Beckenham Place Park is the largest green space in Lewisham and what an utter joy it was to spend time there. A public area since the 1920s, it now packs a whole range of wildlife habitats into its 240 acres including ancient woodland, meadows and riverside.
I entered the park from the most northerly corner and was immediately immersed in swathes of glorious wildflowers. Rolling mounds were covered with nodding Oxeye daisies, luminous buttercups and pops of magenta from Grass Vetchling. A Green-veined White bounced indecisively from flowerhead to flowerhead on Red Clover pom-poms and a Holly Blue balanced on the prickles of a nearby thistle.
Large clumps of ribwort plantain stood tall above the lower-growing plants, their halos of pale stamens quivering around microphone flower heads. I remember playing ‘soldiers’ with my dad on pit stops during summer walks; this involved taking it in turns to thwack each other’s plantain stem in an attempt to decapitate the flower head – I never won.
Darting over the mounds in a frantic fashion was one of my favourite butterflies, the Green Hairstreak. A few weeks ago, I had been afraid I might not see any these jewels as we’d had such dreadful weather in May, their usual flight period. But the warm, sunny days of early June gave them a boost and I was delighted to find more of them than I’d ever seen. The green of their wings ranges from a rich Kelly green through to a spearminty turquoise, depending on how the sun hits them.
Round the corner from the wildflower areas is the ‘Mounded garden’ which has the appearance of a Mayan temple. In fact, the mound was formed from spoils dug out to create the park’s very popular swimming lake and now its steep slopes are covered in meadow plants which support a whole host of insects. Trees encircle the mound and several Brimstones swayed between elderflower heads, heavy with frothy blooms. Star-like Wood avens were sprinkled liberally on the woodland fringes and trains rumbled past. I was drawn through the dense-canopy woodland alongside the tracks where Red Admirals confidently patrolled. The trees opened out on to vast grassland areas, largely left unmown but for wide borders and curving paths, and Common Blue butterflies were having a field day (pun intended!) on clusters of golden Bird’s-foot Trefoil.
The most popular areas of the site, the playground, café and swimming lake are thrumming with life but it’s not hard to find a quiet spot where you’ll only be ‘disturbed’ by wildlife. The most amazing thing to me about the park is that up until 2016, it was largely given over to a golf course but in just a short time it has been transformed into a space rich in wildlife and enjoyed by a much wider local audience. Lewisham Council met with great opposition when announcing the closure of the course following a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, but I for one am very grateful that they stood firm and can’t help but start to wonder how magical it would be if more golf course were repurposed in this way.