Friends of Burgess Park

Healthy woodlands survey
Saturday 26th March 2024

Friends of Burgess Park are hosting an event in Burgess Park led by Alastair McKinlay from TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) on assessing woodland condition.

More information and booking link on Eventbrite: Burgess Park Healthy Woodlands Assessment Survey free tickets, Sat 23 Mar 2024 at 10:00am

This is a practical hands-on session using the newly-developed assessment template developed by TCV and London Wildlife for London-wide work on woodlands.

Dawn chorus walk
Friday 29 March 2024

Hear the birdsong early in the morning (6 to 7:30 am) on a walk to help identify the many species in the park. This event will be led by local ornithologist Dave Clark who does a seasonal bird count for Burgess Park. More information on Eventbrite.

Birdwatching in Burgess Park

Close-up on Burgess Lake, Southwark, London
Great Crested Grebe
(Laura Kor)

A hugely enjoyable guided walk took place on 27 Jan 2024 when 39 species were seen or heard on a stroll around a variety of habitats. The loud, distinctive call of a Cetti’s Warbler, a Song Thrush singing beautifully and a sighting of a Greenfinch were some of the highlights. 

The annual RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Central London Local Group’s January walk in Burgess Park was led by two of its members, Dave Clark and Czech Conroy, and was co-organised with the Friends of Burgess Park. Read the fascinating blog by Czech Conroy and Alison Gibson describing the discoveries on the walk with great pictures by Laura Kor and the list of bird species compiled by Tom Rogers.

Burgess Park woodlands activities winter/spring 2024

Butterfly habitat management project in the Albany Road woodlands

Woodland areas indicated on Burgess Park map

On Saturday 27 Jan 2024, our woodlands maintenance volunteers were clearing brambles and coppicing to enhance the glade in the Albany Road woodlands. This was the first phase of the works organised by Southwark Council.

The second phase will be run by Big City Butterfly Project who will employ a contractor to de-turf, remove roots and sow the area with a meadow mix within the glade FOBP are creating.

This is part of the Friends of Burgess Park healthy woodlands project. We have also been awarded funding from the Southwark Council Cleaner Greener Safer fund for a new pathway. Read more about the woodlands in Burgess Park.

Flowering meadow

The Head Gardener of Burgess Park, Gregory Smith and his team have been developing a flowering meadow along Albany Road. His latest blog describes sowing seed in the area and what has resulted. “We can introduce a wider range of wild native plants by sowing seed, but often nature knows best and will try to find its own natural balance of plants over time … so then our job is to gently adjust this balance so it remains suitable for a busy park.” 

To mow or not to mow

Photo of different lengths of grass

Gregory Smith, Head Gardener of Burgess Park has written about being a gardener and an environmentalist. He is concerned with what grows naturally, as well as which human-planted or sown, native or non-native plants can be added in order to create more diversity, food sources and habitat for wildlife. With a multi-layered approach to grass cutting, all kinds of wild plants can appear and lawns can become useful habitats. These will link all the intentional planting in the park to create a more complete ecology. Find out more about what the gardeners have been doing and experimenting with by reading his blog on making meadows.

Friends of Burgess Park heritage website logo

Follow this link to read more about the Grand Surrey Canal on the Friends of Burgess Park heritage website: Bridge to Nowhere. Recently, Southwark News featured comments from our heritage website in their article about the canal before it was filled in in the 1970s and the traces of it that are still left.

Old sepia image of the library and overwritten with event details

Celebration 26 March 2023
Passmore Edwards bicentenary

Celebrate the Grade II listed building and its benefactor Passmore Edwards

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Passmore Edwards’ birth on 24th March 1823 and Friends of Burgess Park are joining with others around the UK to celebrate the Passmore Edwards 200 Festival. We’ll be holding a programme of events based at the old library, baths and washhouse on Wells Way on Sunday 26th March. There’s an exhibition about the man and his legacy, children’s activities, a commemorative tree-planting, a reading by local author Jacqueline Crooks from her new book, refreshments and more.

Bike Tour 2–4pm We’ve also organised a short Bike Tour around three of Passmore Edwards’ south London buildings, guided by a renowned local architect. You can book now for the bike tour 2pm to 4pm on Eventbrite – places are limited to 25, so book early!

Commemorative Tree Planting 4.00–4.30pm Across the country Rowan trees are being planted to celebrate the Passmore Edwards bicentenary. Join us from 4pm for the tree planting and reading by local author Jacqueline Crooks from her new book Fire Rush, and refreshments.

Exhibition 1–5.30pm – Find out more about Passmore Edwards with an exhibition on loan from the Passmore Edwards legacy. Plus more about the old library bath and washhouse building, its history and future role, benefitting local people.

Read more about Passmore Edwards and the library on the Bridge to Nowhere Friends of Burgess Park heritage website.

More about the Passmore Edwards celebration in Burgess Park on the Southwark News website.

The Woodland project

Friends of Burgess Park held a 12 day long festival to launch the Burgess Park Woodland in 2023, a project aiming to improve our woodland through better management and community engagement.

On Saturday 26 September the festival launched with the Albany woodlands pop-up walk and family woodland arts at Chumleigh Gardens playground.

Tackling litter

Michael Faraday primary school art work for anti-litter banners
Thank you Year 3 pupils (summer 2022) and for helping litterpic. See the banners in Albany Road near Giraffe House and Wells Way near the old library.

Anti-litter poster
Anti-litter poster

FOBP weekly litterpic every Monday morning 8am to 9am 

FOBP provide litterpicks, gloves and bags. 
Meet at Chumleigh Gardens – in the gardens behind the behind the cafe.

Woodlands wildlife

FOBP members receiving the award
Friends of Burgess Park received a Highly commended London Urban Forest Award

Highly Commended Our woodlands campaign to protect Southampton Way woodlands against development pressure was highly commended with a London Urban Forest Award at the London Tree and Woodland Awards 2022. Thanks to all local groups and park users who have supported us.

The Awards ( #TreeOscars) are organised by the Forestry Commission and supported by the Mayor of London. They aim to raise the profile of London’s trees and woodlands and their need for active management. The awards showcase the work taking place all over the city to protect and increase London’s urban forest (urban forestry guidance). 

Southwark Civic Awards for FOBP:
Mayor’s Discretionary Award 2022  

Southwark Mayor Hargrove awards Friends of Burgess Park a civic award
Mayor Hargrove with Friends of Burgess Park

Thank you Southwark Mayor Cllr Barrie Hargrove for the 2022 Discretionary Award for Friends of Burgess Park’s “ongoing and successful commitment … thinking of the park’s welfare first and foremost” presented at Southwark Cathedral.

Massive thanks to all our volunteers, past, present, and more importantly, future ones. Join us!

Find out more about events in Burgess Park.

New Aylesbury buildings drawingEvents to discuss the Aylesbury Regeneration

Plans are being developed for the regeneration of Phase 2B of the Aylesbury Estate on Albany Road next to Burgess Park, the area that includes the Wendover 241-471, Winslow, Padbury and Ravenstone blocks.

Public open day

Saturday 16 October 2021, 12 noon – 3pm
Surrey Square Primary School, Surrey Square, London SE17 2JY

Drop in any time to meet the team, view updated designs in a family-friendly environment and give your feedback on plans for Phase 2B of the estate regeneration. Members of the design team, Notting Hill Genesis and Soundings will be on hand to listen to  feedback and answer questions. This event is free and open to all.

Drop in exhibition and stakeholder evening workshop
Monday 18 October 2021
Drop in exhibition 4-6pm; workshop 6-8pm
Upper Hall, Pembroke House, 80 Tatum Street, London SE17 1QR

Drop in to view the plans between 4-6pm. An early evening workshop will discuss public space, access and circulation.
Email or call 07920 466133 if you would like to take part.

Online public workshop
Tuesday 26 October 2021, 6-7.30pm
An online evening to discuss the revised plans.
Email or call 07920 466133 to take part.

Congratulations to Kye Whyte at Peckham BMX

Kye Whyte won a siver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Many congratulations to him, his family and Peckham BMX Club.

The Peckham Club started at the Bird-in-Bush park track and then moved to the Burgess Park track.

Find out about riding at the Burgess Park track.

Information about the Peckham Challengers BMX Club.

Help protect the woodland in Burgess Park

woodland pathBurgess Park’s woodlands are vital for local wildlife and they are a precious resource in an urban area. Current plans for tall buildings on the edge of the woodlands will reduce the sunlight and change the habitat.

To understand what impact tall buildings would have, we need an independent wildlife report to present to Southwark’s Planning Committee. The goal is to raise £1500 by the end of May 2021 to commission an ecology report from the London Wildlife Trust. Find out more and make a Crowdfunder contribution here. 

Read the blog about the importance of light for the Burgess Park woodlands.

