There are two main areas of meadows at Roots and Shoots now - the old ground in the Wildlife Garden and the newer meadow areas of the Lambeth Walk Open Space.
The old meadow of the Wildlife Garden is changing and the description below is now largely historical. The poor summers of 2012 and 2013 and the indifferent summer of 2014 seriously damaged the original colonies of knapweeds and scabious. Furthermore, the crowns of the oak and the indian horse chestnut are now expanding and significanlty reducing the area of ground open enough for sun-loving meadow plants. Once, there was a lot of wild marjoram, for example, surrounding the oak tree - now almost completely shaded out by its expanding canopy. The habitat is thus now more like a small woodland clearing with permanent grassland than a meadow area.
Plants in the old meadow from 1999 to around 2012 included: Geranium pratense (Meadow Cranesbill), Centaurea nigra (Hardheads or Knapweed), Centaurea scabiosa (Greater Knapweed), Knautia arvensis (Field scabious), Dipsacus fullonum (Common Teasel), Oreganum vulgare (Wild Marjoram), Lotus corniculatus (Bird's-foot Trefoil), Agrimonia eupatoria (Common Agrimony). Of these, only meadow cranesbill and common agrimony have survived well with some bird's-foot trefoil around the margins of the pond. There is some wild marjoram left next to the path by the espalier apples. Toadflax Linaria vulgaris is now scattered around this permanent grassland.
Plants that were periodically re-planted to maintain their representation included Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (Oxeye Daisy) and Cichorium intybus (Chicory) - they don't seed themselves well into the hard soil (the chicory is happier to come up betwen the paving slabs!) Hypericum perforatum (Perforate St John's Wort) has recently been established - though it is difficult to keep going here in the long term - again due to soil conditions (it is doing well in the other meadows, below). Some Senecio jacobaea (Ragwort) is tolerated each year - partly to cater for the beautiful cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) and partly for educational reasons - it is a toxic plant. There was a very good range of native grasses which produced a fine interweaving with the knapweeds, scabious and teasels.
Alongside the declining diversity in the flora we have also noted changes in the invertebrate fauna. The same poor summers more or less did for our grasshopper populations - with only small numbers surviving in the new meadows (see below). The old summer meadow attracted a very wide range of insects - solitary bees, bumble bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. Notable were breeding populations of large and small skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus and Thymelicus flavus), Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) and Speckled Wood (Pararge aegena) using the grasses as larval food plants; Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) and Six-spot Burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) using the Bird's-foot Trefoil; Comma (Polygonia c-album), Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on the hops and nettles neighbouring the meadow. The butterflies were badly hit in 2012 and have only gradually reappeard in 2014 and 2015 (see the invertebrate records).
Two species of grasshopper were well established in the old meadow - the Common Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) and the Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus). Their large numbers filled the air with song in the hot afternoons of June, July and August. After 2012 this song has been missing from the Wildlife Garden and you have to concentrate to hear it in the new meadows on Lambeth Walk Open Space.
In August 2001 the first male Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) was seen in the long grass of the meadow. This is a relatively rare cricket - in the 1980s it was restricted to sites on the south coast and in the New Forest. Females were seen later and mating observed on 26th September. One part of the meadow close to the apple espalier path was never cut in the previous year and this had probably encouraged them to stay to breed. Long-winged Coneheads lay their eggs in the stems of uncut grasses and sedges. The same part of the meadow has therefore been left uncut since then. Nymphs were seen in June 2002 and both nymphs and adults again in June and July 2003. The population is now well established and is regularly producing 'winged forms' to colonise other areas - such as the new meadows in the Lambeth Walk Open Space. Furthermore we were also able to attract another unusual cricket - Roesel's Bush Cricket (Metrioptera roeselii) in 2003 - a female was seen during the Open Evening event on 9th July and the following day in the same area of uncut meadow. Young were seen in 2004 and 2005 though none were seen in 2006. This species has also now become fully established and has colonised Lambeth Walk Open Space. Both species have good and bad years according to weather conditions - se the invertebrate records. Nationally they have moved northwards over the last decade of climate change and are both much more frequently found as far as the Midlands. Roesel's Bush Cricket is now recorded in the north and even Scotland.
There are also yellow meadow ant colonies that are well established in the meadow. This cute little ant (don't worry - it doesn't bite), lives entirely underground, feeding on the sugars secreted by an aphid that lives on grass roots. It builds mounds as nests that, in our meadow, reach about 50 cm across. When David started in post in 1999 there was only one large nest close to the Indian Horse Chestnut. The hand-cutting regime of the meadow is favourable to the growth of this ant's nests as it allows mounds to mature. Now there are many mounds - both small and large. There have been mounds forming in the Lambeth Walk Open Space since 2005.
A new meadow was established in 2001 in a neighbouring part of Lambeth Walk Open Space - a council park that previously had only mown grass. The turf and upper layer of soil of a part of one area were removed in December 2001, the surface cultivated lightly and sown with native wildflower seed from Landlife. Plants of oxeye daisies were also put in to ensure a show in summer 2002.
The work was done with a local group, the Friends of Lambeth Walk Open Space. The first summer - 2002 - the oxeye daisies put on a superb show, with germination of other plants visible. These field scabious and knapweeds, along with wild carrot (Daucus carota) planted with local students, joined the oxeyes to make it a strong meadow with more variety. The grasshoppers and crickets from the Wildlife Garden have spread to set up a new population here as have the yellow meadow ants. In 2006, however, part of the area was burnt in a fire (cigarette, I'm afraid), destroying a beautiful Santa Catalina Ironwood Tree (Lyonothamnus) planted by Kate Hoey MP and in spring 2007 it was noticeable that the original range of flowers was declining.
Other parts of the area were simply left uncut with mown paths through and around them. These areas produced a big show of Milfoil (Yarrow, Achillea millefolium) - excellent for bees, and some clumps of oxeye daisies appearing in the first season of their own accord. A large circular seat in the centre and an arched seat of oak installed by us in 2001 made the meadow an excellent picnic site for Wildlife Garden visitors.
In summer 2008 the meadow area was - mistakenly - improved. The council contractors had up to then, been cutting the grass in the larger area of the space beyond the path that we had not converted into meadows. In June 2008, however, the contractor mowed the meadow side very severely - just as it was coming into full flower! We complained and the whole of this part of Lambeth Walk Open Space was removed from the contract. Although this mowing did destroy the show in 2008, it led, however, to the revival of the flora of the mound. Severe mowing can encourage the 'seed bank' in the top layers of the soil (which had been building up since 2001) to germinate. It did so and the show in 2009/10/11 has been much better with field scabious, knapweed, perforate St John's wort, lady's bedstraw, meadow cranesbill, white campion, bird's-foot trefoil, wild carrot and wild chicory and ox-eye daisies all doing well. Roots and Shoots now looks after the whole space. When Greg joined the staff, he began using this space for horticultural training and established new meadows and uncut areas beyond the 'picnic seat mound' and borders with cultivated and native species along the road boundary. These have vastly improved the semi-wild look of the space with superb forage for bees and hoverflies. The insect list for the space is growing every year and it has helped preserve a small population of grasshoppers and crickets through the poor years of 2012 and 2013.
This "Lambeth Walk Open Space Wildlife Area" is also host to:
The Cellini Orchard
This is a small collection of apple trees mainly of the local variety Cellini. We have reintroduced this apple to our area as we have developed the open space. You can find more details and history of the Cellini on the 'Apples and Apple Days' page : http://www.rootsandshoots.org.uk/environment/fruit