuckoo Flower, also known as Lady’s Smock is a beautiful, delicate flower of damp grassy areas – it has my vote (possibly tied with Flowering Rush – see below) for the prettiest plant in the list. Its pale pink to mauve flowers are a herald of springtime, said to coincide with the arrival of the first Cuckoo (although I think you’d be incredibly lucky to see a cuckoo on Sutton Common!)

Cuckoo flower is a main larval food plant of the Orange Tip and Green Veined White butterflies – so with any luck we’ll see an increase in these related species too!

 

Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) Pic©

Flowering_RusDespite the name, flowering rush is not a ‘true’ rush in the Juncus genus, but one of the two known members of the Butomaceae family. It is a tall and highly attractive plant with umbels of pinky purple flowers on show in June and July. We planted these in the middle of the seasonal pond as they tend to prefer wetter conditions, often growing in shallow water and the margins of ponds, rivers and canals.

 

Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca)  Pic©
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Sedges are grass-like plants with angled stems (most are somewhat triangular).
Glaucous Sedge is so called because it’s leaves are glaucous – a very specific term meaning a greyish blue-green.

Sedges are very hardy and can be found in both dry and wet conditions, growing in low clusters on grassland and moorland throughout the UK.

The inconspicuous browny-red flowers tend to grow in groups of 3 female flowers, near the top of the stem, and 2 male ones further down.

Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) Pic©
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At up to a metre in height, Great Burnet has serrated green leaves and egg or lollipop shaped red flowers which attract pollinators in the wet meadows and grasslands where it grows.

It flowers from July to September but the dead flowers can persist long into the winter.

Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus) Pic©
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Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil looks a lot like it’s little brother, Lotus corniculatus , only larger with a stout, hollow stem and tiny hairs on the leaves. It also enjoys damper habitats.

Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil has dark green foliage and bright yellow flowers from June to August before developing into the ‘birds foot’ shaped seed pods which give the plant it’s name.

A member of the pea family, Greater Birdsfoot trefoil is the only British legume to grow in wetlands!

 

 

Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus)
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We already had Gypsywort growing at Sutton Common so we hope all that we planted will thrive there.

With its serrated green leaves and small white flowers, Gypsywort can be easily mistaken for a nettle or a mint – to which it is quite closely related.

Its small flowers are commonly visited by flying insects like hoverflies, who feed on them in the summer to early autumn.

 

Rushes – Hard, Soft and Jointed (Juncus sp. – inflexus, effusus, articulatus) Pic©
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I’ve placed the Juncus species in one section here as they are superficially quite similar.

In general, hard rush is harder and darker than soft rush – both of which have single inflorescences, and jointed rush has more flowering heads than both.
Rushes grow in dense grassy stands and offer good shelter for birds and small mammals.

They are also eaten by many species of invertebrate including a number of moths which use them as larval host plants.

 

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) Pic©
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Hemp agrimony gets the ‘hemp’ part of it’s common name and the ‘cannabinum’ in the Latin from a passing resemblance to the well known ‘weed’ Cannabis sativa.

The deeply three-lobed, toothed leaves do look somewhat reminiscent of the narcotic plant, but the clusters of pretty pink flowers make Hemp Agrimony an attractive plant in and of itself, offering a food source for butterflies such as Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell from July to September.

 

 

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Purple_loosestrife
Purple Loosestrife is a large flowering plant with striking pink to magenta blooms of flowers, which are visited by many types of invertebrates.

In the height of summer (June to August), long tongued species such as the Elephant hawk moth and the Brimstone butterfly can access it’s sweet nectar.

The long green stems are flanked by pointed leaves growing opposite each other, and the flowers grow in large conical arrangements.

 

 

 


Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
 Pic©
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARagged Robin is a beautiful plant. Its bubblegum pink flowers remind me of me somewhat, not because they’re pink but because they’re raggedy and scruffy, hence the name.

Interestingly the specific epithet flos-cuculi means ‘flower of the cuckoo’, for the same reason as the Cuckoo Flower mentioned earlier!

The flowers are used as nectar sources by namy butterflies including Small and Large Whites, Brimstones and Orange-Tips.

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) Pic©
Achillea_ptarmica_'The_Pearl'_02Sneezewort is related to the rather more common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which I can tell you makes a rather lovely tea. Sneezewort however, was apparently used as a sneezing powder in the past – why one would want to induce sneezing is anyone’s guess!

Sneezewort has feathery leaves and pretty white and off-white flowers which are particularly good for hoverflies, who apparently don’t sneeze.

Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) Pic©

water figwortWater figwort is a long-flowering plant (June to September) with deep crimson flowers which are pollinated by various bees and the common wasp.

The red stems are noticeably 4-ridged and flanged, and the leaves are toothed. The specific epithet auricularia refers to the ‘ears’ or lobes at the base of most leaves (this may not be observable when the plant is immature) – this is visible on the bottom right leaf in the picture.

 

 

 

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) Pic©
Filipendula_ulmaria.jpgMeadowsweet is a sweet smelling plant of wet meadows, once used to flavour meads with its fragrance.

While in flower, you might notice Meadowsweet by it’s smell before seeing the actual flowering heads. They are just as pleasant as the aroma, with sprays of tiny, creamy white flowers atop long stems – which are very popular with certain fly species.

Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) Pic©
Devil's_Bit_Scabious_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1497894Devil’s bit Scabious flowers long into the Autumn with its rounded, blue, nodding flower heads on show from July to the end of October.

These flower heads attract a great many butterfly species including some Skippers, Hairstreaks, Peacocks, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns, making it a great plant to have around.

