Dear Readers, since the lockdown Coldfall Wood and the playing fields next door have become the centre of outdoor activity for what feels like half of North London. Walkers, runners, picnickers, families with children, dog-walkers, berry-harvesters, casual drinkers, kite-fliers, cyclists, footballers, softball players, den-makers and skateboarders have all trooped through the woods. Some have observed social distancing, some have not. Some have left prodigious quantities of litter, other people have helped to clean it up. Some have moved slowly, noticing the clouds and the changes in the season, others have raced through, huffing and puffing, and some have done both at different times. Some have smiled shyly, some have bellowed into their phones. In short, all of human life has been observed during this past four months when I have walked here in the morning almost every day. Even on a busy morning you can find a quiet spot, such as this lane next to the allotments.
One of the smaller trees has been pulled down by the ivy, and it is becoming a limbo-dance to get under it.
You never know what you’ll hear from the allotments – sometimes there’s the distant sound of a cockerel crowing, but today there was the roar of power tools. It didn’t completely drown out the yaffle of a green woodpecker, though, and there was an ardent woodpigeon in the trees cooing to his loved one.
We walk out of the lane and head towards the playing fields. There is always the brightness ahead, the sudden sense of the world opening out.
The crows seem to be socially-distancing, but I imagine they are each patrolling their own small area looking for worms.
Elsewhere, autumn is well on the way.
There are a few common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) about on the yarrow, but their heyday is when the hogweed is out – you can sometimes see dozens on a single flower head, and indeed some wag has nicknamed them the ‘hogweed bonking beetle’. The adults eat aphids and the larvae eat slugs and snails, so this is definitely an insect that you want to encourage in your garden.
And while this big critter looks like a bee, it is in fact a bee-mimicking fly, possibly a drone fly.
A woodpigeon is making the most of the elderberries – these birds really do prefer wild food to anything humans can offer, as anyone who has seen them fighting over ivy berries will attest.
The Japanese knotweed is still doing extremely well I notice.
There is an unmistakable whiff of autumn in the air. Everything is in a hurry to spread its seeds before the nights draw in.
Am I the only one who loves the burdock? Actually no, the bees are quite keen as well….
Some things are still in flower, like the lady’s bedstraw.
And the spear thistle is still popular…
And then, as we reach the wood again, the coolness and the darkness are welcome.
When I listen to the sounds of people in the wood, I wonder if it has been so intensely used at any time in the last few hundred years. Once upon a time it was coppiced every year, with the hornbeams being cut right back and the wood taken by ordinary folk to make charcoal or as tinder. What a social event that must have been! Not to mention when hunting parties rode through, and what a bunch of hooligans I imagine they were. It gives me some comfort that the woods are resilient, and have known all kinds of usage in the years that they’ve been in existence. The woods are a nature reserve but they are also a vital public space, used by people with no gardens and no access to the outside. Getting the balance between welcoming people and protecting the vulnerable parts of the wood right will be essential, because, as I know from my time volunteering in other open spaces, people have to feel that the woods belong to them too for them to care about protecting them. Let’s hope that some of the people who have never ventured into Coldfall Wood until the lockdown will grow to love it as much as I do.