The origins of this wildspace becoming a nature park lie in Deptford's 'iron age' - corrugated iron age, that is.
In the 1970s, in common with most wasteland sites in the area, its perimeter was ringed by double defences against travellers and fly-tippers; the inner was a rubble bank, the outer a two metre high corrugated iron fence.
It became a nature park in 1984 after lengthy campaigning by local residents. The perimeter defences were removed, paths laid out and belts of trees and shrubs were planted. The nature park increased in size through the gradual incorporation of a former lorry park on its western end.
For many years it was designated as Temporary Open Space, and residents and environmental groups had to fight off a succession of proposals for housing or, almost equally damaging from a wildlife point of view, to landscape it as a formal park. The Council, which owns the site, recognised its permanent value for wildlife in the Unitary Development Plan of 1996.
A mixture of rough grassland, scrub and ruderal vegetation occupy the site. More than 200 species of wild flowers, shrubs and trees have been recorded growing here over the last 15 years. Some, particularly trees and shrubs, were planted, but the vast majority have made their own way here, often inadvertently assisted by people.
There is a cosmopolitan range of plants here. The wonderfully-named shaggy-soldier (a small and rather nondescript member of the daisy family) hails from South America, while the more showy Michaelmas daisy is from North America, and the uncommon sulphur cinquefoil comes from the Mediterranean region. The names of Chinese mugwort, Spanish bluebell, Greek dock and Canadian fleabane indicate their origins, but Guernsey fleabane (also known as Sumatran fleabane) originates neither in the Channel Isles nor south-east Asia but is actually a native of South America.
Some of these plants, such as Spanish bluebell, garden privet and pink snowberry, are relics of former gardens of houses on Berthon Street, long since demolished. Others arrived in Britain accidentally, as seeds stowing away among cargo. Plant communities such as this are a product of our interaction with the environment on a global scale, and reflect the history of London and Londoners. Part of Deptford’s industrial, imperial, trading and gardening past is woven into the fabric of this nature park.
Such a diversity of plants is certain to support a wide variety of invertebrates. Butterflies and grasshoppers abound, and on long, sultry summer days you can let your imagination soar with the former whilst being serenaded by the latter.
At least six species of butterflies breed on the site: large, small and Essex skippers, small tortoiseshell, common blue and meadow brown. This is a good number for an inner London site, and is likely to increase in the near future: a speckled wood was seen for the first time in 1996, and this woodland edge species is likely to colonise as the trees and shrubs mature.
One species of grasshopper and one bush-cricket occur in the park. The easiest way to distinguish them is by the length of their antennae. Grasshoppers have short, stout antennae, whereas those of bush-crickets are slender and longer than the body. The common field grasshopper is a common and widespread species, varying in colour from brown to green and even vivid pink. Its song is the familiar chirrup which can be heard on the site from June to November.
Roesel's bush-cricket has a much more restricted distribution nationally, centred on the Thames estuary, though it is currently expanding, perhaps as a consequence of global warming. It arrived at Sue Godfrey Nature Park sometime in the early 1990s, and is now abundant here. Its song is a continuous, high-pitched reeling, which can continue on the same note for several minutes. While grasshoppers bury their eggs below the ground, bush-crickets lay theirs in grass stems, and the females have a long ovipositor on their rear end to accomplish this.
Like most wasteland sites, the park contains clues to and reminders of the uses it was put to in the past. The kerb stones and street lamps in the large field are left over from the lorry park. If you look under the lamp post on the Berthon Street side, you will find a rose bush, which has grown from a seed deposited by a bird sitting on the lamp. In the middle of the site is a wall made of pottery fragments and mortar. This is all that remains above ground of the Gibbs and Canning pottery works, demolished in 1967. There had been a pottery on the site since 1682.
The park was originally named Bronze Street Nature Park. It was renamed in 1994 in memory of Sue Godfrey, a local resident and environmental campaigner who was killed in a road accident, in recognition of the unceasing effort she had devoted to the park and the vital role she took in life on the adjacent Crossfield Estate.
Two years later, the ashes of Roy Ramsey, another environmental campaigner, were gently interred here. Both were much loved and it is to be hoped that, by keeping their memory alive, the nature park's survival for future generations of wildlife and people will be ensured.
Management and use
Management is necessary to maintain the current high diversity of species and habitats. Much of this is carried out by local volunteers, with occasional assistance from the Council’s nature conservation section.
About 50 per cent of the grass is cut every year. This prevents trees and shrubs from overrunning the site. The cuttings are removed to keep nutrient levels low; high nutrient levels allow a few vigorous species to dominate at the expense of many others.
Many of the wild flowers here are ruderal ('weed') species, which require bare ground to grow. Trees and shrubs are coppiced periodically. This allows light to reach wild flowers, and produces dense regrowth which is ideal for nesting birds.
Sue Godfrey Nature Park suffers from the sorts of pressures which are typical of inner urban nature reserves, especially those with open access. The recent development on the north side of Berthon Street has greatly increased use of the site by people and dogs, with resulting wear and tear.
Additional resources are also needed for information leaflets and to help to realise the site’s potential for use by local schools. Natural England provided funds for the production of interpretative panels for the site, which are located adjacent to the Church Street entrance and at the north-east entrance to the nature reserve.