Wildflower meadow blossoms at Wanstead Flats one year on from Covid-19 mortuary site


A beautiful meadow of wildflowers has blossomed at the site of a former temporary Covid 19 mortuary facility – which was removed one year ago. 

A temporary mortuary erected on the southern tip of Epping Forest at the height of the coronavirus pandemic was removed last year to give way to a new wildflower habitat, now in full bloom. 

The fence, erected to allow the flowers to establish over the last year, has now been removed and this area of Forest will be open again for visitors to enjoy. 

A wildflower meadow was sown on the site late last summer. This has helped the recovery of this Forest grassland to its natural state while also allowing the grassland to be further enhanced with extra wildflowers for pollinators. The grass will be cut for hay in late summer and, in future years, hay-cuts will help to maintain the variety of species. 

Flowers flourishing in the striking meadow include cornflowers, yellow goat’s beard, German chamomile, cow vetch, meadow pea, corn marigold, common selfheal and oxeye daisies. More will follow in future years as the longer-lived species establish themselves. 

The facility opened last April, at Wanstead Flats, and was one of six temporary mortuaries set up across London. It accommodated the bodies of people who died from the virus before their commemoration and burial. 

The temporary mortuary facility was put in place opposite the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium on Epping Forest land at Wanstead Flats and was removed, as the UK moved out of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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It was dismantled late last summer and the City of London Corporation, which owns the land, began the process of returning it to nature. 

The four-acre site, forming the southernmost boundary of Epping Forest, was reseeded with native species, was temporarily fenced off to protect the young plants. The fence has just been removed and this site will be open again to the public. 

Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Epping Forest & Commons Committee, Graeme Doshi-Smith, said: “It’s beautiful and moving to see what has blossomed in this space one year on. It has been transformed from a mortuary and returned to the Forest as a grassland in even better condition, with more wildflowers than before. 

“The grassland is a rich habitat for visitors and wildlife to enjoy”. 

Wanstead Flats is recognised as one of London’s most important dry grasslands on gravel soils, a rare wildlife habitat supporting special flowers, butterflies, moths and bees. 

Restoration works started in the summer, and after being prepared for seeding, the earth was sown in the autumn and then again in spring. The site has remained fenced until summer 2021 to allow the wildflowers and grasses to grow but now the fence is set to be removed. 

The City Corporation protects 11,000 acres of green space in the capital, including Hampstead Heath, West Ham Park and Burnham Beeches, and over 200 smaller sites in the Square Mile. 

The City Corporation funds its open spaces with over £29 million a year. These sites, most of which are charitable trusts, are run at little or no cost to the communities that they serve. 

They include important wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and National Nature Reserves. They are protected from being built on by special legislation.

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Lead image by City of London Corporation and Yvette Woodhouse