An evening with the Selborne Society of Perivale Wood

Lying in wait behind the wrought iron gates of the Perivale Wood Local Nature Reserve was the lost British summer. The ancient oak woodland is a well-kept suburban secret that is deeply hidden in the heart of north-west London, and reveals a wildlife habitat that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. Perivale Wood is owned and managed by the Selborne Society who kindly invited me to attend their summer barbecue as a ‘thank you’ for writing an article in The Selborne Society Newsletter.

The society’s hospitality extended to two guests, my hive partner Emily and her boyfriend Drew, with whom I spent a sociable evening enjoying late summer sunshine, well-charred food and a little adventure in the wood.

The Selborne Society rustled up the sunshine for their summer barbecue.

Emily and me arrived at the barbecue with Andy Pedley, honorary secretary for the society, who kindly drove us from the apiary after beekeeping. It was a sleepy Saturday afternoon with balmy sunshine so much better than has been expected of this dreary wet summer. Drew turned up soon after and we were all surprised by the strong sun suddenly beaming down on the reserve.

Perivale Wood is the second oldest nature reserve in the UK, and the Selborne Society is also one of the oldest conservation groups in the country. The society was founded in 1885 to commemorate Gilbert White (1720–93), the Curate of Selborne, Hampshire, and the father of British natural history.

Perivale Wood has a rich variety of habitat and is home to hundreds of woodland species as listed on the Selborne Society website: 600 species of fungi, 544 species of moths, 30 species of molluscs, 17 species of mammals, 24 species of trees, 350 species of vascular plants, 36 species of mosses and liverworts, and 115 species of birds.

Sadly, the ancient woodland habitat and its creatures are now under threat by the government’s high-speed rail project HS2.

While we planned to explore the woods that evening, the reserve hut was also well-worth visiting – filled with home-made jams and several other curiosities…

The nature reserve hut was like a scene from My Family and Other Animals.

An old wasp nest displayed among pinned butterflies and stuffed birds. A naturalist’s treasure trove!

Home-made jams cooked with locally foraged ingredients by Clare, beekeeper and jam-maker extraordinaire!

A few sausages and fizzy drinks later, Emily asked if we could explore the wood past the meadow area. Elsa tried to give us directions to the location of the bees in the wood, but instead we managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost on the dense woodland trail.

Perivale Wood is home to birds, mammals, insects, fungi and plants – all hidden inside the dense overgrowth.

Emily exploring the wood.

Woodland flowers reaching up to the sun.

Spotted – a heron.

Although I had visited the hives in Perivale Wood in January, when the trees were bare and moth traps were being laid on the ground, I was not much good as a guide. Then Andy and Elsa had led the way through the dark with Elsa’s son, Chris, and myself following blindly behind.

Night falls on Perivale Wood earlier this year in January.

The path is occasionally lit by spooky-looking moth traps for the 544 species of moths that roam the wood after dark.

The trail had led us past an oak that is home to feral honeybees, and a few feral mice too.

The Beehaus! A new Omlet hive provides a modern home for bees in an ancient oak woodland.

By daylight I couldn’t remember the way back to the hives and so the woodland bees remained undisturbed, but we did get to visit Elsa’s bees and her chickens.

A hen walks past a bit indignant to have her pen disturbed.

Clare and Elsa placate the hens with mealworms.

Elsa’s bees live in a very charming hive beautifully crafted by her son, Chris.

Before we left for the day (with fresh eggs from Elsa and jams from Clare) Emily, Drew and me signed up as members of the Selborne Society having paid a staggering £4 annual membership fee!

As a new member I am looking forward to finding out what other secrets lie hidden in the wood. However, Perivale Wood – and blogging – will have to wait for a little while as I study for my first beekeeping assessment. Fingers crossed, I’ll pass!

Meantime, in spite of my rather rushed post between revision this week, our beekeeping adventures last week were beautifully posted by a very special guest, Deborah Delong of Romancing the Bee: My Visit To The Ealing Apiary.

