As well as the stunning flower beds and carefully cut lawns in the gardens of the Royal Parks, you’ll also find areas of wildflower meadow. These meadows support a wide range of plants, fungi, insects, reptiles and mammals. While it may appear that they have simply been left to grow wild, they actually take careful management. Wildlife conservation projects have been ongoing in St James’s Park and The Green Park, with recent wildlife sightings suggesting it is having an impact.
Historically, wildflower-rich meadows were created by farming to produce winter food for livestock and were once a common part of the landscape. However, many have been lost, and the habitat much reduced. Working alongside our enthusiastic volunteers, we are intent on increasing the value and biodiversity of these habitats within the parks.
The Green Park meadow improvements
In The Green Park, our park conservation work has been centred around improving the meadow and grassland areas and increasing the biodiversity, specifically in areas around the Queen’s Meadow (a Coronation Meadow), the adjoining rough grassland areas and Green Park tube station roof. This has included scarifying (raking) to expose the soil and remove thick vegetation, and overseeding. This activity recreates the grazing or traditional mowing of meadows or grasslands and adds visual interest, as well as increasing the general biodiversity value of the park.
We have also planted additional plugs of wildflowers to reinforce the overseeding, also adding an instant visual impact. The species selected represent the local habitats of lowland meadow and herb rich grassland of South East England. Species include foxglove, red campion, meadow cranesbill, cowslip, oxeye daisy, wild carrot, common vetch, meadow vetchling, common knapweed, and valerian.
St James’s Park lake improvements
The eagle-eyed visitor may notice that we’ve also carried out lakeside improvements on the southern and eastern edges of the St James’s Park lake. As well as establishing wildflowers in other areas over the last few years, the project has also included protection measures to reduce damage from overgrazing by waterfowl which prevents new growth from establishing. The flora add diversity to the lake edge and provides an important habitat for invertebrates and a valuable nectar source.
The work has also included improving the compacted and enriched lakeside soils through decompaction and the addition of a range of new substrates including stone and bark, to make it more resilient to erosion and waterfowl damage and increase habitats for aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. All of this work has been supported by Mission: Invertebrate, funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. A huge thank you to all the players who make it possible.
St James’s Park West Island conservation
We have also carried out some much-needed park conservation work on West Island, out in the lake. The island has no public access and is a fantastic haven for wildfowl and songbirds.
An important intervention was the thinning of the dense woodland to benefit the lower canopy flowering shrub species. Non-native poplar was selected for removal, as these have large canopies and dense foliage, and offer less value for wildlife.
The logs and brash have been retained on the island to ensure there is also valuable decaying wood habitat, which benefit fungi, and specialist decaying wood species such as stag beetles. You might see similar piles of logs around the other parks – they’re all there to encourage biodiversity.
The West Island works also included the installation of bat boxes and owl boxes to provide additional refuge for these target species. Volunteers have also been busy on Duck Island, maintaining habitats.
The Green Park shrub enhancement
In The Green Park, we have increased the area of the shrub planting. Native hedges and copses provide a huge variety of resources for wildlife. The range of species create berries, seeds, flowers and colourful foliage throughout every season, offering continuous, vibrant year-round interest for wildlife and people alike.
Insects and birds also rely on native shrubs for food and shelter, and a dense flowering hedge or copse provides an entire ecosystem in which plants, animals, insects and microorganisms all co-exist together to form a balanced, thriving community.
Copses on the north side of The Green Park have been increased through whip planting of scrubland species and small native copses have been planted alongside Queen’s Walk. This work has also been generously funded via Mission: Invertebrate and the People's Postcode Lottery.
Wildlife sightings in the parks
A pair of greater spotted woodpeckers have again successfully bred in St James’s Park. Retaining standing decaying wood safely is key to the survival and reproduction of woodpeckers and other species, such as stag beetles. The birds use the cavities to make their nest and they in turn feed on invertebrates that live within it.
A pair of tawny owls also successfully reared two chicks in The Green Park. One of them had to be carried back into the canopy of the trees after it fell or flew down to the ground, only to find that it couldn’t get sufficient lift to get back up again! Thanks to the prompt attendance of our tree surgeons from City Suburban, the owl was successfully repatriated into the canopy of the tree with its concerned mother looking on. The owl family have now fledged and left the park. The successful fledging of these birds demonstrates the importance of improving and maintaining cavities in trees for nesting, and the availability of prey in the parkland, due in part to the long grass.
Songbirds have been well represented so far this year. Currently, there are a number of reed warblers that you can hear singing loudly and continuously in the reedbeds around the lake. Blackcaps can be seen in the shrubberies, and there’s large population of blackbirds residing on the north side of The Green Park.
Swans have successfully reared two broods, and these can be seen on the fringes of the lake.
If you’re planning a visit, check out our bird spotting sheets for both parks and see the impact of the park conservation work in person.