Dear Readers, over the past few months we have been suffering from an epidemic of graffiti here in Coldfall Wood. Normally, the fences and the walls are spray-painted, but for the first time since I’ve been living in East Finchley someone has taken to tagging the living trees as well, along with a memorial bench.
There is something particularly invidious about despoiling something that someone has set up to memorialise a loved one, someone who loved the woods, and this is a very popular bench – mothers sit there for a well-earned rest with their babies and toddlers, dog walkers take the weight off of their legs, youngsters scroll their phones and chat.
And then, there is the effect on the trees – it’s easy to forget that they are living things and that although the bark appears dead, it can still absorb the toxic chemicals in the paint. Furthermore, there are photo-receptors in the stem which can be blocked, and gas exchange between the tree and the environment can be affected.
And finally, I believe in ‘broken window theory’ – if a place looks as if nobody cares about it (and nothing could be further from the truth in Coldfall Wood) then it encourages other people to behave badly. This is one reason why we litter-pick, for example.
The graffiti has been reported to Haringey Council on numerous occasions over the past few weeks, and, to be fair, offensive graffiti is removed very quickly. However, stuff like this isn’t a priority for cash-strapped and understaffed local organisations and so a group of local people (including some of the Friends of Coldfall Wood) took things into their own hands. Armed with some Graffiti-Go (a water-based, non-toxic paint remover) they went to work, and the results bring me a little frisson of joy. The memorial bench has also been cleaned up.
It might feel as if we’re helpless these days, with so many terrible things going on, but I do believe that what we do as individuals matters. Someone might come back and graffiti the trees, but we’ll be back to clean it up again. Increasingly, people seem to be respecting the wood and feeling protective of it, and this has to be a good thing. We are so lucky to live close to ancient woodland, and it gives us so much, from a beautiful place to walk to a chance to interact respectfully with nature. It is often easier to make a difference than we think.