Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Reflections on access to nature: The annual Blackheath to the Dog and Bell walk 2011

A walk to the shops can be an uneventful journey possibly punctuated by moving cars and dog crap. Walk to the shops with an ornothologist or a botanist and you suddenly realise that life is full of little surprises, a sudden alarm call from a bird in the trees or a rare dead-nettle growing between the pavement slabs. Such is the annual Christmas walk between Blackheath train station and the Dog and Bell pub in Deptford, which took place on Sunday. Blackheath was abuzz with shoppers and drivers as we snaked our way through and up the hill toward the Clarendon where our walk leader Nick Bertrand, of the Creekside Centre, spotted a red dead-nettle in the brickwork at the front of one of the Georgian terraced houses. The dead-nettle was in full flower and the conversation moved toward other species that were flowering again in this extremely mild winter, on the way to the meet I found a lavander bush in full flower on Belmont Hill, quite bizarre.
Nick with a tiny red dead-nettle
We passed the Clarenden to a stop just passed the Princess of Wales and by the pond where we reflected for a moment on the variety of species of goose and duck, there were migrating greylag geese and strange greylag/Canada goose hybrids. There were also armies or black-headed gulls and mallards gliding around the pond toward any unsuspecting passer-by, like some strange ameoba, in the hope that their bag may contain food.
From here we took a north easterly direction and after 100yds we stopped to look at some sheep sorrel, which in the summer grows to six inches and turns dark red. This sorrel has extensive cover over the heath, often seeing large swathes of land change colour dramatically as the season progresses, it may also have had something to do with the naming of Blackheath, once the Black Death burial pit myth has been put to bed. A brisk and keen so'westerly picked up, prompting us to move on and cross the busy A2 into Vanbrugh Pits, at the top of Vanbrugh Hill and on the way to the Standard. Here we found areas of recent burning, where the gorse had been set alight. The council, in their non-wisdom of flora matters, completely smothered the burnt area in replanted gorse-lings and birch trees. Of course, if they had left things as they were the gorse would have some back as we see so often in places like Ashdown Forest for example. Some council environmental decision makers seem to learn their trade on some business management course and not in the field. Here also is a video of....
Nick Bertrand discusses oak trees 
The differences in acorn growth and stem structure. As we moved toward Greenwich Park from here we saw a Green Woodpecker disturbed from the undergrowth and swoop up into a tree where it remained as we walked past. Many people use this shortcut to get to the park and the wildlife think nothing of it. Into the park and the newly and ridiculously over-planted avenues of chesnut in the south-east corner. I wonder if the Parks strategists realise that when fully grown these trees will not only block out the famous view but will produce enough shade to kill off all the grass, grass that has fed herds of deer for centuries.
Fishing platform opp. Canary Wharf
Down through the park and walking parallel to the Maritime Museum we move into the built environment, stopping briefly to admire the third mast lifted up that morning on the Cutty Sark restoration, through the labryinthine conctruction fencing on to the Thames walkway opposite the rowing club. Cormorants and gulls again populate the floating pontoon and buddleja growing out of the brickwork. We also note here the piles of worn down washed up roofing tiles and brick from construction sites up and down the Thames. Past the AHOY sailing centre and past the oldest refrigeration site for shipping in London and on into Watergate Stree and to the Dog and Bell, where a welcome pint of Cornish! beer was waiting, or in Nick's case 'any cheap and nasty lager there is'. Thanks to Nick and to Chris McGaw of Lewisham's Rivers and People project for being the birbman on the walk.