The area of Flood meadows is the waterside pasture land and watercress beds of the former Amery Farm. The farmhouse still exists behind the flint wall at the top north-east corner of the site. It is on a bedrock of grey chalk with some overlying gravel. Spring Meadow of Will Hall Farm and the source of the River Wey has recently been added to Town Council land. As the bedrock is poorly drained that water table is not far below the surface, hence springs emerging from the ground below the bank at the back of the cress beds, under the lime tree by the bend in the river and in Spring Meadow. The river is a winterbourne and naturally dries up for a few months in summer. The water is alkaline providing calcium for shells of water snails found in the cress beds.
The richest wildlife is along the river and cress beds with aquatic habitats and marshland banks. A special Stream Watercrowfoot of chalk streams has its fine filamentous green leaves in the spring-fed waters of the cress beds and in May and June the white buttercup-like flowers protrude above the water surface for pollination. Here also are white four-petalled flowers of Watercress (Cabbage family) in early summer and later the umbrella-like green flowering heads of Fool’s Watercress (Carrot family) that is distinguished by the crushed leaves smelling of parsnips. Metallic blue-green mint beetles feed on the leaves of Watercress while other insects take nectar from the mauve flowers of Water Mint in late summer.
A number of land snails live along the edges of the cress beds and the broken shells of yellow or pink White-lipped Snails may be found on the path, the story of a blackbird or thrush’s breakfast. The small white Ashford’s Hairy Snail with hairs on the shell is a wetland species with the core of its world distribution in Britain. A similarly small Girdled Snail with a sharp keel to the shell marked with a white line was first found in Alton in 2008 and is found around Flood Meadow. Early in the year frogs come to the cress beds to lay their jelly-like eggs and later newts lay eggs individually on water weeds. The juvenile stages of frogs and newts live in water. Birds associated with the water include Mallard ducks, Moorhen, Grey Heron, Little Egret (a small white heron), Grey Wagtail and occasionally Kingfisher. In winter bird visitors may include Snipe and Water Rail. Along the path leading from the river to the wooden bridge are various willows including Osier with narrow leaves, pale below, that was cut for basketwork probably in association with the watercress industry that finished in the 1950s.
Grassland is divided between areas of short mown grass for recreation and areas of tall meadow grass with a range of grass species and wild flowers that provides home to many different species of insects, including butterflies with some species using the grass for egg laying and as food for its caterpillars.
There are four species of buttercups in the meadow, Bulbous Buttercups with sepals hanging down are the first to flower, followed by Creeping Buttercup along the riverside paths, the woodland buttercup Goldilocks in a copse of trees at the top of the diagonal path and cherry walk and finally the taller Meadow Buttercup in the long grass.
There are two “Trees for Life” plots memorial plantings of native species instigated by the Alton Society (see their website for the book of dedication). The trees, planted in the mid-1990s are now maturing and the scheme is closed to new additions. Here look for Beech, English Oak, Ash, Lime, Field Maple and Silver Birch. Some of the trees, especially oaks, are host to plant galls such as spangle galls on undersides of leaves, marble galls and knopper galls on the developing acorns. Insects like shieldbugs and ladybirds can be found in the foliage.
Content written by Dr June Chatfield OBE