Category Archives: trees

Bluebell heaven

I’m stood in the middle of a bluebell wood.  All around me is a carpet of blue. This is the most astonishing display of these much loved spring-time plants that I have ever seen. I feel like I need to rub my eyes to make sure that this is real and not some daydream. The only word that comes into my head is ‘wow’.

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I look around and as far as the eye can see is bluebells. The overcast nature of the day and the lush green of the emerging leaves amplifies the colour. I’ve seen countless images of bluebell woods: it’s a staple of photo stories in the nationals and social media channels such as Instagram  in late April and early May. But I have never seen anything to compare with this. The stresses of the day begin to ebb away the longer I stand in the woods, showing the power of nature to add a real calmness to our daily lives. We all need our patch of natural heaven to refresh us.

This magical Bluebell wood is called Hagbourne Copse. It’s carefully managed by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. For years I have passed this place on the way to and from work in Swindon. Finally after years of anticipation I made it into the woods. But this first visit exceeded any expectations that I had and I hadn’t fully anticipated the natural treat that was in store for me.

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The most remarkable thing about this Bluebell wood is its location. This woodland, roughly the size of a few football pitches, is surrounded by roads and an industrial estate. Its minutes away from Junction 16 on the M4 and is next to the main route, used by tens of thousands of people every day, on their way to and from work in Swindon.

It seems remarkable to think that so many people will pass this special place every day totally oblivious to its beauty.  Many people have written about the so-called edgelands: marginal and often non-descript places on the edge of our towns and cities. These are places where nature moves in when people move out; or places where nature gradually takes over the forgotten strips of land or abandoned brownfield sites.

Hagbourne Copse is a classic example of the need for us all to look closer to home for nature. It can be found in the most surprising places. Near to where I work in Swindon is a footpath that negotiates it’s way between the railway and a car-park: and yet this short green corridor is awash with natural treats.

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Little did I think that my favourite ever Bluebell wood would be in a place like this. For me it shows the ability of nature to thrive where-ever it’s found. This copse will have been here long before the warehouses, car showrooms and hotels. It’s a place that transports us deep into the heart of nature and connects us to why wildlife has the ability to provide a sense of awe that few other things can compete with.

Telling our tree stories

At the back of my house there is a tree. I can see it from our kitchen window. Every day it’s a reassuring sight as the seasons come and go. Looking out of the window it’s bare branched architecture frames the skyline. As spring arrives and the foliage starts to burst into life the birds arrive and will take up residency. The sweetness of birdsong will pour forth from its branches during the early arrival of daylight hours. Then its leaves will slowly begin to fall as the days shorten and we head into darker nights.

For me this very familiar tree symbolises how trees are part of all of our stories. They provide the backdrop to our lives but are so much more than that.

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Trees surround us and they are an important part of our lives

In our technology saturated lives as we charge from A to B there is a risk that we forget about the wonderful trees that fill our landscapes and cityscapes. Just take a moment to think about the trees that touch your life every day, maybe on the route that you take to work, in a local park or your back garden. They help to enrich our lives and they’re such an important part of the ecology of the U.K.

The launch of the charter for trees is a timely intervention. Forty plus organisations have come together to collate our stories of trees to remind us all of their importance and create a nationwide storybook that reflects there central role in the fabric of the nation.

The risk that we take trees for granted is a real one. Organisations such as the Woodland Trust and Tree Council do fantastic work in promoting these gentle giants of the natural world. Trees are firmly part of our history: think of the English oak, Newton’s apple tree and the yew in Wordsworth’s poetry.

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One of the wise old wonders dotted around Charlcombe just outside Bath; sustaining an entire community of wildlife

Creating a charter for tree would enshrine in the national mindset the importance of trees. What is also needed is greater and more robust protection for our trees, in the same way as historic buildings and the listings status that they have. This is a very practical measure that can make a huge difference.

So, think trees, tell the story of trees in your lives and make trees part of your everyday life. Our trees need us and we need our trees.

A tale of leaf catching…

On face value catching leaves as they tumble out of the trees should be pretty easy. Just stand near a tree, wait for a gust of wind and you’ll be able to pluck a leaf or two out of the air before they hit the ground. Job done.

