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Therapia Lane Rough – the wasteland.

Therapia Lane Rough is a site that has been swallowed by industrialisation. Nestled amongst a tram line, a suburban housing estate and an industrial builder’s yard, it is hard to believe that this site offers much for nature conservation. Upon first viewing this remains apparent. The site depicts a ‘wasteland’ where bramble is prevalent throughout, with areas of rough grassland and scrub separated only by concrete paths and concrete slabs. Appropriately, the rear wall is concrete, covered in graffiti and topped with barbed wire.

The rear wall. Behind here lies a large industrial yard.

The rear wall. Behind here lies a large industrial yard.

 Historically, Therapia Lane Rough was considered a ‘wasteland’, a typical term for an abandoned industrial site, which was once a common sight throughout London due to the damage inflicted from the Second World War. However, from a wildlife point of view, this site was far from a ‘waste’, as once upon a time, over 230 species of flowering plants were recorded here, making this one of the most diverse botanical sites in London. For this we have the British Railway and tram line construction to thank as it is believed that the ballast used during these developments contained alkaline substrates ideal for wild-flower establishment due to low nutrient levels.

Sadly, this site had been bereft of management for a number of years and has been largely unused by humans, apart from the odd fly-tipping. Consequently, the once diverse site has suffered from the encroachment of invasive scrub, ruderal grasses and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), thus suffocating the wildflowers which once flourished here. Importantly, the SNCV are assisting with carrying out a number of management practices which aim to stop this encroachment and return Therapia Lane Rough to a rich botanical site.

The site a couple of years ago. Thanks to the work of the volunteers, the site has drastically improved from this.

The site a couple of years ago. Thanks to the work of the volunteers, the site has drastically improved from this.

The SNCV gained full access to the site in 2007. After a Phase 1 survey of the site, the priority and invasive species were recorded, where management objectives could be determined based on these findings. Initial management focused on the removal of Japanese knotweed which had become dominant across the site. Once controlled, with available funding, we were able to create scrapes, which removes the top soil and therefore the roots and seeds of undesirable species, such as bramble (Rubus fruiticosus), goats-rue (Galega officinalis) and Japanese knotweed. Importantly, scrapes also unearth the soil substrate that is suitable for wild-flower establishment. Surveys from 1990 of the site, identified 27 native species that are considered rare in London and our management of these scrapes aims to re-store these species. So far this has proved a great success as we have seen the re-establishment of yellow vetchling (Lathyrus aphaca), restharrow (Ononis repens) and vervain (Verbana officinalis). 

restharrow: Ononis repens

restharrow (Ononis repens)

Through the instigation of scrub control, a seasonal mowing regime of the patches of ruderal grassland and the development of scrapes, the conservation value of this site can be raised considerably. Already there have been a number of positive developments as a Phase 1 survey carried out earlier in September identified a number of neutral grassland indicators, suggesting that wild-flowers are beginning to establish themselves once again. Further, kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) has colonised two of our scrapes, which offers potential egg laying habitat for the Small blue (Cupido minimus), one of our target species at the SNCV.

The team carrying out a Phase 1 Survey

The team carrying out a Phase 1 Survey

With these improvements, Therapia Lane Rough can become effective as a ‘stepping stone’ that will serve to enhance the connectivity of our sites and develop a ‘coherent and resilient ecological network’. In an urban environment, where habitats are often fragmented and isolated, ‘providing pockets’ of green space (like Therapia Lane Rough) is essential for nature conservation as the creation of these spaces contribute to a ‘wildlife highway’. Importantly, these ‘pockets’ and ‘stepping stones’ allows wildlife to disperse and re-colonise in an environment where habitats are continually being lost to modern day pressures and where species need to migrate northerly due to climate change.

Our kidney vetch scrape

Our kidney vetch scrape

Our kidney vetch scrape

Our kidney vetch scrape

Personally, these ‘wastelands’ are my favourite sort of sites. Upon first viewing, their features can appear insipid and leave a lot to be desired. However, as proved by the work of our volunteers, when guided by the management of Sutton’s Biodiversity Team, these sites offer real potential to become areas of considerable conservation importance. With our ever increasing  urbanisation, the harmonious juxtaposition of a ‘Site of Importance for Nature Conservation’ (SINC), buried amongst all things urban, offers hope that despite ongoing development, we can still protect nature effectively.