Photo of Great TitAnnual bird count from your home

Unable to run our usual annual bird count in the park due to current restrictions, we explain how you can still get involved from home with the RSPB survey, as well as identify bird songs, and take a soundscape walk around the park. Find out more.

Southhampton Way entrance with building or wildlfe graphic


Sign the petition to stop building in Burgess Park

The Southampton Way entrance to Burgess Park has an area of derelict land used for what was supposed to be temporary scrap yards and car washing.

The land has been designated as part of the protected Metropolitan Open Land of Burgess Park for over 30 years as the council steadily CPO’d (Compulsory Purchased) the various bits of privately owned land selected to be a park in the original Abercrombie Plan after WW2.

However, a developer has bought an option on the site and is suggesting that a 6-storey residential tower-block be built on designated park land.

It is crucial that this land which has been blighted for so long, be landscaped and included in the park next to the recently improved wildlife site.

Please sign the petition calling on Southwark Council to oppose any planning application for building on this site and call on them instead to fulfill their promise to CPO and incorporate this piece of the Burgess Park jigsaw.

Photo of three houses with posterPark art tour

Take a walk, virtual or real, around Burgess Park to view artworks that have been placed here over the years. The Park Art map can be found on the Friends of Burgess Park’s Bridge to Nowhere heritage website which investigates the history of the park that emerged from the streets of south London.

Photo of Gull on sandGulls on the lake

Take a  look at the lake during the winter when the number of gulls and cormorants increases. Identify four different kinds of Gull.

Artist's render of proposed skatebowlUrban games and skate bowl consultations

The urban games and skatebowl website consultation is open to 4 October 2019.  Find out more and add your comments.

The concrete skate bowl will take over a section of the park next to the BMX track  and unfortunately an estimated 3,000 square meters of grass will be lost due to its construction. Friends of Burgess Park object to the replacement of a green area with concrete, one of the worst producers of CO2 . This is the narrowest part of the park, which has been traversed with paths and cycle routes, with tall buildings planned to the north and possibly south, pouring concrete all over it is not an improvement. It is in fact turning this green area into an urban environment not a refuge from it.

Southwark Streetspace MapHave you had your say on the Southwark Council
Streetspace plan yet?

Some ideas are already being implemented and Friends of Burgess Park were out looking at opportunities to improve active travel around the park.

FOBP park orbital teamWe are promoting the Burgess Park Orbital, a protected route, to take cyclists who want to travel securely and efficiently around the park through the neighbourhood so they don’t have to cross the park. The park is very busy at the moment with people socialising and exercising. Some cyclists simply want a straightforward way to get to the other side without interfering in park activities. Some want another place to exercise. Some want an alternative to cycling through the park in the dark winter months.

Using routes around the perimeter means that there will be adequate street lighting rather than trying to light the park and contributing to light pollution which must be controlled according to the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF).

Click the links below and give each a thumbs up, bottom right.
Let’s show support to get these improvements.

Burgess Park Orbital
1. Cycle lanes around Burgess Park using street lighting.

Albany Road
2. Cycle lanes at Albany Road and the Old Kent Road.
3. 2-way protected cycle route the full length of Albany Road.

Albany Road and Portland Street
4. Adapt the cycle crossing from Portland Street into Albany Road to 2-way and on to Wells Way.

New Church Road/Southampton Way
5. Reinstate the existing cycle route by the new playground from Kitson Rd and continue it down Southampton Way.

Wells Way
6. Wells Way cycle lane and widen pavements.
7. Wells Way underpass for pedestrians and St George’s Way junction.
8. Provide cycle parking at the Old Library instead of car parking.
9. Pavements too narrow at junction of Wells Way and St George’s Way

Parkhouse Street/Wells Way
10. 2-way cycle routes on Parkhouse Street.

Burgess Park West
11. Burgess Park West.

St. George’s Way
12. Remove cars on St George’s Way and green route for cycling.
13. Provide cycle lanes which use street lighting for safe winter cycling.

Surrey Canal
14. Surrey Canal too narrow; promote Sumner Road cycle lane alternative
15. Peckham Square for pedestrians; promote Sumner Road cycle lane alternative

park clean-up volunteerLitter-free Mondays and Thursdays July – September

Weekly litter pick  Mondays 7:30-9.30am and Thursdays  6:15-8pm July to September 2020. Meet at the picnic benches at Chumleigh Gardens. Gloves and litter pickers provided or bring your own.
More information here. 
Read the blog.

Photo of Grebe swimmingLaunch of Southwark nature action conservation volunteers

Dave Clark provided online training in recognising birdsong. He has an MSc in Ornithology from Birmingham University and is particularly interested in the interaction between birds and humans. Read his blog about birds in Burgess Park From Africa to the Old Kent Road and follow him on Twitter @daveclark77.

Burgess Park contains a mosaic of locally important habitats including areas of rough grass, wildflower ‘meadows’, hedges and patches of bushes, scrub and trees; and a lake and some small ponds with reeds.

Regular visitors include House Martins, Swifts, Blackcaps, Reed Warblers and Whitethroats. Other birds include House Sparrow, Starling, Greenfinch, and typical garden species like the Robin and Blue Tit. The lake has several different species of waterbirds, including three species of geese – Canada, Egyptian and Greylag.

Tuesday 3 March 2020, 7pm, Theatre Deli, Wells Way SE5 Book ticket.

white letter hairstreakHelp with species’ habitats and nature conservation in Southwark parks: carry out surveys, help with planting, dig ponds, map wildlife sightings to target habitat action, photograph wildlife and habitats etc.

Launch event includes talks from Simon Saville, Butterfly Conservation and Jon Best, Southwark Ecology Officer, films and discussions. Find out more.

Come along to the Big Garden Birdwatch

Big Bird Watch 2020at Chumleigh Gardens
Sunday 26 January 2020
11 am – 12 midday

All ages welcome
Free event
Free bird ID sheet

Hot drinks and cake

Identifying wildlife at Burgess Lake

We put up signage at the lake and on the bridge about the waterfowl and fish in the lake. We hope this will help park users know more about wild-fowl, fish and plants and how the lake works as a habitat.

Lake signage

Find out more about what Friends of Burgess Park have been doing at the lake with help from children at Cobourg School.

Friends of Burgess Park AGM

Tuesday 12 November 2019 7 pm
at Theatre Deli, Old Library, Wells Way, SE5 0PX

All welcome to hear about Burgess Park Past, Present and Future

Speakers, Q&A:
Diana Cochrane, Walworth History Society, Burgess Park and Beyond heritage
Jason Leech, Camberwell Society, Camberwell plan
Guy Robinson, Camberwell Fields Residents’ Association, Metropolitan Open Land
Plus: Elect new committee, approve accounts, review constitution, priorities 2020.

October monthly meeting changed

The next FOBP meeting 1st October  2019 is being transferred to the council planning committee so that we can comment on and object to the sports centre application. The planning meeting is open to the public Tues 1 October from 6.30pm, 160 Tooley St. SE1 2QX. Planning committee agenda and report.

The planning committee meeting was cancelled at the last minute because a report from Sport England had not arrived. The next Planning Sub-Committee B meeting is now scheduled for Tue 29 Oct 2019 (to be confirmed). 

FOBP objections:
1. Loss of Metropolitan Open Land
2. Impact of the new pitches and spectator mounds on the surrounding park.
3. The design of the new sports centre does not fit with the character of the park or the Cobourg conservation area, or achieve environmental standards.

Wild Burgess: birds, butterflies, moths and crows

Photo of pale blue butterflyFind out about the latest wildlife sightings in Burgess Park. Ornithologist Dave Clark is thrilled to find more Burgess birds than 10 years ago.  Guest blogger Simon Savile of the Butterfly Conservation organisation tells us where to look for butterflies and moths in Burgess Park. Regular FOBP blogger Jenny Morgan urges us to appreciate crows and the more subtle changes in the park.

Poster for 6 June 2019 3:30 pm lake activities

From Africa to the Old Kent Road: Bird species in Burgess Park
Wednesday 19 June 2019, 9 am – 10.30 am
meet at Chumleigh Gardens

Dave Clark, ornithologist, will lead the circular walk (approx 1.3 hrs) finishing at Chumleigh Gardens café for further informal discussion. FREE – Donations to FOBP welcome. Read Dave Clark’s blog

Read about Burgess Park in the Camberwell Quarterly

sample CQ pageFOBP members toured the park with Marie Staunton CBE who wrote the article. Thank you to the editor of the Camberwell Quarterly, Margaret Powley-Baker for letting us include a copy here – From dawn to dusk – Something’s going on in Burgess Park.

It gives a tremendous picture of the park from the Community Garden at one end to the tennis courts at the other celebrating the wide range of activities in-between – rugby, BMX, children’s nurseries, play groups, art clubs, theatre groups to name a few. It is all enabled by park workers and many dedicated volunteers.

