Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Once upon a time . . .

There is only one way to start this story . . . a tale of good triumphing over greed, of knights riding to the rescue, of a sanctuary preserved, and of an undeniably happy ending.
We'll give it a traditional start.

Once upon a time . . .  in a country area west of London, there was a medieval wood.  The time in question was the start of the twentieth century, an era when London was still encircled by countryside, and motor vehicles had yet to change the concept of distance.  It was a time of innovation, and many held ambitious plans for the future. London, they foresaw, would rapidly expand.  Fields would be transformed into highways, farms into factories . . . there would be growth, there would be progress.  It was a time to buy up the farmland and woodland.  A time to make money.

Perivale, a rural fringe of Ealing in West London, was one such area.  But Perivale was also the home of the medieval wood I referred to earlier.  Before the developers could purchase the wood, news of its possible demise spread to the Selborne Society, a society founded in 1895 to perpetuate the memory of the Hampshire naturalist Gilbert White.

Like knights to the rescue, the Selborne Society purchased the threatened wood.  By encircling their newly-acquired twenty-seven acres with a high metal fence, they ensured its survival and created the first Bird Sanctuary in Britain.  In the 1970s it became a Local Nature Reserve and now, ringed by the Central Line, busy suburban roads and light industry, it's the pride of The Selborne Society's members . . . and Chloe's and  my favourite retreat.

We'll show you why.

Let's make a slow exploration through the seasons.

If it's spectacle you want, then it's Spring that finds the wood donning its most colourful and dramatic attire.

Pause for a moment as you look at this picture . . .  let your eyes rest on the massed bluebells flanking the pathway . . . have you ever seen a more breath-taking intensity of blue . . . ?

And the bluebells don't restrict themselves to this one area.
Like a floral tidal wave, they spread out beneath the trees and carpet the entire woodland floor.
Is it possible to be saturated in bluebells?
Most definitely . . . if you happen to find yourself in Perivale Wood!

On the edges of the wood, where the trees give way to the surrounding meadows, there it is that the sun-loving primroses come into their own.

Clump after clump of upturned blooms nestle shyly beside the pathways . . . and, as you can see, are much admired by Chloe!

Then, with the advent of Summer, the scene changes dramatically.
Spring's pastel colours give way to a myriad shades of green.
The wood's summer garb is lush, shadowy, and a little mysterious.
A dense canopy of leaves closes in and creates a network of magical, inviting pathways.

And where do those winding pathways lead?

As Chloe was excited to discover, they converge on a sheltered meadow.  A secluded oasis, ringed by hawthorn and hazel, deep in the heart of the reserve.

It's a meadow that boasts a tranquil pond and a wooden hide for bird-watching.
Not only that, you need to tread carefully as you cross the grass.  Throughout the Spring and Summer it's scattered with a profusion of delicate wild flowers.

With the arrival of Autumn the he wood reaches its maturity.
This is when a mellow, golden light shines through the willows . . . when blackberries are abundant in the hedges . . . cob-nuts ripen . . . and fungi appear on the fallen trees.

After so much flowering and fertility, a period of rest is needed..
Winter in the wood is a season of all-important dormancy.
A rest that is only broken by occasional birdsong, the rustle of squirrels foraging in the fallen leaves . . .  and the regular, distant rumble of trains passing by on the Central Line.

But the story of this flourishing reserve is not a story of unfettered wildlife, it is one of mutually beneficial co-operation.  Members of the Selborne Society work tirelessly with nature to foster the fragile, check the abundant, and help the reserve to thrive.

Fallen branches are allowed to remain where they fall, enveloped in the undergrowth.  Here they disintegrate, providing fertile homes for insects and fungi.  At the same time, any rampant brambles are kept in check, the ponds are cared for,  and the paths maintained.
Ponies graze in the meadows, nesting-boxes are positioned in the trees, and unobtrusive benches give visitors an opportunity to pause and absorb their surroundings.

I don't know if others feel the same, but each time I visit the wood it's like receiving a gentle blessing.
As I'm drawn deeper and deeper down the pathways, the spirit of the wood takes hold.  I feel myself gradually relax and the wood's own tranquility absorbs any tensions that I brought with me from the world outside.
There's a powerful magic at work  . . . a magic whose benefits persist long after I reluctantly close the gate behind me and make the journey home.

What is this magic . . . ?  Who knows.  Let's call it Perivale magic.
It's the special quality that permeates our story . . . a story that started with 'once upon a time' and ends, as all good stories should, with its cast of rural characters living 'happily ever after'.