The Green, Green Acid Grass…

I’m a bit disturbed by a little piece in Private Eye this week.

It basically claims that the Sports Turf Research Institute (sounds grand enough, doesn’t it…) who was put in charge of reinstating the grass in Greenwich Park after the Olympic Equestrian events did sow a special mix of seed suitable for acid soil over in the west of the park, but despite being told by Natural England not to water the soil with alkaline mains water (anyone who’s got a kettle round here will know just how alkaline that is…) they proceeded to do so for weeks on end and consequently nothing at all grows there.

The watering was, apparently, approved by Jeremy Hunt who was culture secretary at the time.

PI also claims a ‘surfactant’ (whatever that is) that contains chemicals that killed every living thing to a depth of a metre was also applied. I can’t imagine why they’d do that, but hey, that’s what it says. Traces will apparently hang around for 50 years.

Now, generally, I think that the Park’s come back together pretty nicely – it’s looking utterly gorgeous at the moment.  But Private Eye reckons ‘a lot of turf still needs to be reinstated at the foot of the park‘ – I haven’t actually noticed that; I thought it was all done and dusted down the bottom.

But this is about the acid grassland. PI says that ‘campaigner Rachael Mawhood (from NOGOE – TGP) has sent Natural England photos she took last month of the track on which nothing now grows.’

I was shaken by this so, for once – and I’m not known for verifying my facts before I write about things – I decided to take a peek myself.

TBH I couldn’t find anything much wrong at all. The acid grassland looks gloriously golden and Autumnal, speckled with hawthorn and rowans laden with berries, chestnuts laden with – well, chestnuts and a whole bunch of parakeets waiting to pounce on all of them before the humans get there.

I didn’t really see much bare soil at all – though of course I could have missed that particular bit – I’d be keen to see photographic evidence of bare soil. Some of it was a bit scrubby:

What I did see, though, was this:

Trouble is, I can’t remember the exact route the course took. If it was up here, past Knife Edge (which is also looking good just now) then there is an area in amongst the acid grassland that is just bog-standard turf – which would indicate that if it has been watered with ordinary water, the acid-loving plants have died, leaving just ordinary grass.

Can anyone remember if the course actually covered this area, or if the boring grass has just encroached over the years?

If it is a recent thing I guess  it might be worth scrubbing it up again, re-sowing with acid-loving plant seed and hoping the rains come before it all gets too far gone but I get the feeling this is quite old.

There’s still a fair amount of acid-grassland  and it does look wonderful just now. Shame those poor old Anglo Saxon tumuli get flatter every year…


the attachments to this post:

flat tumuli
flat tumuli

a bit scrubby
a bit scrubby

Non Acid Grassland low
Non Acid Grassland low

Acid Grassland 2 jpg
Acid Grassland 2 jpg

Acid Grassland
Acid Grassland


21 Comments to “The Green, Green Acid Grass…”

  1. Steve says:

    If you think that’s bad you should have another look at Woolwich Common where (despite what was said), no grass was planted whatsoever in the areas where teh buildings and car park were. It’s just weeds. Still, it’s only Woolwich Common; who cares?

  2. alphonso says:

    I think it should be “surfactant”. That would diminish the surface tension of the water, making it penetrate the soil more deeply.

  3. Capabiity Bowes says:

    A surfactant is a compound that lowers the surface tension between two liquids, allowing them to mix. Washing up liquid contains surfactacts so that the detergent and the water in your sink will mix properly. They are also used to help a liquid soak into a solid.

    I guess your knees are better then.

  4. Boogie Bear says:

    I would be interested in the evidence those alleging the watering activity taking place – I live on that side of the park and spend a lot of time walking my dog – in particular the area this article refers to.

    I have never seen any watering activity taking place here, but I have seen watering activity taking place in many other areas of the park. With it being such as huge expanse any watering would have to take place on an industrial scale and be very hard to miss.

    I do not doubt your post GP, but I have some doubts as to the original assertions made in PI.

  5. Paul T says:

    I had a good look a couple of weeks ago and it looked in good shape to me.

    The fact the informant claims the surfactants kills everything to a depth of 1m makes me think the whole claim is bogus. All the surfactant does is help moisture penetrate the soil.

    Comment edited by moderator

  6. Franklin says:

    Rachel is/was Indigo. It’s a shame that the Phant has done her research – unlike Private Eye in this case – not found any evidence, and still chosen to give her the oxygen of publicity that she so clearly seeks.