2019 Development planning

Southwark Council is holding the next Old Kent Road Forum on open space on Saturday 19 January 2019 from 11am to 1pm at Christ Church Peckham, 676-680 Old Kent Road, SE15 1JF

Sports Hub consultation
20 November 2018

Help shape the future of Burgess Park – Southwark Council wants your views on the sports centre hub. Come along to the drop-in session (20 November) between 4–7pm at the Burgess Park Sports Centre SE5, or have your say online.

Report wildlife sightings

screen grab of the wildlife report pageLondon is home to a diverse range of animals, including everything from bats to reptiles, and Southwark Council is trying to find out which species can be found where in Southwark.

On the Council website you can click on an interactive map, zoom to the location of your sighting and an email link will appear on the left. Enter your email address and click send.

Your records will help the Council to manage wildlife in Southwark and gain a better understanding of what lives where.

Sightings will be collected and shared with the London Biological Records Centre, Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL).

Peckham BMX club in Burgess Park

CK Flash with brothers Tre and Kye Whyte were interviewed by the BBC about the value and benefits of the BMX club. See the BBC video shot at the track in Burgess Park. The brothers are both in the British Cycling Academy and Kye just won silver at the 2018 European Championships.

New art installation “Silent Raid” opening events

Photo of three houses with posterWednesday, 17 October
The new art work by Sally Hogarth commemorates the Zeppelin raid on Calmington Road (now part of Burgess Park) in 1917 with ten houses representing each of the people killed in the attack. Read Sally Hogarth’s blog on creating the sculptures.

The launch will be exactly 101 years after the attack and is part of the Zeppelin 1917 programme of events in Burgess Park about the First World War.

Location map of the sculptures and more information.

Supported by Southwark Council, the Friends of Burgess Park and Theatre Deli.
Photos of the sculptures by Alexander Christie   Instagram   Twitter

Friends of Burgess Park win Mary Boast History Prize

We had great news on 30th September 2018! The Mary Boast Prize, which is organised by the Camberwell Society, has been won by an essay from some of the Friends of Burgess Park ‘Zeppelin 1917’ team. A big thank you to all the volunteer authors including the essay editing team of Judith Barratt, Joan Ashworth and Susan Crisp. Find out more here.

First World War Victoria Cross commemorative stone unveiling

Monday 3 September 2018, 11am, Old Kent Road entrance, Burgess Park

In September 1918 local hero Jack Harvey was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery. One hundred years on a commemorative paving stone will be unveiled with a civic service led by the Mayor, Councillor Catherine Rose, with the Army in attendance. All welcome.

Jack Harvey, was born at 2 Canal Grove (just off Old Kent Road) in the old borough of Camberwell. This is why the site chosen for the commemorative paving will be the Old Kent Road main entrance to Burgess Park.

The Victoria Cross commemorative paving stones programme is a national scheme that will see all 627 VC recipient of the First World War commemorated. More information.

More development plans around the park:

  1. Southwark Council is holding the next Old Kent Road Forum  on Saturday 20 October from 11am to 1pm at Christ Church Peckham, 676-680 Old Kent Road, SE15 1JF
    The theme for this forum will be Transport with ward councillors – Evelyn Akoto, Michael Situ and Richard Livingstone and Johnson Situ (Cabinet Member for Growth, Development and Planning). Find out more about the development schemes in Old Kent Road.
  2. Burgess Business Park/Camberwell Union Update Peachtree (the developers) have amended their proposals following community objections and discussions with Southwark Council Planning. The revised planning application is open for comments.  The key documents showing the changes and draft FOBP response here. To put in your comments go to the planning application 17/AP/4797  by 21 October. More information
  3. 37-39 Parkhouse Street (Hunnex site) is a proposed mixed use scheme of commercial rented accommodation including on-site 50% affordable housing.  This substantial site backs onto Burgess Park.
  4. Old Kent Road redevelopment continues with plans for the ARGOS and DFS site opposite Burgess Park OKR entrance. Details of proposals include a hotel, cinema commercial, tall private block and rented housing. Comments wanted by the end of July for a planning application in the autumn.

Zeppelin – the podcast

Graphic of Zeppelin over cityWe are pleased to announce the publication of the latest edition of the Bridge to Nowhere podcast!

This episode is an audio adaptation of the Animated Walk from the Friends’ Zeppelin 1917 season which ran throughout October 2017. It tells the story of the Zeppelin Raid on Camberwell, in the industrial and residential area that existed before the creation of the park itself, and puts the tragic events of that night into the context of local life at that time.

And if you subscribe (it’s free), you will also receive future episodes automatically, as soon as they are released.

photo of fish just caught in the lakeWild Burgess at the Fishing Lake

What is going on above and below the lake? Find out more about the plants, insects, birds and fish.


Photo of Lime blossomWild Burgess in May

Any day now, the Lime trees (Common Lime or Linden, Tilia Europea) will come into bloom. They perfume the air with one of the most delightful scents of summer. Walk along the main avenue by the tennis courts … Read more about the flowers, the butterflies and bogs of Burgess.

Parent Egyptian goose with chicksBurgess goes wild about waterfowl

Despite the terrible weather (28 April 2018) the Friends of Burgess Park were out at the lake finding out how much people knew about the birds on the lake; their names; what they eat and the problems of feeding bread to the ducks. Read about the birds we saw and counted and what we should be feeding them.

The identification session was part of the international City Nature Challenge with 70 cities  competing to see who could make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people in the worldwide 2018 City Nature Challenge.

Unleash your wild side

Find out more about the wildlife in Burgess Park over the next few months.

All through June we are doing #30DaysWild #wildaboutburgess part of the London Wildlife campaign. The perfect excuse to share your favourite photos @BurgessPk.

Saturday 21 July – 4.30 to 6pm Pond-dipping by the lake. Part of London’s National Park City Week.

Photo of Albany Road and Wells WayGoing wild

Find out what to look for as spring comes to Burgess Park – the sights, sounds and scents.

Community Hustings on planning and regeneration

Monday 22nd October 2018 7-9pm
Assemble from 6.45pm at St Philips Church Hall, Avondale Square, SE1 5PD, near Asda on Old Kent Rd.
Help to improve existing neighbourhoods and existing communities’ health and wellbeing.
* Cllr Rebecca Lury, Council deputy leader and Cabinet member for
Culture, Leisure, Equalities and Communities
* Cllr Johnson Situ, Cabinet Member for Growth, Development and Planning
* Professor Kevin Fenton, Strategic Director of Place and Wellbeing, the
Chief Officer for the new Council department, which has brought together
planning, regeneration, public health and community engagement.
Please register through eventbrite here:
Organised by the Southwark Planning Network (SPN)

Park developmentsBurgess Park developments map

Find out more about developments planned in and around Burgess Park

Burgess Park South

Burgess Park South map

Southwark Council are looking at ways to improve the streets south of Burgess Park, with a view to making the area safer and healthier for all road users.

Workshops to help Southwark design the future look and feel of these streets.

  • Session 1: Tuesday 30 January 6pm
  • Session 2: Tuesday 13 February from 3pm
  • Session 3: Wednesday 21 March from 5.30pm to 8pm

At St Luke’s Church Peckham, Chandler Way, Peckham, London, SE15 6LU.

First session: for residents and road users to tell us what the issues are in these streets.

Second session: Walking tour of the area to look at the some of the issues identified and co-design workshop where residents will work with a specialist street design team to come up with ideas for improving the roads.

Third session:  local people will have a chance to comment on the design proposals and help make further changes.

Further information, or contact, call 020 7525 2347, or write to FREEPOST RSCT-BHXK-SCAJ, Highways Division (Transport Projects) Floor 3, Hub 2, Southwark Council, PO BOX 64529, London, SE1P 5LX.

Revised plans for the Burgess Park Community Sports Centre Jan 2018New sports centre and pitches consultation

Thursday 11 January 2018, 4.00 -7.00pm
at Burgess Park Community Sports Centre, Cobourg Road, SE5 0JD

Southwark Council with match funding from Parklife Funding Partners (The FA, the Premier League and Sport England) are presenting draft design proposals for developing the community sports hub . Who will run the new facility? Will there be more fencing of sports’ fields? Will Cobourg Road and Neate Street be closed? What will the provision be for access to Cobourg School? Will there be through routes for pedestrians and cyclists? What about parking? Will  trees be cut down? Please come along and say what you think about the new plans.  Download a pdf of the latest plans. Email your comments to Southwark by 19 January 2018.

Zeppelin Memorial Artist's ImpressionWWI Centenary Memorial 

A new public art installation is being planned for Burgess Park. Ten small replica houses will be placed close to the site of the 1917 Zeppelin bomb. More details and locations are on the application for planning permission.
Friends of Burgess Park Zeppelin 1917 project.


