A Bank Holiday Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, the cemetery was very, very quiet today, and all the lovelier for it. I love the way that the sun filters through the leaves, and the wren’s song explodes from the undergrowth. We had not walked along this particular path before, and I was very moved by this statue of a child in his dungarees, holding a little ball. This is John Derek Herd, who died aged 25 months in 1932. The heartache reaches out from all those decades ago. My grandmother lost two little boys, one after the other, during the 1930s, one from diptheria, the other from scarlet fever, and she mourned them for the rest of her life. I imagine that the parents of John Derek did the same.

At some point the statue was broken, but someone has put him back together again with a great deal of love and care.

Now, he stands like a little wood spirit, waiting to throw his ball for the foxes or to feed the robins who are singing in the trees. Because in spite of the death here, it is also a place that’s full of life.

I have been admiring the hogweed again, and testing my husband’s patience to the limit, because every flowerhead seems to have a new species of pollinator. There are some handsome bumblebees….

But how about this splendid great pied hoverfly (Volucella pellucens)? There were lots of them about today. These magnificent hoverflies live for a whole 35 days, and the males are very territorial – the one in the photo was very cross when another hoverfly of the same species landed on ‘his’ flower.

This is a well-studied species, with a most interesting life cycle. The females lay their eggs in the nests of wasps – the wasps seem to ignore them, so maybe that black and white colouration does the trick. The larvae largely eat detritus, gobbling up dead workers and larvae, but also eating the larvae of other species that inhabit the nest, so maybe the grubs are overall beneficial to the wasps. My hoverfly book suggests that hogweed is not the hoverfly lure that it used to be, possibly because the drier conditions in the south of England mean that the plant doesn’t produce as much nectar as it used to. Nonetheless there was a good selection of insects of all kinds on the hogweed in the cemetery today.

Two great pied hoverflies….

A variety of little beetles and flies…

Out in the sun again, someone had planted up a lovely mixture of Californian poppies and Phacelia which was proving very popular with the bees, and which looked lovely against the black headstone. Proof, if any was needed, that a couple of packets of seeds thrown down in a sunny spot can bring plentiful rewards.

And just in case we thought there was still plenty of summer to go, I noticed the first signs of the leaf miners on the horse chestnut leaves. These, plus a variety of fungi, bring the leafy season to an abrupt end for many of these trees. I predict that they will be falling before July is out. Blue tits are starting to peck at the brown bits, in the hope of getting a tasty bug, so fingers crossed that more of the birds will get this very helpful habit. And in the meantime, the conkers are already developing, like small green medieval maces. So far the horse chestnuts haven’t succumbed to their new parasites. Let’s hope that the trend continues.

1 thought on “A Bank Holiday Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Anne

    “I love the way that the sun filters through the leaves, and the wren’s song explodes from the undergrowth” is an enticing description that places us right in that leafy spot.


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