Tag Archives: Tooting Graveney Common

Crocodile in a Copse

100_6842A crocodile is the last thing you’d expect to see in a copse, whether the snap-jaw is real or otherwise.  Yet this reptilian graffiti surprised me during a walk on Tooting Graveney Common. Normally, I’d deplore graffiti being applied to a tree; this example I don’t mind as its ludic imaginativeness made me smile, and I doubt it did harm to the tree.

On the other side of London, a Local Nature Reserve is experiencing a growth in this rogue art.  Previously tolerated, people are now wondering if the graffiti along Parkland Walk has begun to get out of hand as the spray painting has spread out from the underbellies of the Crouch Hill bridges.  One Sunday afternoon, as many as eight artists were seen blatantly working, despite this being a crime.  The impact on wildlife, in that particular instance, was an obvious decline in birdsong within 100m of the activity, where the toxic fumes were reported as being overpowering.  In addition to the effect on avian behaviour, rare ferns were damaged when sprayed over.  The Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum) only grows in this one place on the Walk and  it is the metallic paints which seem particularly noxious; the ferns struggle to survive a coating.

graffiti collage 2

I’m not against graffiti per se; some of it demonstrates talent and creativity. However, the last few times I’ve rambled along Parkland Walk, I’ve noticed an increase in the tagging sort, like the territorial pissings of pooches on lamp posts. In my mind, this kind of graffiti is sheer vandalism.  I must say, I’d object to even the artistic type if it proved to be detrimental to wildlife.  There is a balance to be struck between encouragement of artistic ability, and respect for nature.

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Vintage Rot

Ambling across Tooting Graveney Common recently, I spotted this fabulous deadwood trunk.TGC standing deadwood

What is so great about it?  Two things.  It was a grafted tree and the graft union is still evident.  I’ve never seen this before in examples of deadwood, so I found it intriguing.  Secondly, and more importantly, standing deadwood is a precious habitat due to its scarcity.

Deadwood of any sort is crucial, as ‘vintage rot’¹ supports a huge variety of life. It is estimated that in the UK, 1700 insect species need this kind of wood at some point in their life cycle, and some of these number amongst the most endangered in Britain today. And different species require different types of deadwood. ‘The Vandal hand of tidiness’ as Oliver Rackham put it, combined with health & safety paranoia, means that standing deadwood is bound to be rarer than the prone sort.  Gardeners and park staff can try and compensate for their tendency to tidy up by creating log piles. While this is beneficial, it cannot substitute the vertical stuff, which is why it’s so pleasing to see something like this.

Of course, not all dead trunks behave in the same way.  I saw a TV programme the other day called ‘The Seven Wonders of the Commonwealth’.  In it, Anita Rani visited the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, where the average annual rainfall is as low as 2mm, and temperatures can soar above 50C.  Rani  went to ‘Dead Valley’, home to dead trees that are thought to be nearly a century old.  As there is so little moisture, this means the wood cannot rot.  I wonder if there are any specialist creatures that make use of these hard, dry boles.  It’s certainly a striking image, these ancient dead trees silhouetted against the ochre tints of the desert sands.

FOOTNOTE:

¹  A phrase borrowed from Ken Thompson

FURTHER READING:

Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees (Penguin: 2008)

Ken Thompson, No Nettles Required: The Truth About Wildlife Gardening (eden project books: 2007)

The Seven Wonders of the Commonwealth, BBC2, 20/07/2014

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