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!


Dances with bluebells and rain

The bluebell’s love of gloomy weather aroused my suspicions of the ongoing rain. Wet, cold days have made this woodland flower last longer, while bees stay hidden inside the hive. Yet another rainy bank holiday confirmed my fears that spring has fallen under enchantment of fairies dancing in bluebell rings. So with little beekeeping doing, I pulled on wellies and trudged through mud to explore London’s ancient bluebell woods.

The ancient oak-and-bluebell woodlands of Perivale, Greater London.

In spring the bluebells come out to play mischief beneath time-weary oaks.

My guided tour of London’s bluebells started on Sunday 29 April at Perivale Wood’s Public Open Day. Perivale Wood is Britain’s second oldest nature reserve and is owned by the Selborne Society, the country’s oldest conservation charity. These ancient oak-and-bluebell woodlands have remained unchanged for centuries and may reveal what plant and insect species lived in Britain almost 9,000 years ago. ‘Bluebells are an indicator of ancient woodlands,’ said Ed, our guide through the muddy meadows and beneath the dark canopy of trees. One of our group had brought a flask of spiced masala tea, so we paused for a while to enjoy a cuppa and listen to the sound of rain falling on leaves.

The bluebell is the very spirit of English springtime.

Bluebells are at their peak in May and my favourite National Trust park and house was holding guided bluebell walks with one of the park wardens. It was the perfect thing to do on a showery bank holiday, so the following Sunday I was led by bluebells to Osterley Park. Incredible explosions of blue carpeted the woodland floor and trailed alongside gnarled roots of ancient oaks.

Breathtaking carpet of blue within the woods at Osterley Park.

Folklore says bluebells are fairy flowers…

… and mortals who wander into bluebell rings fall under fairy enchantment.

‘Don’t stray too far off the path,’ warned Ben, the park warden. ‘Folklore says that mortals who wander into bluebells rings will fall asleep and wake in a hundred years!’ Our charming and knowledgeable guide wove fact and folklore as we wandered through Osterley’s enchanted woods. ‘Bluebells were too poisonous to use in medicine, but their starchy roots were used to make glue,’ said Ben. ‘The crushed bulbs provided starch for the ruffs of Elizabethan collars.’ We discovered that English bluebells are threatened by their own Spanish Armada – an invasion of Spanish bluebells that endanger our native species with hybridisation. They also suffer from being trampled underfoot by clumsy mortals, so we were careful to follow Ben’s advice and stick to the path.

All parts of the plant are poisonous, but the sticky sap had many uses including sticking feathers to arrows and binding pages into the spines of books.

Bluebell visited by small fly.

Back at the apiary, bluebell displays are springing up in-between shade and light. I found a few flowers peeking at the sky and revealing their creamy yellow pollen. Bluebells are an important early source of food for bees who are rumoured to steal the nectar from the flowers. They bite a hole in the bottom of the bell and drink the nectar without pollinating the flower. I hope our bees enjoy drinking sweet-scented English bluebells while the rain decides to stay.

Bees steal the nectar from bluebells without pollinating the flower.

Hopefully, our bees enjoy a stolen drink from bluebells in-between showers.

Nature likes to surprise us – ethereal white-and-blue bluebells at the apiary.

Read more about the bluebells of Perivale at this great post: Open day, Perivale Wood and another lovely post about woodland flowers: Woodland plants may be pungent, prickly and even poisonous

Bluebells links
The Selborne Society and Perivale Woods
Osterley Park and House