Friday, 30 April 2010

Article for village newspaper, May 2010

Woodland old and new

The recent planting of the new wood out on the Oakington road set me thinking about the Histon wood (the one on the Girton footpath next to the guided busway) that we helped to plant way back in 1993.

It was a bitter December day, one of those cold, grey days when the horizontal sleet cuts right through you. The field was ploughed bare and muddy, and the trees were short bare-rooted sticks that, quite frankly, looked decidedly unpromising. As we stuck them into the mud it required something of a leap of faith to imagine that one day the field would be a ‘real’ wood!

As spring came round we watched excitedly as our sticks grew leaves. The following summer was dry, and we worried that the saplings would succumb to drought, but they survived and grew (in retrospect we decided that the lack of water actually made the tiny trees stronger, as they put down deep roots in search of water).

Over the years we’ve watched ‘our’ wood grow and flourish. The trees are a mixture of species: oak, ash, alder, field maple, wild cherry, birch and hawthorn, with wild roses and guelder rose mixed in. The wood is particularly beautiful in spring and early summer, resplendent with blossom and fresh green leaves, but it’s worth a visit any time of year.

In the winter the wood is visited by roving flocks of tits and finches, and jays searching for acorns to eat, while the oak trees and rose bushes bear the signs of insect life in the shape of marble and spangle galls, and Robin’s Pincushion galls (all formed as a result of the activities of various species of gall wasp). Spring brings migrant warblers to the wood: chiffchaffs, willow warblers, blackcaps, and whitethroats, filling the wood with song, while the froth of hawthorn blossom attracts insects galore. Summer is a lush and lazy time, sleepy and green, when the trees cast welcome shade, and early visitors may spot a fox or muntjac deer. In the autumn the wood displays bright colours – maple leaves in all shades of yellows, oranges and reds, oaks in browns, coppers and russets, and hawthorn and guelder rose berries and rose hips in a variety of startling bright reds. At any time of year you may spot a black squirrel, a kestrel or a sparrowhawk.

Walking through the wood today, the trees meet over my head. It feels like a ‘real’ wood now that I can walk through it rather than being able to look over it, and it seems all the more special and beautiful to me because I can remember how it started.

Some day very soon I’m going to take a walk out to the new wood on the Impington road, stand in the middle of it, and let my imagination wander forwards to the day that it, too, will be tall and green and full of wildlife.

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