Lewisham Council - Grassland in Beckenham Place Park
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Grassland in Beckenham Place Park

Beckenham Place Park is home to rare acid grassland and plants, as well as other diverse areas of neutral grassland.

Most of the grassland in the middle of the park lies on the well-drained, rather acidic soils of the Blackheath Beds, and hence has the distinctive character of acid grassland, a rare habitat in Lewisham (and rather uncommon in London as a whole).

Acid grassland tends not to be species-rich, but supports a number of plants which cannot tolerate alkaline or even neutral soils, and are hence restricted to this habitat. Due to the scarcity of the habitat, many acid grassland plants, several of which occur in Beckenham Place Park, are rare in London.

Habitat of the golf course

Almost all of this acid grassland is on the golf course, which has wide, close-mown fairways. Even the narrow 'roughs' are kept fairly short (no more than 5 or 6cm tall), so one has to look very closely to find any of the interesting plants. Great care should, of course, always be taken when walking or examining plants on or near the golf course, to prevent risk of personal injury from flying golf balls and annoyance to golfers.

The richest areas of acid grassland are in the south and east of the golf course. The sward here is dominated by common bent and sheep's fescue, with varying quantities of wavy hair-grass, sweet vernal-grass and smaller cat's-tail. Early hair-grass is locally abundant where the sward is very thin and patchy. Typical wild flowers of this habitat include pignut, mouse-ear hawkweed, cat's-ear, autumn hawkbit, yarrow, common bird's-foot-trefoil and sheep's sorrel. Similar acid grassland occurs in patches across the rest of the golf course, and also in the Railway Field, where since 1995 it has been allowed to grow rather longer.

Rare plants

Two particularly rare plants (in a London context) of acid grassland, grow here at their only known Lewisham sites. One of these is blinks, a tiny, annual which produces insignificant-looking greenish flowers in the spring; it occurs in one area of grassland on the western side of the golf course, near Beckenham Place House. The other special plant could be much more spectacular: dwarf gorse usually produces copious quantities of bright yellow flowers on its prickly stems, looking just like a miniature version of its more widespread, better known relative. However, the one tiny patch which manages to survive on the eastern edge of the golf course rarely if ever flowers, due to the frequent mowing of the golf course roughs.

Throughout much of the golf course, neutral grassland merges with acid grassland. The neutral influence is usually detected in the presence of varying quantities of perennial rye-grass and, particularly around trees where the mowing is less frequent, cock's-foot and false oat-grass; these areas are generally of lower botanical interest than the acid grasslands.

Crab Hill Field

Crab Hill Field is possibly the most diverse of the areas of neutral grassland. Although dominated by perennial rye-grass, a fair diversity of other grasses and wild flowers occur, especially along the eastern and southern edges. Meadow barley is locally frequent, along with rough meadow-grass, Yorkshire-fog, common bent, smaller cat's-tail and cock's-foot. Flowers include daisy, yarrow, creeping and meadow buttercups, red and white clovers, common sorrel and common bird's-foot-trefoil.

Summerhouse Field and the common

Summerhouse Field and the common are dominated by perennial rye-grass, but no detailed surveys have been conducted to determine whether it is of any botanical interest. The attractive, pale pink flowers of cuckooflower, which is rare in Lewisham, can be seen in spring on the railway edge of Summerhouse Field just north of the Ash Plantation.

One small area of the golf course, across the fairway to the south of the willow woodland, contains a strange mix of plants typical of acid, neutral and alkaline substrates. The sward is dominated by common bent and Yorkshire-fog, with abundant cat's-ear and yarrow, similar to much of the surrounding acid grassland. However, it also contains substantial quantities of field scabious, a plant generally associated with slightly alkaline soils (and occurring nowhere else in Lewisham), and common knapweed, which is usually a plant of neutral or alkaline soils.

Despite the heavy mowing, a wide diversity of grassland invertebrates occurs in the park, including the nationally scarce froghopper, Oliarus panzeri, which has recently contracted its British range and is now only found in London and the south-east.

A relaxation of the mowing of some of the best areas of acid grassland on the edges of the golf course could lead to an increase in botanical diversity and increasing populations of some of the rarer species, such as dwarf gorse. Less frequent mowing of any of the grassland in the park would vastly improve the habitat for grassland invertebrates.​​

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