30 days wild – 1. Cox’s Walk, Southwark

It’s the first of my 30 days wild challenges, I’m planning to visit 30 Great North Wood and/or London Wildlife Trust sites in June, and this one is a green space I know well.

Cox’s walk is an oak-lined avenue which was created in the 18th century as a short cut through Fifty Acre Wood from an inn on what is now the South Circular to the spa in Sydenham Wells Park.

There’s no short cut today.

Southwark Council have recently excelled themselves in annoying residents. Last autumn, signs appeared near the Cox’s Walk footbridge giving notice that two mature oaks either side of it were going to be removed so that the bridge could be repaired. There was an immediate outcry and the Highways team backed down putting the work on hold and promising an independent review. The outcome of this review has not been published.

At the end of January 2020 the bridge was suddenly blocked off with temporary metal fencing with the Council claiming that the risks to the public using the bridge were now too great for it to be used. Then over the following weeks, the fence section were repeatedly damaged so that the bridge could be crossed. Finally, just after the start of lockdown, the risk was clearly judged so great that a Highways team were back installing a permanent metal fence. 

So with a Save the Footbridge Oaks petition signed by over 2000 residents, it’s stalemate. And in the meantime, the only way round the bridge is to trample through the already over-used Sydenham Hill Wood.

I’m spending time in the bottom section of the Walk today. I’ve been playing with the Tree Talk map using to see how unusual the non-Oak trees are https://www.treetalk.co.uk/ . The Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) just inside the gate is quite unusual with less than 400 found so far in London. Further up the straggly Dutch Elms (Ulmus x hollandica) are rated as bronze trees – with no more than 200 found so far in London.  But gold prize is awarded to the Coritanian Elm (Ulmus coritana) further up the hill as there are fewer than 10 of these known in London.

I’m pleased to see a kestrel on the top of a church spire window to the east of the Walk. I hope that means they’re nesting there again.

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