Coldfall Wood Under Siege

Dear Readers, Coldfall Wood in North London has been a source of such solace during the lockdown. I walk there early in the morning nearly every day, and even at that hour there are people going for a stroll, getting in their early morning exercise or walking their dogs. I would estimate that there are at least three times as many people using the wood as in a normal year and this has had consequences, both good and bad. The good part is that many folk who have never been in the wood before have grown to love it, and it’s only when people care about a place that it’s possible to protect it.

The down side is that, almost inevitably, parts of the wood have received so much footfall that vegetation has not been able to regenerate. Picnics have resulted in enormous quantities of litter and, when the bins could hold no more, people have dumped their rubbish rather than take it home. In the middle of a drought fires have been lit, and some were still smouldering the following day. Dens have been built out of fallen branches but sometimes live branches have been torn from trees to make a roof.

And on Sunday, I heard the sound of digging, and spoke to  a group of grown men who said they were making a bike track for their children. I explained that Coldfall was a nature reserve. I told them that this was an ancient wood. In an attempt to appeal to their sense of self-preservation, I also told them that they were digging perilously close to a gas main. I might as well have been speaking Greek.

I have seldom felt more furious, or more impotent.

When a friend went back to take photos the following afternoon, she found this:

The roots of trees have been exposed, the forest floor has been disrupted, and that’s without the subsequent damage caused by bikes hurtling through the undergrowth. The incident has been reported to the police, but with so much else going on I will be interested to see if they actually have the time to do anything about it. Fortunately the excellent Parks Team at the council are already on the case, and we are hoping that the damage can be ameliorated and prevented from happening again, but even so this is immensely destructive. The hornbeams and oaks are already under pressure from a long period of hot dry weather, followed by torrential rain, followed by high winds. In a time of climate change we need all the trees we can get. Plus, the wood is species-rich; we have a nationally rare beetle, all three species of British woodpecker have been recorded, and the canopy in summer is full of feeding bats. All of them depend on the integrity of the wood and the health of the trees.

Here are just some of the birds that I’ve photographed over the past few years.

Two nuthatches!


Song Thrush

Stock Dove

Rose-ringed parakeet

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

I am sometimes so disheartened by human beings. We seem incapable of seeing the bigger picture. So often, people think about their own needs or those of their families and don’t see anything beyond that. The trees provide the very oxygen that we breathe, and yet this seems to count for nothing. As the climate heats and changes I am reminded of the Buddhist teachings: we are children playing in a burning building, and yet we don’t have the sense to look around and see what’s happening.

But, fortunately, I’m not the only person who cares about the wood. The dogwalkers notice the changes in the wood, will tell people in no uncertain terms to douse their fires, and are proactive about things like litter. I’m part of the Friends of Coldfall Wood, a group of volunteers who are involved in the care of the wood. I’ve already mentioned the excellent Environment and Neighbourhoods team at Haringey council. We have groups like The Conservation Volunteers who help with the physical management of the wood, and Good Gym who last year planted spring bulbs on the edge of the Playing Fields for us in the pouring rain, and who regularly do  litter picks on the run. In short, making sure that the wood stays healthy is a team effort.

Over the past few months my love for this tiny scrap of ancient woodland has deepened and grown. I am only just starting to realise how much there is to learn about the history and ecosystem of the wood, with its complex webs of life. I know that not everyone will cherish the place as much as we do: vandalism will happen, litter will be dropped, branches will be broken.  Heartbreak is  assured. But working together, we will protect this place. Who will speak for the trees if we don’t?

Coldfall Wood 7.30 p.m. August 4th

15 thoughts on “Coldfall Wood Under Siege

  1. Gail

    Oh, how infuriating. I don’t quite understand what’s going on, I don’t think this behaviour was as bad before lockdown? Or was it that in our then very busy, usual lives we no longer noticed it and it’s only now, with eyes and spirit more attuned, we do? Over on Twitter, there’s been a lot of discussion about the Government’s lack of proper spending on the Countryside Code, but I’m astonished that we need that sort of basic teaching, especially about litter and fires. Sometimes, all this feels too big to turn around.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      What gives me hope, though, are the people who are prepared to get their hands dirty and look after our natural environment. And it’s honestly only a tiny minority who make all the work….

  2. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    We have the same problem on our walk where a group of scramblers take over our lovely wild flower meadow. They clearly haven’t a brain cell between them as they tear up and down, even taking a child of about three, with no helmet, on the front of one of their bikes. It’s an accident waiting to happen especially as it’s in a place where an ambulance could not get to. They too leave bottles and cans everywhere, which we pick up regularly, and then you get the ones who thinks it’s not only ok to leave them but let’s smash them as well. We’re afraid there’s no reasoning with these ‘people’.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      That’s so frustrating, Fran and Bobby….whose land is it? Can the police do anything? You’re right, there’s no reasoning with people in groups. I have the feeling that that was my problem – in a group of blokes, no one is going to admit that they might be wrong.

  3. Anne

    I feel your passion, ire and despondency. When we were young, children were taught in schools not to litter. These days there is litter everywhere – smashing bottles is a common feature of places where people congregate for leisure – from road sides to ‘nature’ areas and even in the suburbs. So many people have a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude and carelessly toss their detritus wherever they happen to be. Too many parents no longer appear to be good role models for their children in this regard.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Sad but true. I was surprised at the lengths that these guys were prepared to put in to mess up a nature reserve though. It was a lot of work. What a shame all that energy couldn’t be harnessed for doing something useful….

  4. Neo Anderson

    Shocking, the more I read about the behavior of humans the more I believe that the planet would be SO much better off without us…………..:(

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Some days I feel exactly the same. Other days, I look at how hard some people are working to preserve what’s left of our natural environment and I feel a tiny bit more hopeful.

  5. FEARN

    Words fail me. Hopefully the local authority won’t fail you. Are there any notices at the access points declaring the bylaws that apply (in no uncertain terms)?
    What green urban spaces there are remaining after the property development boom of the last 50 years are subject to a threefold increase in footfall (following corona-virus) thus exposing the folly of the planning policies which undervalued nature in return for a quick buck.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Signs have gone up (put up personally by our conservation officer) with the council’s phone number and advising folk to call the police – several other people have reported the damage so hopefully something will be done. We’re lucky to have so many people who love the wood and are prepared to act on its behalf. But yes, people are so disconnected from nature that they do stupid things, and green spaces are under such pressure this year.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I’m pretty sure it can be fixed, Anne. If they wanted to do some digging I could have showed them where they could have created a solitary bee habitat, but no :-0


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