The forbidden fruit? Not quite. It was delicious.

The forbidden fruit? Not quite. It was delicious.

I must mention that I thoroughly enjoyed the apples on offer at Therapia Lane Rough. They certainly provided a much needed energy boost as concentration levels waned during the Phase 1 Surveying and bramble removal.

Green Hay

One of our main aims at the SNCV is the conservation and improvement of sites of wildlife value throughout the borough. On Thursday, the team headed over to Roundshaw Downs with the intent of doing just that through ‘sward enhancement’. This is a management technique that aims to increase the botanical diversity of a grassland and can be achieved through the use of ‘green hay’. With the loss of 97% of British species rich grasslands and meadows since the 1930’s (Fuller, 1987), the restoration of grassland is an absolute must!

Specifically, ‘green hay’ refers to the mowing of species rich grassland in order to attain wild-flower and grass seed. In conservation and restoration projects, ‘green hay’ cuttings are taken from a ‘donor’ site that is typically species rich in flowers. These cuttings are then transferred to a nearby ‘receptor’ site where species diversity is poorer. The main advantages of ‘green hay’ are that  it is considerably cheaper that buying commercial seeds and using fresh seed from a local source tends to enhance the success of wild-flower establishment, as site conditions (i.e. pH, moisture and soil texture) will be similar to that of the ‘donor’ site.

Sutton's Biodiversity Officer Dave on the flail collector, mowing the 'receptor' site.

Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer Dave on the flail collector, mowing the ‘receptor’ site.

For the ‘green hay’ process to be effective, preparation of the receptor site is crucial. This involves the mowing and raking of a site. The mowing process creates a short sward (the physical characteristic of the grass, such as patchy, dense, tall etc) structure and areas of bare ground that will enhance the establishment of ‘green hay’ seed. Once mowed, raking will break up areas of thatch that will make the areas of bare earth more accessible, while removing excess nutrients which would otherwise favour the growth of grasses, weeds and other invasive species. Once the ‘green hay’ is cut from the ‘donor’ site, it is immediately transferred and spread to the prepared ‘receptor’ site, otherwise the seeds will be left to shed, thereby not establishing themselves on the desired area. In modern agriculture, the use of hay bales are not conducive to the creation of wild-flower meadows as compaction forces the hay to heat up and decompose, causing death to the seed.

The 'receptor' site with piles of 'green hay' ready for scattering.

The ‘receptor’ site with piles of ‘green hay’ ready for scattering.

So, armed with a flail collector (a glorified lawn mower), rakes and the SNCV, we embarked on our green hay mission at Roundshaw Downs. Our receptor site was previously dominated by rosebay willowherb Chamerion angustifolium and generally species poor. Over the past two years, the SNCV have regularly mowed the site and removed unwanted species (such as brambles Rubus fruiticosus) to allow grasses and wild-flowers to prosper. Encouragingly, this has proved incredibly effective as willowherb and bramble growth appears to have significantly reduced, while on Thursday, wild-flowers such as toadflax Linaria vulgaris and red bartsia Odontites vernus were plentiful. However, we’d still like to see more! So, after some hours of mowing and raking (rigorous, yet wholly satisfying), green hay was collected from a species rich area of Roundshaw about 100-200m away from the receptor site. As well as being species rich, our ‘green hay’ contains the desirable greater yellow rattle Rhinanthus angustifolius. As a hemi-parasite, this species partially restricts the growth of grasses, thus opening the sward and benefiting the development of wild-flowers. Further, greater yellow rattle is considered ‘nationally rare’ and Croydon/Sutton contains a large natural stronghold for this plant. Therefore our efforts on Roundshaw Downs are having numerous beneficial impacts for wild-flowers on a national scale as we are improving the coverage of nationally rare species, while encouraging wild-flower growth. Once collected, our ‘green hay’ was delicately scattered across the ‘receptor’ site and now we have to wait and see what happens!