Burgess Park West closures

New Church Road is being permanently closed from 4 December as part of the Burgess Park West project. Lighting on New Church Road is being switched off as well as the lighting on the pathway that leads from Albany Road to New Church Road. This is for safety reasons as Southwark do not want people to follow a lit route from Albany Road into the park since it is a dead end. Southwark urge you not to travel through the park after dark until the new lit pathway is open. The new Quietway 7 cycle pathway which will cut through the park will be built as an alternative route. It is expected to open in spring 2018.

Two sections of Burgess Park West designated on a mapThe plan shows which areas of the site Southwark intend to close and for how long. Read more about the closures here.

Trees earmarked for removal in Site A (see map) will be felled in the week starting February 5th.

This is the latest stage in the implementation of the Burgess Park Masterplan. More information on the project can be found here: or contact John Wade (020 7525 0141) or Pippa Krishnan (020 7525 5133).

Consultations on the Burgess Park West new play area will take place on:

Tuesday 28 November 3.30 to 5pm Chumleigh Gardens play area, next to the Park Life café, off Albany Road. If the weather is poor the consultation will be inside the Chumleigh West building, which will be signposted from the play area.

Monday 4th December 6pm to 8pm Southwark Council’s offices 160 Tooley Street, SE1 2QH

Drop by to see the emerging design which has taken into account previous consultation results, and tell the designers your ideas and opinions.

If you cannot attend either session and are still interested in the play area design, please get in touch with Pippa Krishnan

Burgess Park Cafe catering arrangementsBurgess Park Café

A new catering company will be taking over Burgess Park Café.  The café will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, 30 and 31 October 2017. Southwark Council apologise for the inconvenience and thank Prestigious Catering Ltd trading as Park Life Café who will cease operations on Sunday, 29 October 2017. A Fuorvito & Sons will take over on Wednesday, 1 November 2017.

Friends of Burgess Park Meetings

First Tuesday of each month
All welcome from 7-9 pm
Burgess Park Community Sports Centre, 106 Cobourg Road, SE5 0JV.

Bridge to Nowhere history project 

The Bridge to Nowhere heritage project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund involved loads of people to learn more about the history and heritage of Burgess Park. The project included the Wells Way underpass artwork – a reminder of the main feature of the area which lead to the creation of the park – the Grand Surrey Canal. And we have launched the new Burgess Park Heritage Trail. Look out for the blue plaques around the park.

Find out more about the history of the park and
download your own map 

Bridge to Nowhere - long logo

Woodland signage showing QR code


Burgess Park woodlands activities winter/spring 2024

Butterfly habitat management project Albany Road woodlands

Join our woodlands maintenance session Sat 27 Jan 11.00 to 3.30 we will be clearing brambles and coppicing to enhance the woodland glade in the Albany Road woodlands. Please book here.

This volunteer woodlands maintenance is the first phase of the works to open-up the woodland glades by coppicing and bramble removal. Southwark Council will organise this volunteer work session.

The second phase will be run by Big City Butterfly Project, who will employ a contractor to; de-turf, remove roots and sow the area with a meadow mix within the glade which we will create.

This is part of the Friends of Burgess Park healthy woodlands project. We have also been awarded funding from the Southwark Council Cleaner Greener Safer fund for a new pathway. Find out more about Burgess Park woodlands.

Making meadows part 2 

Albany Road seed sowing experiment

As described in my previous blog, we have been experimenting with grass cutting in various locations around Burgess Park, to see which wild plants would emerge over time and how much wildlife would be attracted. We will focus on these areas in the next blog, and discuss the best approaches to maintaining meadow areas and what machinery to use. But, before we did any of this, we experimented with a much larger area of short grass between the three west side mounds and Albany Road. The original plan was just to try and reseed the north banks of the nearby mounds themselves with a more attractive range of plants than the ‘weeds’ that had quickly outgrown the original James Hitchmough prairie planting on these newly built slopes. Previous head gardener Oliver Miller had already experimented with sowing certain seeds, and had the greatest success with a mass sowing of Honesty (Lunaria annua), as well as trying out various other plants.

The previous sowing of Lunaria annua (honesty) with the beautiful lilac flowers contrasting nicely with James Hitchmough’s acid lime marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris) and light blue quamash (Camassia ssp). The honesty has faded over time with more vigorous plants talking over but it is still present in smaller quantities. 

I knew that with the huge seed bank of fast-spreading wild plants already taking over, and with problems with the steepness, dryness and poor soil structure of the bank itself, that any reseeding would have limited success. James Hitchmough kindly visited a few times, and came up with plan to remove all the weeds between the too widely spaced original plants, before a mass sowing of a special cultivar of Deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hair grass) to fill in the gaps with an attractive ornamental grass with sufficient biomass to outcompete all the weeds. This was a clever idea and would have made the banks much more attractive and consistent looking. But I think when James visited, whilst the banks still looked very much in control, probably because we’d just strimmed between all the remaining plants, there was a huge seed bank of weeds already in the soil. The steep banks, with their increasingly thin covering of sugar beet top soil above a harder pan of soil and rubble from the old park, would be a hard location to establish a successfully thick sowing of grass without some kind irrigation and I think, a lot of spraying would have had to be done, along with good luck with the weather. It turns out that we had some very hot and dry periods over the next several years.

We used James’s Deschampsia, but also selected the seed of a much wider variety of native plants as well. I also decided to spread the seed over a much wider area, to strip back, weed and over sow the banks themselves, but also to try and turn the whole space between the slopes and Albany Road into a more natural space, with much more habitat for wildlife.

I wanted to re-contextualise what was seen as an over ambitious prairie slope that had totally failed, and redefine it as a success for wildlife and the park, with the bank becoming a mix of James’s interesting original plants, plus wildflowers and grasses. James, I think, just came up with an excellent plant list for these slopes. The problem was the LDA design was over-ambitious; the banks were too steep and huge to be successfully maintained as designed. A wilder, less intensive approach was more realistic — a new area for habitat and a softer, more attractive space. Rather than an angular triangle of ‘failed’ planting with just short grass at its base, a continuation of wildness from bank to road with grass paths to walk though would make the increasing wildness of the bank itself much more appropriate and suit the space better. I also guess that perhaps there was once a meadow somewhere along this fence line at some point before the park was rebuilt … there are pretty metal butterfly posts in places, a certain distance from the fence, that perhaps defined some wilder area, so it was nice to return the dull lawn to a meadow if that was the case. 

Many thanks for the council letting me do this; they could have easily insisted that this reseeding was against our obligations to cut the grass around the mounds short, but instead let me proceed with the experiments as I wished. The council showed patience and understanding to allow this area and the nearby banks to become a much more useful habitat as well as being more sustainable to maintain.

The area in winter before we started work. Some lime trees had already been planted by Southwark and we planted a dozen damson trees ourselves. Many more interesting trees had since been planted by the development team, including rare oaks on dwarfing rootstocks, and even Canary Island pines. A few years later we also did two plantings of native whips to try to create a wall of native shrubs along the fenceline. These included wild and cultivated privet, yew, hazel, dogwoods, holly, spindle bushes, blackthorn, wild roses, hawthorn, and cultivars and wild Scotch broom.
A newly prepared area for sowing along Albany Road. I did initially spray off the grass in the flat areas above. I would have rather stripped the turf layer (also removing the most nutrient rich soil at the surface) or simply had a cultivator powerful enough to break through the turf and cultivate the soil. But I did most of the work myself, and I simply didn’t have the machinery or people-power to remove 1000s of m2 of turf and had nowhere to put the giant mound of turf that would’ve been created. I felt in this case, a single spray was justified, to create a much more sustainable and wild area longer term. I also had to cultivate this huge space with a single hand-pushed cultivator to sow the seed and could only do this with bare soil. The concept was to remove the existing turf and then sow a wide range of wild seed, both wildflowers and a wider mixture of native grasses suitable for clay, to see what established, but also to see what pre- existing seed in the soil under the turf would germinate, and what mix of plants would eventually establish, as time progressed, with the soil below unchanged. The banks themselves we heavily weeded and cultivated as best as we could. Here we planned to sow James Hitchmough’s grass and a selection from the other seed that might establish on the increasingly poor and often dry soil of the steep slopes. 

We used a wide range of seeds, starting the flat areas with cornfield annuals for colour in the first few years.

I was interested in how long the cornfield annuals would persist without re-cultivation each year. The answer is about 2-3 years though we still get odd plants germinating where the grass is less thick. The cornfield annuals used were field poppy (Papaver rhoeas), field marigold (Glebionis segetum), cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and corncockle (Agrostemma githago). I expected these to be the first flowers we saw but nature had other ideas!

