Epping Forest Yellow rattle steals nutrients from grasses, releasing butterfly-friendly plants from the oppression of shade

The poet John Clare crossed here 180 years ago seeking the “furze and clouds” of Buckhurst Hill, but I’m happy to linger on Whitehall Plain amid its dazzling drifts of buttercups. Natural grasslands are now rare in southern England – 98% of them were destroyed in the 50 years after 1945 – and too often seen as easily replicated green space. Not here in Epping Forest, though. Beneath its surface gloss of buttercups, this old pasture, which straddles London’s boundary with Essex, is complex and dynamic.

Related: Yellow rattle: the meadow-maker’s helper

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