A May Walk in Cherry Tree Wood

Dear Readers, regular visitors to the blog will know that we are lucky enough to have two remnants of ancient woodland in East Finchley – one is Coldfall Wood, and the other is Cherry Tree Wood. On Thursday I decided to have a little trot around Cherry Tree Wood – for one thing, last time I was there the grassy area was under so much water that someone decided to have a little kayak there, and secondly it punches above its weight in terms of natural history interest. This is particularly surprising as it’s so well used – it has a children’s playground, a café and tennis/basketball courts. Still, I’ve noticed some very visible green woodpeckers on previous visits, mistle thrushes nest here (and I’ve never seen them in Coldfall), and even here you can get away from people if you take some of the secondary paths.

Down by the café there was this lovely patch of almost-English bluebells. The pollen is white, which often indicates that they are English rather than hybrids, but there is something about the colour and shape that looks as if there might have been a bit of shenanigans going on. They are rather lovely nonetheless.

And look at the hawthorn! It’s going to be a bumper year for this plant I suspect, I have never seen so much blossom. Maybe our cold spring suits it. I rather think this is Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) – the leaves are described as ‘shallowly three-lobed’, and as the plant is typical of ancient woodland I’m feeling fairly confident. As usual, let me know what you think, botanist friends! I am learning all the time. Like the bluebells, hawthorns can also hybridise.

There is going to be lots of honeysuckle later in the year too, I came across these patches right at the back of the wood close to the back fences of the neighbouring houses, so whether the plant has jumped out of the garden or will shortly be jumping in is anyone’s guess.

The oaks, hornbeams and horse chestnuts are just coming into leaf, and the grassy area has changed from quagmire to dust. There’s lots of rain forecast for the next few days, though, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Next to the toilets and the tennis courts is a patch of yellow flag iris, growing very happily. This part of the wood is also positively boggy for much of the year. The Mutton Brook rises somewhere around here, and is captured and culverted and directed under the railway line at the southern edge of the Wood.

The culvert that takes the Mutton Brook into Hampstead Garden Suburb

Why, though, do you think this area is called Cherry Tree Wood? Actually, in its early life it was called Dirthouse Wood – night soil was collected from North London and left at the Dirthouse on the opposite side of the road, where the White Lion pub  is now. This was then spread as fertiliser on the nearby hay meadows. But there are lots of bird cherries in the wood, and very pretty they are too at this time of year.

The trees have previously been home to the netted webs of bird cherry ermine moth, but no sign this year – again, maybe it’s been too cold for them.  Plus, looking back at my photos from 2018 I have a feeling that these guys are probably cyclical breeders, with a big outburst every few years. It’s good to see that the trees are none the worse for the onslaught.

Ermine moth caterpillars from 2018

And so it’s good to see the wood looking so good. The tennis and basketball courts have been resurfaced and repainted, and are looking very spruced up, just in time for the summer. The rickety old pavilion has finally been demolished, and I assume that some sort of café will spring up soon as well. My heart really does belong to Coldfall, but this area is a really valuable community resource, enjoyed by many people. Every little bit of green space has been a godsend during the lockdown, and I suspect that it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes to what’s happening right on their doorstep.

I also suspect that our good friends the N2 Community Gardening Group have been at work close to the entrance opposite the station – some lovely scabious have sprung up as if by magic! I’m sure the bees will be very grateful.


3 thoughts on “A May Walk in Cherry Tree Wood

  1. Anne

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this walk. The naming of places is an interest of mine, so thank you for your explanations too.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    That’s uncanny… (I only just read this after posting my walk just now)… that you should also have an Ermine moth. (I’m sure we live in some sort of parallel natural world!)


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