After all the hard work, but nature knows best! A great mass of false chamomile (Tripleurospermum inodorum) appears first. The seed of this small annual plant must’ve lain dormant for many years and is in flower already just as the cornfield annuals began to appear. To maintain the meadow as a mix of false chamomile and corn flowers would’ve been lovely but would have involved re-cultivating the soil as soon as these plants went to seed and topping up the cornfield flower seed every few years.
The field poppies appear and the meadow  looks very English! I was hoping if we planted enough poppies some would persist over time, but again they want re-cultivated soil and a decent period of cold in winter to break seed dormancy. We had a few very mild winters after this point and no poppies returned. Hitchmough’s oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis) on the nearby banks on the other hand still appear but are rather engulfed by more vigorous native plants. Here some  enthusiastic students studying at Walworth Garden through Bankside Open Spaces Trust are removing seedlings of certain more invasive plants that we initially (and naively!) thought could be controlled by weeding out.
Cornfield annuals are one of the main plants we have lost from our countryside meadows and rely on a cycle of yearly plowing to grow alongside crops such as wheat. They are mainly kept in existence these days by various excellent wildflower seed-selling companies. Unfortunately, to keep them growing in our meadows, we would need to re-cultivate the soil every few years and top up the seed. But for several hundred quid spent every few years, we could have a few of these large areas of very colourful and densely spaced flowers, that look more like the ‘ideal’ meadow people desire. In this case, we wanted some initial colour (and I hoped the council would be impressed and allow us to do more cornfield meadows in the future!) and for the cornflowers to give some initial shelter to the perennial wildflowers and grasses that we had also sown. In the foreground, one of Hitchmough’s west-facing banks, designed to look a bit like the meadows of central Europe, with Carthusian dianthus in flower (Dianthus carthusianorum).
Poppies on mass looking wonderful in the spring sun. Unfortunately, they totally vanished by the following year, though the cornfield marigolds and cornflowers around the margins persisted for a few more years. We also planted the beautiful sky blue flowered borage, which is starting to emerge in the right of the photo.

As for the rest of the seed, we chose native wildflower and grass seed hopefully suitable for the local conditions, depending on what was affordable and available. Many species I would have liked to have used were either unavailable or unaffordable in sufficient quantities. I would have liked to have used different suppliers to have a broader range of seed, including from the European suppliers Jelitto ( but budget constraints meant we went with the excellent Naturescape (

Perhaps a better choice would have been Emorsgate seeds (, simply as they are located closer to London, meaning their seed would be more adapted to local conditions. The wonderful new, low nutrient meadow on the west side used Emorsgate and has a fabulous variety of plants. I unfortunately had no budget to replace all the soil with a low nutrient alternative.

The seed we used included:

Achillea millefolium (yarrow) 
Agrimmonia eupatorium (agrimony) 
Borago officinalis (borage) 
Centaurea nigra (knapweed) 
Centaurea scabiosa (greater knapweed) 
Daucus carrota (wild carrot) 
Dipascus fullonum (teasel) 
Gallium album (hedge bedstraw) 
Gallium verum (ladies bedstraw) 
Hypericum perforatum (perforate St John’s wort)
Leucanthemum vulgare (ox-eye daisy) 
Pastinaca sativa (wild parsnip) 
Plantago lanceolata (ribwort plantain) 
Silene dioica (red campion) 
Silene vulgaris (bladder campion) 
Reseda lutea (wild mignonette) 
Trifolium repens (white clover) 
Verbascum nigrum (dark mullein) 
Vicia sativa (common vetch)

Clay soil wild grasses mix:

Agrostis capillaris (common bent)
Alopecurus pratensis (meadow foxtail) 
Anthoxanthum odoratum (sweet vernal grass)
Briza media (quaking grass)
Cynosurus cristatus (crested dogstail)
Festuca rubra ssp. commutata (Chewing’s fescue)
Festuca rubra ssp litoralis (Slender red fescue)
Hordeum secalinum (meadow barley)
Poa pratensis (smooth stalked meadow grass)
Trisetum flavescens (yellow oat grass)
Festuca ovina (sheep’s fescue) 

James Hitchmough’s generously donated Deschampia for the north banks of the mounds

General clay meadow mix 80/20 mix (80% grasses to 20% flowers)
This had a mix of the grasses to the left and the wildlflowers above plus:

Geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill)
Knautia arvensis (field scabious)
Leontodon hispidus (rough hawkbit)
Lathyrus pratensis (meadow vetchling)
Lychnis flos-cuculi (ragged robin)
Primula veris (cowslip)
Prunella vulgaris (self heal)
Rhinanthus minor (yellow rattle)
Rumex acetosa (common sorrel)
Stachys officinalis (betony)
Tragopogon pratensis (goats beard)
Trifolium pratense (red clover)
(very little of this last list actually germinated)

The seed suppliers have developed great knowledge in terms of the ratios of flowers to grasses so their mixes tend to come in 80/20  or 90/10 grass to flower ratios. But we wanted to just throw down as much flower seed as possible, in the hope that more would persist long term. From the results of our sowing, perhaps a simple 80/20 clay wildflower mix would have been more efficient and much cheaper but we hardly spend a fortune. I did, however, find that few of the flowering species in the clay wildflower species mix actually germinated and the individual species seed germinated better. I wish I’d also included large quantities of Lucerne (alfalfa) in the sowing which would have been great for our Holly Blue butterflies, since it is available as a green manure and is very cheap to buy in large quantities but didn’t think to do so at the time. I should have consulted the local wildlife experts before selecting the seed to have identified more species specifically useful to wildlife found in the park. 

Also, compare our well-intentioned but inefficient sowing with Hitchmough’s precise work which can still be seen at St George’s prairie and various other slopes and dips around the park. James compiled a vast database of native and non-native species during his work at the University of Sheffield. He would build a vast array of small seed sowing beds, try different mixes and record the exact proportions of different species emerging. From this he would estimate the ideal ratios of a vast range of seed needed in a specific mix from wild herbaceous plants of the world. 

In comparison with the precise mixes from the seed suppliers, or James’s very scientific approach, we just bought a load of hopefully suitable seed, threw it down and hoped for the best! This meant that for a further two years we had an impressive amount of flowers. The cornfield annuals faded but with the grass still thin much of the other seed emerged. Certain species such as borage, red and bladder campion, hedge and ladies bedstraw, teasels, wild carrot, St John’s wort, ribwort plantain, knapweed, yarrow, salad burnet, the clay grass mix, lesser amounts of vetch and wild mignonette appeared. The rest of the seed didn’t appear at all. We likely didn’t sow at the correct time for all the species, or conditions weren’t suitable for germination, or perhaps some of the seed in the clay wildflower mix wasn’t so fresh or viable. Unfortunately, the Deschampsia also didn’t emerge on the banks. I think there wasn’t enough moisture for it to establish on the dry banks, and the seed was at least a few years old by the time we used it. There was also too much competition from the massive seed bank of wild plants already present and likely from all the other seed I also added.

The second year, but now the beautiful annual borage, and red campion and many other wild plants have replaced the cornfield annuals. In the background a much larger area of red campion on the re-seeded north banks has appeared. This short-lived perennial sustained itself well until we had a few incredibly hot summers which killed it all off. It then struggled to re-establish from whatever seed had fallen as the previous bare and cultivated soil was now a thick sward of grasses and wildflowers better suited to local conditions.
Bladder campion

Forward a few more years and the balance of plants has changed again. Now the campion, borage and some of the other sown wildflowers have slowly reduced to the odd plant here and there, rather than a great but rather artificial, wall of colour. The soil and climactic conditions clearly aren’t suitable for large quantities of these plants to persist over time. It was a lovely and colourful experiment but longer term, nature will have its way. Clay soil once firm is not very friable so many seeds can’t get into the soil to germinate, or successfully germinate if they do, and most importantly, the clay soil holds onto nutrients so the grasses thicken up over time giving less space for the flowers, as well as forming a barrier to the seed reaching the soil in the first place. Despite us cutting and raking up much of the hay, the range of plants is slowly reverting back to plants that can handle the compacted but rich and quite heavy soil, that can compete with the thick grass and also that can complete their life cycles despite the incredibly hot and dry summers we increasingly have in London.

The grasses are increasingly thick and varied. I still need to try to identify all the species of grass present, what came up from what was sown, and what has appeared from seed already in the soil or blown in by the wind. My eyesight is increasingly poor and the grasses all look very similar without precise or patient enough identification skills!

Summer 2023. Despite cutting low and collecting the cuttings pretty thoroughly each year the balance of plants has changed again. There is much thicker grass but still a large amount of flowers. There are more trees and those planted have hugely increased in size. These will increasingly suck away some of the moisture for the meadow itself, but will have other benefits such as capturing large amounts of carbon dioxide and concealing the road and some of the fast-growing buildings beyond. There is some of the best suited seed of what was sown still appearing, but also copious seed in the soil germinating more suited to the local conditions. Notable plants include chicory (Chicorium intybus), charlock (Synapsis arvensis) and wild carrot (Daucus carrota). The wild carrot was sown and the chicory has quickly spread from the south banks of the mounds. The charlock (a member of the mustard family) is common in London, but is more of an initial coloniser and prefers thin grass or disturbed ground and is slowly pushed out as the grass thickens.
A thick tangle of wild carrot, chicory, and charlock, summer 2023. These are some of the wild flowers suitable for our site. We can start to look at these plants and think about why they are suitable. The chicory and wild carrot has a taproot that can grow under the thick grass to find moisture and nutrients. The small bullet like seeds of chicory seem to be able to find their way through the grass to the soil, which it needs to do to persist as it is biennial. Wild carrot also lasts for two years, but again somehow its copious tiny, bristly seeds also find their way back to the soil. 