Surely nothing could be simpler. If only. I remember a few years back visiting Lanhydrock in Cornwall and watching closely as family took on the leaf-catching challenge. The Mum and Dad stood rooted to the spot waiting for the leaves to come to them, remaining cool and calm. While the two boys jumped about and leaped from side to side, a bit like goal-keepers. Its an image that will stay in mind for a long time. A simple pleasure and a family having fun.

With so many distractions in life leaf catching might not appear to be the most exciting activity on the planet. But once you start you become addicted; determined to rule the roost and not be beaten by leaves as they gently float out of the sky avoiding your clutches. This is one addiction that is definitely good for you.

There I was with my son and daughter in a local park. Just waiting for the leaves of all shapes and sizes to descend. A strong gust of wind rattled the tree and down they came like a short sharp shower. Our hands cupped and ready resulted in zero leaves. Our tactics were found wanting. The leaves just weren’t playing ball. Then we changed our game-plan: charging at leaves scooping them up before they settled on the grass. This worked to some extent. Next we identified target leaves from high up as they descended and worked together to get the job done.

The family leaf-catching tally was slowly starting to mount up. We were rosy cheeked from leaping about and had that nice feeling of satisfaction of building up a steady bank of leaves. Still they came down and just when you thought that you’d got your leaf bounty they would take a sharp turn and you were left clutching at thin air.

Like collecting conkers, leaf-catching is a very seasonal wild time activity. It can be a team game or more of a solo pursuit. For me its something that brings out our personality and above all its free and fun.

Celebrating everyday green spaces…

You can hardly call it a wood really, more of a patch of woodland at the top of a sloping green space. And yet in this area, sheltered by trees and thick with ivy and saplings, is a magical world, which could be miles from anywhere and yet is surrounded by housing.

Summerfield wood, as I’ve grandly called it, is at the end of a terrace of Victorian houses; and you’ve guessed it, it’s called Summerfield Terrace in east Bath.

Its a place that is passed by countless people everyday and yet it remains and feels like a hidden gem. Visible to the passer by as they wander past oblivious to its natural wonder. I probably walk past it a handful of times a week and I always think of the importance of this placed to nature and for the people that do use it whether to walk a dog, try to climb a tree or run down its gently slope.

During the winter months this small everyday green space is defined by the architectural brilliance of the naked branches of trees. The scrubby cover that mammals and birds love doesn’t exist and with a little rain it becomes wet under foot. It’s packed full of character, which is easily missed.

But when you get to autumn a lone mature apple tree, weighed down by the fruits of the harvest, hints at a possible agriculture past or perhaps a garden long gone, the only visible footprint of its existence this quintessential of English trees. 2014 was a good summer for this fine tree thick with a bounty of apple richness waiting to be harvested and covered in lichens and mosses in fifty shades of green.

On a visit to this woodland last summer, barely half an acre in size, I observed the comings and goings of a speckled wood butterfly seeking out its patch of warm sunshine to bathe its weary wings. Something that will live long in the memory, feeling as though it was exclusively for me.

So many places like this exist in Bath, in England, in the UK. They remain un-noticed by the many but hopefully loved by the few. And that is why we need to open our eyes to see places and make sure that we protect and care for them; otherwise that could be gone in the blink of an eye.

For me its these green spaces littered with trees, teaming with insects and home to the high pitched squawks of magpies that are the really special places. An oasis of calm and a place to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city; a kind of paradise potentially lost here in Fairfield Park in Bath. And with views across towards the world famous Solsbury Hill and a steep tree covered hillside which come alive when drenched in beautiful morning sunlight.

You can create your own footpath through the dense undergrowth the cracking of the sticks as you make your way through, the laughter of my children as they hunt for ladybirds or snails to add to their collection. This very urban wild time as rich in sensory experience as any trip to a nature reserve. A place to discover the richness and intensity of nature on your doorstep; a place to return time and time again. Each passing season brings a new discovery and a reason for returning – making its a destination or place to call in on a journey.