Dear Readers, we were litter-picking in Coldfall Wood yesterday evening, and discovered not one, not two but three sites where people had clearly been lighting fires or having barbecues during our recent bout of hot weather. In one case, a local dog walker was so incensed that s/he called the Fire Brigade, who doused the barbecue and sent the people involved on their way with a flea in their ear. Luckily, everyone who lives close to the wood, or uses it regularly, is on high alert – we’ve all seen the blazes on grassland in nearby Enfield, and the wood and playing fields are surrounded on three sides by houses, which would certainly make me nervous if I lived in one. But in spite of the signs on every entrance to the woods and fields, explaining that fires and barbecues are banned, it’s clear that some people think that such prohibitions don’t apply to them.
We are so lucky to have this little remnant of ancient woodland on our doorstep, and it’s great that people enjoy it in so many ways. However, I think we have also grown very out of touch with how destructive fire can be, how quickly it can take hold, and how even a fire that looks dead can be roused back into life by the hint of a breeze. The woods and the playing fields are tinder dry. One thing we were looking for that is a bit less obvious is glass – a bottle can concentrate the sunlight and set the grass on fire without any more human intervention than the inability to put the bottle into the litter bin. Suffice it to say that we found many, many bottles just thrown casually away. And then there is the cigarette butt, flicked away into the brambles and subtly, quietly catching fire to the undergrowth. We do not realise the harm that we do, or could do, and I sometimes wonder if we are so used to not having power that we fail to realise the extent to which we are powerful, for good or ill.
How terrible it would be to see the wood burn, with its song thrushes and treecreepers, robins and sparrows, wood mice and woodpeckers killed or made homeless. Coldfall brings such joy to so many people.
And so, while the summer is a time of easy relaxation for many people, for those of us who care about the wood, who walk their dogs or who live nearby, who gather blackberries or watch the birds or who simply enjoy the beauty of the place, this is a time of heightened anxiety and not a little dread. Fortunately, people are aware and watchful now. Let’s hope that it’s enough.