Just one of the numerous common lizards (Zootoca vivipara) observed on our 'receptor' site. This is a priority species in the UK.

Just one of the numerous common lizards (Zootoca vivipara) observed on our ‘receptor’ site. This is a priority species in the UK.

This is the first time we have applied the technique of green hay, so it will be fascinating to see how well this method works. As previously mentioned, the loss of British grasslands and meadows is distressing, so it is vital that we develop and restore these habitats while monitoring our progress. We hope that with appropriate long term management, the restoration of grasslands can be achieved and that here in Sutton, we can help improve the conditions of our British grasslands.

The Secrets of the Showcase

2013 marks the second year of Biodiversity Gardens and we’ve been thrilled at how involved the local community has been.  Over 600 people have attended our workshops, from bird-box building to an encounter with dragonflies, and nearly 2000 people have visited us at events across London. We felt this was a cause to celebrate and so we devised our Garden Wildlife Showcase; a free introductory afternoon of wildlife gardening and species recording to highlight the fantastic work our volunteers and partners have done, and how easy it is for you to get involved with improving biodiversity in  your local patch.

Wildlife Garden Tour

Wildlife Garden Tour: Dave Warburton (Biodiversity Officer) and Nicola Oakley (WCGS Biology Teacher) gave a tour of the school’s student-made wild side.

We were lucky enough to be joined by organisations from across the conservation sector that represented each main species group (birds, invertebrates, mammals, plants, amphibians and reptiles) – okay, so we may not have covered fungi and fish but there’s always next year! Each speaker shared their knowledge on how to recognise and improve your greenspaces for their specialist group. Species identification and recording lies at the very heart of the project so we were delighted to open the Showcase with a talk from Greenspace Information for Greater London, London’s biological records centre.

Talks from Surrey Wildlife Trust and People’s Trust for Endangered Species followed, detailing the many fantastic small mammals that can be found in and amongst our gardens and parks. Did you know that, at best, we have lost a quarter of our hedgehogs in the UK? Other talks included a quick look at our native and invasive herptiles (frogs, snakes, newts and lizards), the RSPB’s top 20 garden birds and a look at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Bugs for Plants project.

Species records are incredibly important to help conserve and engage people with our local wildlife. There are estimated to be between 5 and 30 million species on Earth and only 2 million of these have been identified and named!

GiGL Data Map

This is a map taken from GiGL’s website that shows the approximate number of records they hold for each species group. This is very different to the actual numbers of species within each group. If you want to find out which groups are under-recorded, join us for our Introduction to Spiders workshop (details below) – a hint is in the name!

Last, but by no means least, we would also like to congratulate our Garden Photography winners, including Mark Turner who won the Public’s Favourite. Do have a look at his website and blog – he wrote a fantastic review of the Hedgehog Home we included as part of our grand prize!

We would like to extend a huge thank-you to everyone who took part in or helped with our Showcase. We have received fantastic feedback from both the attendees and stall holders so we really hope this is something we can continue next year. If you have any thoughts or comments about the Showcase, or ideas for future events, please do get in touch by emailing us at A full list of speakers can be found here, along with several of the talks from the day.

Our next event is our free Introduction to Spiders workshop held at Sutton Ecology Centre with spider expert Tom Thomas from the British Naturalists Society. The 1-day course is on Saturday 25th May and includes a free lunch so please specify whether you’d prefer a meat or veg option.Don’t let your fear of spiders stop you from learning more about these fascinating garden helpers! Book now at or call 020 8770 5820 for more information.

Discover your garden’s wildlife potential…

It’s just over a month now until our action-packed SHOWCASE!

Showcase Poster JPEG

Spaces are limited so book your place now! Click here and follow the instructions. You can book multiple places at once but please note the 8+ age limit.

There is still time to enter our photography competition and win great prizes, such as bird boxes, hedgehog homes and meadow starter kits. Send your photos of local garden wildlife to by Friday 12th April, 12pm for a chance to win!

Feel free to distribute the poster and invite your friends and family too.

We’ll see you there!

The Biodiversity Gardens Team