We currently have a large amount of flowers and the meadow isn’t too high to problematically block sight lines and, for example, attract too much anti-social behaviour. The soil in this area doesn’t yet have such a high percentage of seed from taller more invasive plants that our more established wild areas in the east of the park have. The various banks of the nearby mounds are also full of wildflowers that can now possibly spread to this new area of meadow. The main one so far is chicory. I was hopeful that some of Hitchmough’s plants from nearby banks would also spread into this area, so, for example, we collected vast quantities of aster seed a few years ago and spread it through the whole area to try to extend the meadow’s flowering season, but none has emerged. Brockwell Bake and ancient wheat expert Andy Forbes also tried to establish a few old varieties of wheat, including one with an attractive, purplish seed head. These patches did great in the first year, but didn’t resow themselves the following year. 

But our work isn’t done, nature has further plans for our meadow, and we have reached the most challenging stage of maintenance. Ideally we would like to keep the meadow as it is at this stage, but there are many more vigorous and potentially problematic plants that want to establish and outcompete the plants currently growing. 

One particularly significant plant is mallow (Malva sylvestris). This year this species has begun to dominate in places. It has pretty purple flowers, but not a particularly attractive structure once it is fully grown, and it both spreads by roots very quickly to form dense clumps as well as dropping copious seed. This would be difficult to eradicate even by spraying; this plant is here to stay. The only way I can think to control it is to cut down and remove all the seed laden stems once it has finished flowering to limit its further spread. But it is a very useful plant for wildlife (and for people foraging for edible leaves in the park).

Mallow (Malva sylvestris) growing through Hitchmough’s azure asters on a west bank of the mounds, close to our new meadow. The meadow itself has increasingly huge amounts of this pretty-flowered but rather ugly-shaped species. It was there all along in remaining root fragments and seed in the soil and is now quickly dominating. 

But there are a great array of taller and even more problematic plants that want to establish in our meadow and re-seeded banks. These include: 

Gallium aparine (cleavers) forms a great mat of foliage over other plants which is hard to remove and looks a mess, though it creates habitat and keeps the soil below moist. We have given up trying to remove this as it comes up en masse in spring, but luckily then withers and completely fades away by early summer. 

Calystegia sepium (Hedge bindweed) Most gardeners will be well aware of the joys of trying to control bindweed. It does seem to prefer richer soil and flowerbeds and hasn’t spread so fast on the three north banks as I worried it would, though it is a problem in places, as is Convolvulus arvensis (hedge bindweed). On another north bank next to the car park, we worked incredibly hard to remulch the failing slope and replant densely but after a few years where it looked really good, a great carpet of bindweed spread quickly through the thick mulch and totally ruined our work. We are now trying to work out how to get rid of it without killing everything else.

Urtica dioica (stinging nettle). This is a great wildlife plant and we have allowed large clumps to establish on the slopes for certain butterflies. But now it is also appearing in the flat areas of meadow, making it less attractive, more stingy for humans and potentially outcompeting the plants we have already described. Hopefully, it will be kept in check by the thick grass and many other plants competing for nutrients but it is hard to eradicate. 

Cirsium arvense (creeping thistle) Like stinging nettle, this spreads by a great network of roots and is very difficult to kill without herbicide. The roots run deep with this plant. It has formed large, tall clumps in various places along the various slopes and has appeared at the far end of the meadow. It has also established in great clumps in places on the new, low nutrient meadow, due to the roots running deeper than the soil replaced. Again it is used by our wildlife including butterflies, but it’s not very pleasant to try and walk through a great clump of it or to have whole meadows turn to thickets of thistles. 

Arctium lappa (greater burdock) Another wonderful wild plant for wildlife and medicinally for us, with an impressive structure, pretty little thistle like flowers and giant leaves with great potential to use as a mulch. But it has the most irritatingly spiky and clingy seed which it produces in massive quantities, a massive root system that is impossible to remove, and can grow two metres high. It emerged in a few places on the second north bank, and quickly became a 50m2 thicket, shading out all the plants below. All we can really do without chemicals is cut it down once it is seeding and remove all the seed and cuttings, ideally using the cuttings as a mulching material elsewhere. 

Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort), similar to burdock, another useful medicinal plant with an impressive structure, but also very tall and very quickly spreading into huge clumps. 

Rumex obtusifolius (broad leaved dock). Another wonderful plant for wildlife but again, grows very tall and can produce 7,000 seeds on one plant. I like the rusty-coloured stems in autumn, but it is another plant that can grow to head height and quickly outcompete other plants. Again, I think the only solution is to remove enough of the stems before all the seed drops each year. 

Conium maculatum (hemlock). Another giant, again useful for pollinators with its copious and attractive white umbel flowers, But a very poisonous plant to us, that will grow into huge tall thickets if not kept in check. Again, all we can do is cut down all the seed laden stems before the seed drops so it doesn’t spread across our new meadow. 

Rubus plicatus (wild blackberry / bramble). Bramble is the most difficult plant to deal with in the park though, of course, provides copious fruit for us and wildlife as well as habitat. But one plant can send out multiple giant stems that can each grow several metres in a season. The stem quickly loops back down to the soil. It then scrambles along, often hidden under the herbaceous layer. 

Adventitious roots quickly appear where the nodes on the endless stems are touching the ground. So one plant can easily become 50 plants in a year. The roots themselves also quickly become huge, deep and difficult to remove and also quickly spread through the soil. We are battling to control this plant in all of our meadows and wild areas in the park. 

Bramble is appearing all over the various slopes next to our new meadow. We hack out the roots and remove all the stems as best we can, but longer term, some careful spot spraying may be needed to control it sufficiently if we don’t want the whole park to become a giant thicket of thorns!

Current Level 3 Apprentice Kiran working hard to control great thickets of emerging bramble on the third north bank. This bank was so overgrown with vigorous wild plants, with such poor soil and the Hitchmough plants mostly gone, that we didn’t bother trying to re-sow it. We did, however, add a widely-spaced planting of hawthorn, wayfaring trees, wild roses and butterfly bushes to create more habitat and another layer of canopy on all three north banks. These are sporadically establishing though have failed in places due to summer drought and increasingly poor soil. Below, staff removing dock, burdock and hemlock stems.
A wild, habitat-rich, consistent space that was formally a ‘failed’ bank and dull lawn. You can see a clump of white flowered hemlock on either side of the path. These need cutting down before the seed spreads further once the plant has finished flowering but it is a more natural space than before. On the left, a wide range of grasses, nettles on both sides for butterflies, and on the right a slope covered in Gallium album (hedge bedstraw) provide excellent ground cover and flowers later but also lesser amounts of the undesirable cleavers (Gallium aparine). 

Conclusions made 

So was all this worth it? Roughly £1500 spent on a copious amount of seed and a lot of hard work. 

We now have a diverse, constantly evolving meadow with a broad range of species, both introduced and already present. If it eventually does become too vigorous and overgrown for our recreational space it can always be cut back for a while, but hopefully this won’t be necessary. 

Before, a vast amount of time was pointlessly spent each week with most of the park staff trying to hand weed these giant banks like huge flowerbeds. With so much else to do in the park this simply wasn’t sustainable or realistic, and the banks were quickly returning to wildness however hard we worked. All we were doing by intensively cultivating these banks was preventing them from becoming useful habitats for wildlife. 

For several years we had a wonderful if rather artificially dense display of flowers that evolved over time. 

The formerly large area of short grass would have taken a ride-on mower a whole morning every 3 or 4 weeks to cut. Now it takes me an hour to whizz along the remaining paths once a month. I’ve actually made the paths a certain width, so people walking along them keep them pretty short without any cutting at all. 

But we have a few days of hard work each year cutting and raking the hay to try to remove enough hay and the build up of nutrients, to keep the grass thin enough for plenty of flowers. Increasingly over time, we will also need more time to control by cutting down and removing the seed of the more vigorous, invasive plants. 

Ideally we would cut it twice a year, not just in spring but also late autumn, but this is very difficult with so much other work such as cutting all the other meadows and picking up a vast amount of leaves each year.

Ideally we would have much better machinery than our knackered handful of strimmers and one mower to cut and collect the hay more efficiently and sensitively, but I will talk about this in later blogs. 

