Soil surveys to inform Royal Parks' ongoing land management reveal unexpected insights

Research by soil and landscape consultancy Tim O'Hare Associates has provided unexpected insights into the use of the land.

Greenwich Park. Image: Tim O'Hare Associates
Greenwich Park. Image: Tim O'Hare Associates

Since 2009 the company has carried out whole-site surveys at Richmond Park, Bushy Park and Greenwich Park to determine characteristics such as soil type, texture, pH and nutrient status.

The prime objective of each survey was to support tree planting and inform the management of grassland and woodland areas for wildlife conservation. But a surprise bonus has been the light shed on London's past, as far back as the 14th century.

Using findings about the soil, The Royal Parks can now decide which areas suit a particular land management approach to encourage grassland plant diversity.

This could include introducing grazing, or changing the normal cutting regime to fewer cuts, allowing
grass to grow longer through the year and encouraging the development of meadowland.

However Tim O'Hare senior associate Tim White, who was in charge of the surveys, said they also turned up surprises relating to the past uses of the sites.

"The natural soils for these locations have quite low fertility but the analysis showed variable levels of soil nutrients relating to historic land management. This included the application of sewage sludge to
parts of Richmond Park.

"Bushy Park, for example, was quite clearly used in the 14th and 15th centuries for what, at the time, was relatively intensive agriculture. In the north east of the park – near the USAAF and Eisenhower Memorials – whole bricks and debris, the remnants of demolished barracks and other military buildings from World War II, were found close to the surface.

"This year's survey of Greenwich Park showed that, until quite recently, land management had
included applications of fertiliser to optimise grass growth. Whilst this enhanced fertility is good for
trees, shrubs and amenity lawns, it is detrimental to the establishment of wildflower grasslands as it
tends to encourage the growth of grasses and aggressive species such as docks and nettles.

"It is this level of information about the underlying soils provided by the surveys that will enable The Royal Parks to determine their land management strategies into the future."

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