Related links

Dances with bluebells and rain – my post on the Selborne Society Open Day
Perivale Wood Local Nature Reserve and Selborne Society website
North Ealing against HIGH-SPEED-RAIL (HS2)
STOP HS2 – the national campaign against high-speed rail 

In other news: I have started my blog award pages this week and will soon unveil the Bumblebee Award!

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27 thoughts on “An evening with the Selborne Society of Perivale Wood

  1. Awesome blog. I have had an ongoing relationship with a wild wood in Colchester, and I will let them know about this blog post. As to rail links, since rail fails to make money I am unable to see why they bother investing in more railway connections.

    • Thanks, Alex! I’d like to know more about the wild wood of Colchester, do they have a blog? Are you joined to their conservation activities?

      HS2 is a mystery – estimated costs are now £79 billion. It seems to have been sold up north by saying it will create new jobs – perhaps for engineers but this will be short term. Meantime, it will damage 100s of ancient habitats and will only cut journey times by 20 minutes for the estimated 1% of the British public who will use it. Why not spend £79 billion on the NHS, researching bee diseases, improving internet connections for video conferencing for businesses… unfathomable really…

      • The wood is Pitchbury Wood near Colchester. It is privately owned and the project is in its early days. No blog yet. They will have bee hives soon. The owner moved from Colchester to Cambridge which put a spanner in the works as far as communications is concerned. I am waiting on their strategy for this wood before I can get more involved.

  2. Lovely post Emma. I was blown away by the generosity of all the food at the barbecue. Glad I’m a member now, looking forward to going on some of their events. Would like to help with the conservation work, although they do it at the mad time of 10am on a Sunday when I like to be in bed!

    Only downside of that walk was I’m now covered with itchy mosquito bites that have swelled up to epic proportions, I seem to get quite a reaction to the bites. But some of those may have occurred in the apiary too, I’m going to wear my bee suit at all times there from now on.

    • Bee suit on at all times sounds like a plan 🙂 I was eaten alive too, should have smothered myself in eucalyptus oil but our bees wouldn’t have like that!

      Excited to be a member of the Selborne Society too, the programme looks really interesting and I’d like to get involved with more conservation work – preferably not 10am on a Sunday, gah!

  3. Love the new background! Looking at your pictures of the walk through the woods, I was going to ask if you guys have mosquitos as bad as we do here, but then I saw Emily’s post. 🙂
    Also, how great that you and Deb got to meet up on her visit!

    • It was lots of fun meeting, Deb 🙂

      Yes, we were eaten alive by mozzies in Perivale Wood, they seem to be particularly big and vicious this year. What do you use to repel them?

      Thanks for the comment on the new background, painted by a very talented young friend of mine 🙂

      • You call them mozzies? I like it! We’ve been hit hard this summer with them as well. I think because of our mild winter. I’ve read that if you rub take a handful of basil and crush it and rub the oil over your skin and clothes it will deter them. I have tried it and it works marginal. Usually if we are going in the woods we use OFF.
        The background really is beautiful!

      • I must try that because the mozzies are particularly vicious this year! Maybe because of the wet summer but our apiary seems to be infested with them now – citronella candles perhaps…

    • ‘A mini-vacation’, I like that! It was a lovely late afternoon exploration through the wilds of north-west London! The Selborne Society hold lots of interesting talks and events throughout the year. Do you have anything similar in your area?

      • What a good question. If I was not such a misanthropic beekeeper I’d be part of my local beekeepers association and I’d probably know the answer to that. Unfortunately I am, however, and have no idea what’s available for the touring around here. I suppose I should kick it into gear and get around to doing that.

  4. Hi Emma,
    If anyone is in the Bristol, South-West and likes foraging, a guy called Dave Hamilton leads some great foraging walks. I wrote a post about foraging and this includes a link to his website and books he has written.

  5. How interesting! I didn’t know about this! Such a great place to visit and to take some fresh produce home! 🙂 Sounds like you had a great time 😉 Love this about London, so many secrets to discover!

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