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Nature Heals ~
Colonised Bombsites in London

From p 96 . of WILD IN LONDON - A Shell Book, text ©DAVID GOODE, photographs - ©Chris Schwarz, first publ.1986

For many Londoners the sight of rosebay willowherb is a grim reminder of the wartime blitz, when it covered the bomb sites in a blaze of red. The colonisation of these bomb sites was mainly accomplished by a group of plants with windborne seeds, of which rosebay was perhaps the most spectacular. But Oxford ragwort and Canadian fleabane also covered vast tracts of central London, together with dandelion, spear thistle, gallant soldiers, two kinds of groundsel and coltsfoot. Four of these were introduced species which had not been particularly abundant previously and were suddenly able to spread into this newly created habitat. Oxford ragwort was one; it first became naturalised in Britain as an escape from cultivation at the Oxford Botanic Gardens in the late eighteenth century. In its native Sicily it grows on the soils derived from volcanic ash on Mount Etna and is obviously well designed to cope with rapid colonisation of new areas. These original colonisers were gradually replaced by open grassland and tall herbs, as has happened at the Green Giant site. Many other sites were rapidly colonised by buddleia - for example, a small patch of land among buildings near Borough Market in Bermondsey is almost entirely covered in buddleia. Other bomb sites have gradually been colonised by sycamore, and even ash, where a seed source has been available.

Just off Ludgate Hill is small bomb site now used as a carpark, where yellow stonecrop grows on the concrete of an old chimney breast and fronds of bracken sprout from the grate. Evening primrose flowers on top of the brickwork and blackbirds nest in beautifully tiled alcoves in the walls. Bluetits nest in the remains of a drainpipe and in recent years dunnocks have bred amid the tangle of climbing knotweed.

Even quite small bomb sites can hold surprises. One of the oddest I have come across is a small patch of land surrounded by corrugated iron and advertisement hoardings by a busy road in the middle of Bermondsey. Here bogbean grows in the flooded basement of a bombed-out building. When I was last there, a pair of grey wagtails was nesting and red darter dragonflies were laying eggs in the small pond.

See photograph (from p 97)

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