  7. No – I haven’t found anything – but it was in Private Eye and I thought I’d write about it before someone wrote to me!

    Sadly the knees still as horrid as ever. I’m known as the limping Phantom of Olde Greenwich Towne…

  8. bats says:

    Do ghosts have knees? …just a thought.

  9. Stephen says:

    There is a photo here of the course passing the knife. Scroll about half way to see it.

    http://www.greenwich.co.uk/tag/greenwich-park/

  10. Capabiity Bowes says:

    Comment removed by moderator

  11. joe says:

    Well for what it’s worth the acid grassland up by the tumuli certainly does look very nice at the moment, as the Phantom says. I’ve seen Small Copper butterflies and Meadow Browns in the last few days, as well as various moths, and the colours and textures of the grasses are beautiful.

    But it’s all very well the likes of us judging whether or not it’s all fine as we stroll causally by, but what is really needed (and must surely have been done?) is an ecologist’s full, professional assessment comparing the health/biodiversity of the grassland before and after, and whether or not it’s all heading towards recovery (and, hopefully, enhancement). Let’s take a proper look at that and then form our conclusions based on evidence!

  12. joe says:

    Just to add, I think the bare soil may be the bit by the unofficial path (formed by walkers) leading south to north that goes over the mounds then between the fir tree and the berry-laden Rowan tree, east of Knife Edge- if you can understand my directions… but this has been bare for a very long time if I recall correctly??

    Also, as the first commenter says, it’d be good to find out how Woolwich Common is faring, it seems we know even less about the situation there.

  13. RogerW says:

    Hmmm. Could it be possible that this ‘Agent Indigo’ is somehow related to ‘Agent Orange’? I think we should be told.
    I can’t really comment about Greenwich Park, but I, too, was going to mention about Woolwich Common (and I’m relieved to see I’m not the only one to do so.)
    Sadly, the quality of the soil that was put down to re-level the common after the removal of the Olympic site was no better than builder’s rubble: you could actually see chunks of bricks laying around on the surface :(
    There is still very little grass or plantlife regrowth there.
    I did actually pass along there, yesterday, and did see a pair of workmen picking up ‘samples’ and putting them on to the back of a Transit van. Although I was some distance away, I’m just sure that the expression on their faces was one of “Sheesh… how the bloody hell did this ever get signed off as ‘OK’!?”

  14. Richard says:

    I think I used to consume acid grass in the 90s.

  15. Franklin says:

    Comment removed by moderator

  16. joe says:

    The “Indigo” controversy is a bit of a distraction in my humble view…
    It would be really helpful to read some kind of professional survey or proper independent assessment on the state of the Park’s acid grassland, even if only to reassure us that it not only looks good at a cursory glance but really is in a healthy state (Same goes for Woolwich Common, although by the above accounts it seems that site hasn’t fared so well..).

  17. Suzanne says:

    The London Biodiversity Partnership’s nice little pamphlet explains enough about acid grasslands to suggest that (1)the terrain where they arise is such that any alkalinity will leach out of the soil naturally in due course (p1 of their pamphlet); (2)that bare patches can be beneficial (p5); and (3) that the grasses can naturally recolonize after damage (box, p7. So we need to be patient rather than hysterical. Maybe the Friends of Greenwich Park could ask the park’s manager, Graham Dear, to arrange a nature walk, to soothe frazzled spirits. We visited the wonderful, newly opened Queen’s Orchard the other day, and clearly the gardening team know their (ecological) onions, and then some.

  18. Thank you Suzanne. Reassuring thoughts indeed.

  19. joe says:

    Thanks for that Suzanne, those were my thoughts but it’s always nice to be reassured by those who really know about these things.
    Overall the Park does seem to be heading in a positive direction regarding biodiversity and the staff there do seem very much aware of ecological issues. Perhaps it’s just an issue of communicating this to the wider public?

  20. Suzanne says:

    Joe and Phantom: Glad to “help”, but I don’t have any special knowledge, and I’m sure there is more to be known on the subject (one reason for wishing for an expert-led nature walk through the much-discussed grasslands). I found the LBP’s pamphlet by googling. I worry that some of the loudest objectors haven’t bothered to seek more information but are amplifying and distorting snippets. Could be they mistrust various powerful elites.

  21. Folks – I really, really don’t like to moderate comments, but I can’t allow ad-hominem attacks. Please keep your comments general, rather than personal, however strong your opinions.