I think the experiment also shows that we have the soil we have, the pre-existing seed bank we have and the range of wild plants we have, suitable to local conditions. We can introduce a wider range of wild native plants by sowing seed, but often nature knows best and will try to find its own natural balance of plants over time … So then our job is to gently adjust this balance so it remains suitable for a busy park. 

And the most important thing about this project is wildlife, so has this new meadow been successful at creating more habitat and is more wildlife present? 

I often don’t have enough time to observe, so this is the job of the Southwark biodiversity team, and local ecologists and wildlife experts and enthusiasts to judge. But despite my lack of ecological expertise I can confirm that there is much more wildlife in this space. 

Bees and grasshoppers and many other insects are present in the longer grass, and the now, not constantly disturbed, north banks, are buzzing with life when I walk across them apart from in very hot periods where the plants shrivel and the insect life quickly dwindles. 

I see more butterflies and smaller moths fluttering around this space than before. Hopefully these numbers will increase over time as the range of plants most useful to them increases such as nettles and garlic mustard. 

There are multiple wrens now nesting in the shrubs or in thick patches of tall grass along the slopes. There are groups of sparrows and other small birds foraging for insects and seeds. 

A few weeks ago I saw a jay flying between the trees perhaps thinking about extending its territory. Several times I’ve seen kestrels hovering above the meadow and the slopes of the mounds. I see people foraging for food such as dandelion leaves and roots and mallow leaves or medicinal plants such as mugwort. More people walk though the space. More people sit and relax in the space now it is wilder, with more shelter from the noisy traffic of the nearby road. It would be nice to put some more large logs in this area for seating as the original ones have perished / been eaten by lesser stag beetles. In the next blog I hope to discuss all the other grass cutting experiments we have done more recently and discuss best practices and machinery for maintenance. I will also do a list of the majority of the wildflowers I have found growing in the park.

Many thanks for reading.

Gregory Smith, Head Gardener.

Making meadows

A wildlife-friendly approach to Burgess Park maintenance

Photo of flowers.
The wonderful new westside meadow built by Groundworks in the delayed last part of the park redesign

Burgess Park is a large, 24-hour, much frequented green space built in stages over what was previously dense housing and industrial land to eventually become the park we know today. As a result, the soil is difficult to cultivate, with, in many places, the history of the past thinly concealed beneath a layer of compacted topsoil. At around the turn of this century, the space was redesigned and the new park grown on top, but with much of the same soil below.

Wild banks with a mix of wild and introduced plants with more wildflower experiments beyond 

The redesigned park1 has become a functioning tapestry of recreational space and wilder areas, short and long grass, redefined or new woodlands and lots of other new planting. This includes the famous James Hitchmough2 being tasked with designing large non-native prairies to interlink with the improved meadows and wilder areas. He worked with the park gardeners to create the beautiful St George’s prairie, and experimented with non-native mass plantings in various other areas with the LDA contractors. The redesign was very wildlife-aware, and had a looser, more modern approach compared to the typical short grass, flowerbeds and trees combination of many urban green spaces, though we have these things too. There was a mixture of native and many new interesting plants in meadows, and on many new mounds and slopes and dips across the park.

The LDA designed new park — tapestry of recreational and wilder areas 

Over the last two and a bit decades the park has aged, and this ambitious planting has matured and either sustained itself or faded, with nature often having a greater say on the appropriate balance of wildness or cultivation than the gardeners. St George’s has established well, though it is a little tatty these days, with native grasses joining the party and plenty of brambles and tree suckers to remove, invasive native plants taking over in places and gaps appearing in the planting under all the large trees. But a beautiful and clever prairie planting of mainly American perennials that flower in a succession from spring until frost has sustained itself over time. Other Hitchmough areas have persisted well, semi-lasted or faded into wildness, with the wildlife benefiting from our aesthetic loss. We have continued to maintain these areas in some way too, or redefine them in some way as habitat. 

Hitchmough’s St. George’s prairie — Lady’s bedstraw and Coneflowers
A great wall of Goldenrod later in summer at St George’s prairie

It is interesting to observe the relationship between plants that grow naturally and what is planted by humans: how this influences the ecology of the space (how much wildlife is present), and how this will change with the weather over time. Burgess is a great place to do this, with the multitude of different meadows, slopes, dips and flowerbeds all with their own balance of wildness to cultivation. Some of these areas we maintain intensively and others have been left to grow as wild as possible, and most areas are somewhere in between, with a mixture of introduced plants growing happily alongside those appearing naturally.  And beyond this intended planting or sowing there is also the turf itself, which is not just grass but potentially a whole range of other wild plants, either growing away happily in the lawn, or in seeds waiting to germinate. 

Various meadows on slopes and new wildflower seeding experiments beyond

So as the gardeners we maintain these mixed plant populations and try to make them attractive to humans as well as useful for wildlife. There are many questions we can ask to try and do this. These could include:

  • What is the best balance of native and cultivated plants?
  • What should we weed out or keep?
  • Which flowers are useful to pollinating insects? 
  • Can non-native plants significantly lengthen the flowering season? 
  • How can we best maintain the meadows, to maximise flowering and wildlife potential?
  • How can we best cut the short grass to provide more wildflowers?
  • How can we best manage the woodlands and wetlands for more habitat?
  • How sustainable is the park as a habitat and food source for wildlife, and for us? 
  • How will the planting at Burgess evolve over time with people pressure and climate change? 
Sown cornfield annuals and False chamomile, between the westside mounds and Albany Road five years ago

Burgess Park’s wildlife potential is limited by its location in the centre of a city, surrounded by tall buildings and busy roads. Increasingly tall buildings around the park will also increasingly block off wildlife from making it here. The park is also potentially full of people on a sunny day, and can be very busy and noisy. The soil is compacted and full of rubble and potentially toxic chemicals. We are in the centre of London, where it is hot and dry, with not enough rain. So there are many factors that limit the amount of wildlife visiting or living at the park.

But despite the location and other limiting factors, we are doing pretty well in comparison to many green spaces … with the butterfly / bird and bug experts reporting back positively on their findings here. (If you are interested in surveying this wildlife, join one of the Butterfly Conservation transect walks, or connect with local bird spotting and other wildlife experts online). It is fantastic to hear that we have any wildlife at all on our slice of urban land far from the country.

A Holly Blue butterfly — one of the many species of butterfly we see at the park laying eggs on Lucerne (Alfafa), photo courtesy of Simon Saville, Butterfly Conservation

But generally there is a noticeable and worrying decline in wildlife, with fewer insects, bees and birds apparent each year. There has been an obvious decline in insect life especially, which has a knock-on effect on the creatures that feed on them, such as birds. This has been especially apparent after the sequence of worryingly hot summers. Meadows and wild areas formerly buzzing with life now seem to have much lower populations of insects.

So it’s really important that we do what we can to provide as much habitat for wild creatures to enable them to survive in our park and to try to sustain the tree of life that ultimately sustains us.

So what can we do as gardeners in the park to create a more diverse and wildlife friendly space?

Gardening is a strange pursuit. We generally dig up all the wildness and native plants, and replace them with neat and cultivated plants, often from elsewhere in the world. But local flora has evolved to sustain local fauna, and many animals depend on specific plants for survival. 

Essex Skipper butterfly and Crab spider on a thistle at Burgess Park, photo by Simon Saville

The longer I am a gardener and environmentalist, the more I’m interested in what grows naturally, as well as which human-planted or sown, native or non-native plants can be added in order to create more diversity, food sources and habitat for wildlife. Going back to James Hitchmough’s large scale non-native sowing and planting: what is perhaps most interesting is which of these plants will persist in our space over time, merging with our native plants and continuing to grow. Will they sustain themselves or even spread into the surrounding space? In a wildlife context, of course, we have to be careful not to introduce invasive species that will outgrow our local plants, but could we add some non-local native plants and non-natives to wilder areas, to supercharge nature by creating more habitat and food, especially as the climate changes and our range of balance of native plants adjusts anyway? Could we make our wildness more beautiful and diverse again instead of letting it fade? Where do the best plants to try to introduce come from, in terms of having similar soil and climate conditions? 

Painted Lady butterfly on a Verbena bonairiensis, or Argentinian vervain, photo by Simon Saville

We are trying to find a successful balance between cultivation and wildness that maximises the park’s ecological potential. If we do introduce non-native plants it’s important that they are good for wildlife too.

So what more can we do? We have meadows and prairies and woodlands, plenty of wild areas in the park. But there is one type of planting, and the biggest area of all, with the most potential to grow more wild plants: the short grass areas or lawns.

In amongst the grass species regularly cut to grow thick and low, to create a green (or often these days more parched and yellow) lawn, are a whole multitude of other wild plants growing away secretly amongst the grass. These ‘lawn weeds’ are smaller broad-leafed plants that can tolerate being mown regularly (in our park about once a month). And there is also seed waiting in the soil below the grass from times past, waiting for an opportunity to germinate. Some seed can remain dormant for great periods. So what viable ecological history and diversity is there still hidden under our lawns? If we let the grass grow longer than usual, some of these plants will say hello with their flowers. So hidden underneath this turf monoculture is all of nature’s remaining wildness and potential to sustain itself. 