Let’s hope we see more butterflies at Sutton Common as a result!

Autumn Hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis) Pic©
Leontodon_autumnalis.jpgAutumn Hawkbit is a dandelion like ‘yellow composite’ – meaning that it looks a lot like a lot of other little yellow flowers!

Autumn Hawkbit has an orange ‘strap’ marking on the underside of the petals, and short hairs on the stems.

Autumn hawkbit is a very hardy plant that will tolerate wetness, making it ideal for our scrape. The flowering season is (as you might have guessed from the name) similar to that of Devil’s Bit Scabious (above) meaning that even into autumn we should have a good supply of nectar for visiting invertebrates.

And there we go!

All in all, 19 species, and over 100 plants! With the flower gods on our side, the work we did on Wednesday will make Sutton Common Scrape a wildflower haven in coming years, providing the basis for a fully fledged wet meadow ecosystem to thrive! Well done team! Thank you all so much!

-Adam

Sutton Common – future wildlife haven!

To look at Sutton Common a few years ago you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a fairly standard amenity parkland with relatively little value for wildlife.

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Sutton Common in 2008, before any conservation work

If you looked right now you would see a huge amount of churned up mud and wonder what on earth is going on. Incensed by the view of grassland carnage, you would almost certainly descend on me, teeth bared, demanding answers or blood. Fear not, mutinous Sutton-ites, all will become clear in time.

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That’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat I really love your tiger feet! (Wrong kind of Mud? Oops…)

But first, some backstory…

The site we refer to as Sutton Common is the field to the north east of the Sutton Common Recreation Ground, and it hasn’t always been managed for wildlife. Until 2009, when LBS Biodiversity (and the SNCV!) took over management, it was treated much the same as the rest of the park. However, it was deemed too wet to be easily maintained as a sports and recreation site. Wetness is no a bad thing for wildlife habitat, however, so it was decided that the site would be changed to a meadow, for nature conservation purposes.

At this point, the whole site was absolutely dominated by Creeping Bent grass (Agrostis stolonifera). In order to deal with this and diversify the structure of the site, one of the first works undertaken was to create a large ‘scrape’ area to the north.

 

scrape creation 2

Scrape creation, 2009.

Scraping (removing a certain amount of topsoil) from this area allowed the waterlogged ground to become more of a feature rather than a hinderance to the site. Standing water in this area now creates a small ephemeral pond in the winter months, and retains some dampness in the summer, creating a ‘wet meadow’ type habitat. This has since been seeded and planted with species relevant to a damp habitat, and is still being managed this way.

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Scrape with water, Sept 2015

The ‘pond’ is not permanent, fluctuating with rainfall and normally more or less drying up in the summer.

Ponds like this are referred to as temporary, ephemeral or vernal pools. Due to their lack of fish means amphibians and invertebrates can thrive there without predation, offering a much needed safe haven for many species.

 

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Scrape wet, but not full, Sept 2017

It does, however mean that the plants in the pond have to be hardy enough to survive both in and out of water, with varying degrees of water. A pond without plants is far less useful as the vegetation provides benefits such as food and shelter.
For this reason the pond was seeded with mainly hardy marginal wetland species that can deal with both deluge and drought such as Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) and Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) with some species faring better than others over the years.

Following this work, a lot of time and effort went into attempting to change the botanical make up of the rest of the meadow. Most of the site was overrun creeping bent which was stopping any other grasses or wildflowers (with the exception of a few very hardy bits like clover). To remedy this, the area was overseeded with Hay Rattle (Rhinanthus major), a semi-parasitic plant that keeps grasses such as Creeping Bent at bay by stealing their nutrients. For this reason it is often lauded as great plant for a fast track to a biodiverse meadow. Stimying the grass growth allows more space and nutrient to be freed up for other, less aggressive species like many wildflowers.

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Hay Rattle (Rhinanthus Major) at Sutton Common

The introduction of hay rattle on this site only had limited success. Some patches did take, and in these areas it had the desired effect, suppressing grass and increasing potential for wildflower growth. Eventually though, the creeping bent, hell bent (hah!) on domination, stamped out the hay rattle and bar a few isolated patches, returned the burgeoning meadow to a homogenic swathe of grass and clover.

Due to this persistence, it was decided to undergo the current meadow creation work. The first steps of this were to spray the entire area with pesticide to kill off the unwanted species, then rotovate the soil to churn it up, exposing bare soil.
This work has currently been stalled due to the soil’s wetness (maybe the parks team were wise to give up their waterlogged field?) and there is still more rotavating and weed control to be done to create a fine receptive soil. A ‘blank canvas’ into which we can finally seed. The seed mix will be a mixture of less aggressive grasses, and wildflowers which will hopefully help us create what we’ve wanted all along at Sutton Common – a wildflower rich meadow.

As I mentioned, the initial seeding of the pond was more successful for some species than others. In order to help increase the biodiversity of the pond, I’m organising a community planting day when we will plant over a hundred pond margin and wetland plants. (Please come! Details below or on facebook)
SuttonCommonPlanting

Species to be planted on the day include wetland plants such as Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus), Water Figwort (Scrophularia aquatica) and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and more meadow-suited plants like Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Autumn Hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis) and Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). By planting these we can create a more diverse pond, and a smooth transition between meadow and pond.

With continued management we will drastically change the botanical makeup of Sutton Common, and improve the habitats therein. With a bit of volunteer elbow grease, the site will develop into the well balanced and beautiful haven for wildlife that was originally envisioned when the park was taken under the Biodiversity Team’s wing in 2009. What a great way to help wildlife on Sutton (Common)’s doorstep!