The most uninteresting looking expanses of amenity grass hide an incredible variety of plants, waiting for the rare opportunities to burst out with colour and texture.
Routinely mown to within an inch of its life by the LVRPA and Waltham Forest Council’s contractors, the occasional hiccup in mowing regime allows a glimpse of how things could be.
In summer 2011 a brief respite in mowing allowed an expanse of yarrow, mallow and wild barley to flourish in front of the Lee Valley Ice Centre to the delight of the insects. This was soon corrected and such a lapse has not been repeated.
Red-tailed bumblebee on ragwort. Like many of the most important plants for biodiversity, though common, its opportunity to flourish is very restricted due to its ‘weed’ status and vulnerabilty to mowing, strimming and other suppression measures – particularly as it is often found beside paths.
DEFRA’s information sheet on ragwort says:
It is the food of at least 77 species of insect herbivore: 27 species of moth, 22 species of thrip, 13 species of bug, nine species of flies and six species of beetle. The most famous is the cinnabar moth whose yellow and black banded larva can defoliate entire plants. The number of species feeding on ragwort nectar is not known but is several hundreds of species. (177 species of insects have actually been recorded using common ragwort as a source of nectar or pollen).
Pollen provided by common ragwort, in its season, aids the pollination of other plants, both wild and domestic, over a foraging range of at least a 1km radius by bumblebees Bombus spp., solitary bees Lasioglossum spp., drone-flies Eristalis tenax and the carrion flies. The use of common ragwort by carrion-associated species demonstrates the role in supporting the decomposition cycle in the local area.
The number of predators and parasites dependent on the invertebrate resource supported by common ragwort stands is incalculable.
The invertebrates referred to in above include five red data book and eight nationally scarce species. Common ragwort has been observed as host to the Common Broomrape and 14 species of fungi.