‘Green shoots’ as COVID-19 mortuary site returns to nature

A temporary mortuary erected at an east London beauty spot at the height of the coronavirus pandemic has been removed and will give way to a new wildflower habitat.

Since being opened in April, the facility at Wanstead Flats, one of six temporary mortuaries set up across London, has accommodated the bodies of people who died from the virus.

As the COVID-19 death rate has fallen and stabilised, it has now been dismantled and the City of London Corporation, which owns the land, has begun the process of returning it to nature.

The four-acre site, forming the southernmost boundary of Epping Forest, will be reseeded with native species, temporarily fenced off to protect the young plants and is expected to reopen to the public next summer.

The City Corporation protects and conserves 11,000 acres of green space in London and south east England – including Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath - and over 200 smaller sites in the Square Mile.

Graeme Doshi-Smith, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Epping Forest & Commons Committee, said:

“While coronavirus is likely to still be with us for a long time and we mustn’t be complacent, the removal of the mortuary is a welcome sign of the green shoots of normal life beginning to return to our open spaces.

“In the weeks to come, our teams will be preparing the soil before sowing the land with a wildflower seed mix, including seeds collected from nearby areas of the forest.

“When it has grown, the grassland will provide a rich habitat for visitors and wildlife to enjoy, and will mark out a lasting, natural reminder of those who lost their lives to coronavirus.”

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

After being prepared for seeding, the earth will be sown in the autumn and again in spring next year. The site will remain fenced until summer 2021 to allow the wildflowers and grasses to grow.

The site will be seeded with wild flowers including Sheep’s sorrel, Ox-eye daisy, Common Knapweed and Heather, as well as grasses including fescues, bents and rare Heath Grass and Mat-grass.

The City Corporation funds its green spaces with over £29 million a year. They include important wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserves and are protected from being built on by special legislation.

These sites, most of which are charitable trusts, are run at little or no cost to the communities that they serve.

Picture captions

- The site has been cleared and soil is being prepared for sowing (credit – City of London Corporation)

- The land will be home to a mix of native wildflowers and grasses (credit – City of London Corporation / Dr Jeremy Dagley)

- Graeme Doshi-Smith, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Epping Forest & Commons Committee

Notes to editors

The City of London Corporation is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK – www.cityoflondon.gov.uk