An Ecological Survey of Allerton Grange Fields was conducted on 15 June and 11 July 2013 with Steve Joul, Countryside Ranger at Leeds City Councils Parks & Countryside Service. Observations were made mainly of the flora and birdlife of the site as these were most apparent, but some insects were recorded too. The following provides an ecological overview of the flora and fauna at Allerton Grange Fields.
The majority of the site is composed of close-mown grass, much of which is sports pitches. Some trees, established and recently planted standards, are present and highlighted below. Few of the plants within the sward are permitted to flower due to the frequent mowing regime. Here, short-growing plants that do manage to flower include White Clover, Daisy, Creeping Buttercup, Lesser Trefoil, Common Mouse-ear and Ribwort Plantain.
In a few areas where mowing was not carried out for various operational reasons such as wet ground and difficult slopes etc. the sward was taller. Here, Broad-leaved Dock, Common Sorrel, Meadow Buttercup, Common Ragwort, Bush Vetch and Cleavers were the herbs most often seen flowering. These were accompanied by the grasses Meadow Foxtail, Cock’s-Foot and False Oat-grass.
More areas like these above would benefit the wildlife on the site.
Whilst the disturbance by mowing machines and their removal of the habitat structure, cover, flowers, foliage and seeds mean that short mown grass is unproductive for wildlife there were nevertheless Blackbirds, Thrushes, Starlings and Carrion Crow feeding there.
There are a number of trees on the site, chiefly around the boundaries where there is a good variety. Rowans and Cherry grow in the mown areas and to the rear of Bentcliffe Gardens there are Swedish Whitebeam, Norway Maple, Holly, Hawthorn, Cherry, an Osier thicket, two Lime, Lawson Cypress and a row of Hornbeam.
A fine mature pear tree was pointed out, growing through the security fence along Talbot Avenue. More orchard trees are being added in this area.
Along the footpath running at right angles to this street were some fine Silver Birch and Lawson Cypress trees but these may have been compromised by residents cutting them back.
Further along this footpath there is a line of recently planted standards growing in this order (as discovered while walking down the hill):
These trees require help to establish themselves by weeding and mulching.
Along the boundary between Allerton Grange Fields and Allerton Grange High School is a line of mature trees of larger species including Sycamore and Horse Chestnut. Finally, at the bottom of the mown area near to Lidgett Lane an Alder has been planted and though it has been broken off it can be expected to recover and grow if permitted.
Thicket to the rear of Bentcliffe Gardens
Probably the richest wildlife habitat on the site is that which has developed over many years behind the houses at Bentcliffe Gardens. Although inconsistent, at its best this habitat is composed of a thick boundary of tall herbs and shrubs with occasional trees. This thicket affords cover, breeding sites and feeding areas for wildlife.
Brambles provide opportunities for fruit picking to humans and wildlife.
Unfortunately, this habitat is thin or non-existent in places with mowing continuing up close to the rear boundaries of the houses.
Towards Talbot Avenue it comprises a line of trees including Hornbeam and Cherry where the tall herb and shrub cover is lacking.
Wildlife Area next to Service Road
A distinct part of the site, across the tarmac service road, is fenced off and accessible only through locked gates. Lack of mowing means it is effectively developing as a wildlife refuge and its development is enhanced by natural regeneration of shrubs and trees. The area includes some service-related equipment including a storm-water drainage tank.
An absence of mowing allows plants to grow to their full height, flower and set seed thereby providing more food for insects and birds. The taller vegetation also provides cover for insects, birds, small mammals, amphibians and other wildlife.
Without cutting and with the typically nutrient-rich Leeds soil to feed them the tallest plants are now able to grow up and dominate the smaller species by shading them.
Tall herbs present included Cow Parsley, Common Nettle, Broad-leaved and Curled Docks, Dandelion, Red Clover, Common Ragwort, Rosebay Willowherb, Great Willowherb, Bramble and Creeping Thistle. Grasses included Meadow Foxtail, Cock’s-Foot, Rough Meadow-grass and Yorkshire Fog. Hedge Bindweed and Ivy were also present, climbing up other plants for support.
A former footpath within this area has been colonised by Dock plants (locally named as "Dockweed Drift"), whose seedheads were very prominent. These are attractive to birds.
At the bottom of the site alongside Lidgett Lane, under trees, grow stands of Wood Avens and Hedge Woundwort. These are two plants more typical of shady areas such as hedgerows and woodland.
Neither the weather nor the time available was conducive to a study of animal life but Goldfinches were numerous in the trees, Speckled Wood butterflies were noted and we found a female Wolf Spider carrying her eggs. A Harlequin Ladybird, a recent coloniser from Asia, was present and Cuckoo-spit, the nymphs of Leaf Hoppers, were numerous.
Retention of some long grassland and preventing its transition to scrub and woodland is a desirable management aim and could be achieved by scything a designated area in late summer and removing the arisings to a composting area within the site.
Also, because the species present are largely those that have grown from short turf, the diversity of the meadow would benefit from adding further nectar-rich wildflowers such as Common Knapweed, Ox-eye Daisy, Field Scabious, Yarrow, Red Clover, Bird’s–foot-trefoil, Cat’s-ear and Meadow Cranesbill which are common plants found in suitable habitat within the locality. Potted plants should be purchased and planted carefully to increase the diversity of wildflowers.
A line of mature trees ( Sycamore and Horse Chestnut were noted) follows the rear boundary of the wildlife area and in places seedlings and even saplings have grown up (Ash and Oak were noted), suggesting recruitment of trees to the canopy will be adequate in future without much further planting being necessary. In fact, natural succession of the grassland to woodland is likely in the long term without intervention so some management is desirable. Perhaps no more than a couple of planted standard oaks would assist in the eventual replacement of the mature trees which are likely to age together.
A wild Elder shrub and a non-native Cotoneaster shrub, both presumably bird-sown, were located. Although escaped from gardens, Cotoneasters are now firmly established as part of the local wild flora. It is useful to have shrubs present as they add to the habitat structure and provide cover, nesting opportunities, flowers and fruits which are all valuable to wildlife.
A lack of undergrowth, providing cover and nesting opportunities, could be remedied by planting a Hawthorn hedge along the boundaries and sacrificing a corner of the grassland by planting a patch of Blackthorn scrub.