It is very important that with the destruction of wildness and colony collapse of so many species we make use of this potential to sustain some more wildlife. 

Leaving lawns to grow long and provide habitat and flowers for wildlife is very topical, with so much concern about wildlife and habitat loss. On social media are endless images of impossibly beautiful meadows alongside neat cut lawns comparing the two, with uncut grass being good and lawns being bad. Anyone on a mower is basically the devil.

Burgess Park gardener on a ride on mower.
The devil on horseback

But rather than cutting being evil and not cutting being good, some kind of cutting has to happen. Nearly all green space is managed. A lawn if left uncut will become a meadow. Over time it will thicken up, and the range of species will change. Shrubs and trees will germinate and grow. Slowly the meadow will become a copse, and then a woodland, then eventually a thick forest. The grass needs to be cut to still be a meadow. The question is: when and how frequently, and with what equipment, to maximise its wildlife value? 

Close up of flowers
A small patch of uncut lawn in spring

So most meadows are actually extensively managed spaces with some kind of maintenance regime, or they wouldn’t be meadows for very long, and many wildflowers benefit from this cycle of cutting and ploughing. I wish we had things like ploughs at the park! Going back in time, the UK had a huge amount of these meadows, wheat and hay fields and foraging meadows, without the use of chemicals to control what grows. Most of these have now been replaced with modern agriculture, with mono-culture and chemical spraying, and most of the wildflowers have gone. 

With these traditional meadows gone, we rely on the remainder of our green space and wild places to sustain the diversity of the wildlife that used to live in the old meadows. And much of the recreational green space in the UK is unimaginatively cut short grass and little else. But there is so much wildlife potential hiding beneath these tidy English lawns. We just have to let some of them grow. 

Photo showing paths across the mounds
Grass at various heights to create a softer, wilder space with plenty of flowers on the westside mounds

There are hundreds of acres of such grass at Burgess, and we still have to cut a lot of it regularly enough to stay a lawn. Contractually we are obliged to do so at a certain frequency. The park is for people and recreation, not just wildlife. People want short grass to comfortably sit, picnic or sunbathe, exercise, play sports, walk pets. The short grass areas are also useful for larger events and festivals. The park also needs to be easily accessible, and it also needs to be open enough to be safe to walk through, especially considering that Burgess is a 24-hour space.

The great lawn on a busy summer’s day

We can have both recreational lawns and plentiful habitat for wildlife too, but we need to ask many questions about how we cut the grass. 

  • Beyond the more clearly defined meadow areas what else can we do to encourage more wildflowers and wildlife?
  • How much short grass does there need to be to keep people happy and the park safe?
  • Does every last blade of grass need cutting regularly or can a more loose and dynamic approach be taken?
  • How often does the grass need cutting to keep it under control?
  • How easy is it to cut the grass short again if we temporarily let it grow long?
  • Do cuttings need collecting and reusing somehow, or can they be left in situ; and how does this affect the soil and more plants growing?
  • How messy do different approaches look? Can we tolerate a bit of hay for the sake of wildlife?
  • Does leaving grass to grow long create other problems, with more litter, toileting and more anti-social behaviour?
  • Can the grass-cutting regime be changed but still be understandable and realistically achievable for the grass cutters?
  • Do we have the machinery that can cope with cutting and potentially clearing longer grass areas?
  • How are the plants that appear affected by location, the soil and environmental conditions?
  • Most importantly, once we cut the grass at lower frequencies, what different wild plants appear and what wildlife do they attract?
A mass of daises in an area left uncut in spring

So we have left many areas to experiment. This year we:

  • Continued to experiment with encouraging wildflowers along Albany Road in the west side of the park, after creating a large new meadow between the mounds and the road (there was previously just short grass). This has involved various re-seeding, and cutting and collecting at different times, with different amounts of hay-raking.
  • Continued to leave various other previous short areas of grass un-mown or mown at different frequencies to see what wildflowers appeared. These areas included:
  1. The grass all the way around the car park
  2. A large triangle of grass opposite St George’s church 
  3. The steep slopes next to the BMX track 
  4. Areas of previously cut grass around the tennis court cafe 
  5. The complete south-facing bank of the great lawn
  6. Much larger meadow patches at Rust Square 

We also:

  • Were slower to cut the grass in April/May — cutting as little as possible or leaving large areas uncut 
  • Cut around significant patches of wildflowers when we found them throughout the season
  • Experimented with hay: can it be turned into a rough ‘strulch’ for flowerbeds or used as a mulch around trees?
  • Observed the changing ratios of plants, native and non-native, in all of our more permanent longer grass, meadow areas, prairies, hollows and banks 

The basic conclusions made from of all this grass-cutting experimentation are interesting, and, I think, show that:

  • Experimenting with grass-cutting heights, frequencies and techniques with the typical range of equipment and staff available is perfectly achievable in most green spaces with a bit of thought and a more dynamic approach
  • There is a fear that if we don’t keep the grass cut short and regular everything will grow out of control; there will be chaos instead of order and then the world will likely end! This is far from true. Grass can easily be left to grow longer, so the wild plants can flower and seed, and then be cut short again when appropriate with suitably powerful mowers or other better suited equipment such as scythes and flails if available
Making a mess — Cutting longer grass shorter just creates a bit of hay, which looks a bit messy for a few weeks, then disappears. Alternatively, the cutting short could be done in a few stages so there is no hay, or the cuttings can be raked and collected. One thing our tidy minds should be able to tolerate is a bit of hay in the first place, if it means we can have many more meadows that we don’t have time to rake

Making our lawns more wildlife friendly is perfectly achievable with a bit of thought and a ripping up of old grounds-maintenance contracts that specify that all grass must be cut low. 

With a more multi-layered approach to grass cutting all kinds of wild plants can appear. The lawns can cease to be dead zones for nature and become useful habitats. These useful habitats will link all the intentional planting in the park to create a more complete ecology.

But in many places longer grass is inappropriate, or the resulting meadow not impressive-looking to us or floriferous for wildlife. Wildness can cause other problems with rubbish and questionable human behaviour! A lot depends on the site: how it is used by people, the presence of the right conditions for specific plants to grow, and whether those wild plants are still there in the first place, having been reduced to short lawns for so long.

In the next blog I’d like to discuss these meadow experiments in more detail and how successful they have been, as well as suggesting the best practice for cutting meadows and an updated approach for short-grass cutting that we have started using in small areas of the park already. 

Gregory Smith 
Head Gardener, Burgess Park

Chicory and Wild rocket on the west facing westside slopes

1 Landscape Institute case study, LDA Design Consulting LTD, Burgess Park Regeneration Project

2 The Landscape Institute, The Landscape Legacy of the Olympics, Part 7, The Olympic Planting Strategy, Olympic Park designers Professors Hitchmough and Dunnett interviewed 

REF 2014 impact case studies — The development of new, designed sustainable plant communities for use in urban greenspace

Celebration 26 March 2023 Passmore Edwards bicentenary

Old sepia image of the library and overwritten with event details
Join Friends of Burgess Park celebrations Sunday 23 March 2023

Celebrate the Grade II listed building and it’s benefactor Passmore Edwards.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Passmore Edwards’ birth on 24th March 1823, and Friends of Burgess Park is joining with others around the UK to celebrate the Passmore Edwards 200 Festival. We’ll be holding a programme of events based at the old library, baths and washhouse on Wells Way on Sunday 26th March. There’s an exhibition about the man and his legacy, children’s activities, a commemorative tree-planting, and a reading by local author Jacqueline Crooks from her new book, refreshments and more.

Bike Tour 2-4pm We’ve also organised a short Bike Tour around three of Passmore Edwards’ south London buildings, guided by a renowned local architect. You can book now for the bike tour 2pm to 4pm on Eventbrite – places are limited to 25, so book early!

Commemorative Tree Planting 4.00- 4.30pm- Across the country Rowan trees are being planted to celebrate the Passmore Edwards bicentenary, join us from 4pm for the tree planting and reading by local author Jacqueline Crooks from her new book Fire Rush, and refreshments.

Exhibition 1-5.30pm – Find out more about Passmore Edwards with an exhibition on loan from the Passmore Edwards legacy. Plus more about the old library bath and washhouse building its history and future role benefitting local people.

Read more about Passmore Edwards and the library.

Anti-littering graphic

Tackling litter

Michael Faraday primary school art work for anti-litter banners
Thank you Year 3 pupils (summer 2022) and for helping litterpic. See the banners in Albany Road near Giraffe House and Wells Way near the old library.

FOBP weekly litterpic Every Monday morning 8am to 9am

FOBP provide litterpics, gloves and bags.
Meet at Chumleigh Gardens – in the gardens behind the behind the cafe.