I recently visited a pocket of London that remains wonderfully ‘wild’. A ‘secret’ woodland that delights local people and visitors alike. Locals have named them Southwark Woods – referring to an area of trees, wildflower lanes and common ground where nature has taken hold around Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries in Honour Oak, London.
For a city where beautiful parks are usually kept neatly under control; this woodland has been left to grow ‘untamed’ around an old cemetery, untouched for many, many years.
Here there are no manicured lawns or structured floral borders; this is a wild place – ten acres of beautiful woodland in London’s ‘Zone 2’ – just waiting to be explored. It came as quite a surprise to me that this wildlife haven could exist so centrally in one of the busiest cities in the world.
Hedgerows full of hawthorn trees and unruly bramble bushes – full of blossom and fruit – were enticing the birds and buzzing with bees and dancing butterflies. Here is a ‘Holly Blue’ on blackberry flowers. The orange and brown butterfly on the yellow ragwort is a ‘Gatekeeper’ Butterfly. I also saw ‘Speckled Wood’ butterflies, ‘Commas’ and ‘Meadow Browns’.
I wondered which animals would venture out into the open clearings at dusk, before nightfall. Hedgehogs? Foxes perhaps? Or badgers? With so many old trees full of hollows, bats must surely live here too? I listened to the summer breeze as it rustled through the trees like applause; and watched it ripple through the long grass, the buzz of grasshoppers echoing through the grassy tide.
I followed one of the gravel paths, flanked by trees, wildflowers and old gravestones. As I ventured deeper into the wood, the sounds of the city melted away. Watching the trees standing guard over the ancient gravestones; I pondered on how full of life the place was – abuzz with insects, brightened by wildflowers and joyful with birdsong.
The sunlight filtered down through the trees, dappling the gravestones with leafy shadows. I read some of their stories, each one an insight into London’s rich history. I pondered on the past and the cultural significance of the place – and the stories it might hold for local historians.
Gazing up at the trees I noticed a huge old pear tree, already laden with fruit that will be ripe in time for early Autumn. Some of the trees were very old, with huge trunks and hollow spaces. I watched as local teams mapped the trees and measured their great girths.
Here, arboriculturalist Ken Scarlett is measuring a huge ancient oak tree.
Britain has lost much of its ancient woodland – and those pockets which do remain are greatly appreciated by those living near them. As with so many places that have been lost to urban ‘development’; this little patch of woodland is now under threat. Local residents are locked in a battle to protect their much-loved woodland wildlife sanctuary.
I hope they manage to save it. The place has an almost Shakespearean ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ vibe… Yes, it is a place for dreamers; but also for those city folk who simply wish to walk awhile in a beautiful place of quiet contemplation.
And for anyone wanting to take a virtual stroll, here’s a short video. I hope you like it!