No angels on Peckham Rye

by Richard Jones

Sunday afternoon is scooter time for me and three-year-old. So off we go down to Peckham Rye, careering into wheelie bins and unwary pedestrians as we go.

Black poplar in Peckham Rye parkSunday afternoon is scooter time for me and three-year-old. So off we go down to Peckham Rye, careering into wheelie bins and unwary pedestrians as we go. He's really got the hang of his little three-wheeler and I take a particular childish pleasure in hurtling after him on one of the girl's chrome scooters. There are two reasons to go down to the park: one is to wear out small boy fuelled by roast lunch and too many home-made buns, and the other is to have a look and see what I can find in the way of wildlife down there. The Rye is a tad bigger than my back garden, so I can usually find something different.

The first thing we see is a fox, loitering about the 'cat house'. As we reach the impenetrable front garden I can hear it walking about in the deep bushes; as we pull back a branch and peer into the dense gloom we can see it skulking only a few feet from us. I guess it feels safe here and is probably a regular visitor pinching the food left out for the more or less feral cats that prowl the area.

Down on the Rye everything is starting to look very autumnal and the leaves are building up into treacherously slippery mounds. The trees still hold some secrets though. In 1767, a 9- or 10-year-old William Blake saw an oak tree full of angels here. The angel oak as it was long called is no longer, but there are some handsome black poplars which might just about be 250 years old. I'm not a poplar expert, but these must be the widely-planted cultivar, Populus x canadensis.

We park our scooters up against the tree and examine the gnarled and wrinkled bark at the very base of the trunk. Sure enough, sheltering in the crannies there, are several specimens of a very pretty weevil, Dorytomus ictor. No English name for this little (4.5mm) beetle, even though it is delightfully marked, with coloured scales all over. More secretive than scarce, I think, it is usually regarded by entomologists as a rare insect, but in London it is onĀ all black poplars, except for the Lombary poplar, 'Italica'. It must spend most of the year out of reach up in the foliage. I've only ever seen it once in summer, when dozens of specimens were flying about under a large tree in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. In winter it heads for the bark and is always there. I show them to the boy, but he just wants to chase squirrels to see if he can squash them under his wheels. As I said, no angels here any more, just the odd little devil.

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Gardeners' World Web User 29/10/2008 at 23:25

I have 8 foot fences sourrounding my garden - we have hedgehogs visiting and found a young one just the other night! The only way in is to climb over the fences.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/10/2008 at 22:45

Thanks Jan I am encouraged - I will try some hedgehog food to entice them up the bank now that I know they will climb.

Gardeners' World Web User 08/11/2008 at 18:26

Reply to Jane P. Hedgehogs are reported to be good climbers, but we don't get them in East Dulwich so I've never had the pleasure of seeing them scale anything. The last one I saw alive was up in Camberwell nearly 20 years ago. Incidentally, if you find one in the street and want to move it beware of the fleas. Many years ago when I lived in Willesden in North London I found one surrounded by a posse of interested cats. Thinking I would rescue it and release it in a nearby park I picked it up and carried it home. All the way, and up into the flat I watched the fleas hop off onto my hand,and skip down my arm. There were dozens of them.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2008 at 21:23

Today i have had such an array of birds feeding in my garden , i live in Worsley Manchester. The Blue tits were searching out the bird boxes ,Gold Finches , a Chaffinch, Wren , Dunnock, Coal tits ,Sparrows, Blackbirds ,a pair of Magpie,s , and of course Starlings.It was like a spring morning . 2 pairs of Gold Finches and 2 pairs of Green Finches are new to the garden this year , lets hope i can keep them . I feed them every day and they love the sunflower hearts.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:37

Would anyone know if hedgehogs will climb up a steep ivytangled bank (about 8ft high) to get into my terraced garden to find the hedgehog hide I have made every year in the hopes of one staying overwinter and eating slugs next year? My small garden is surrounded by other gardens, with lots of vegetation and trees, and we are close to wild woods - but all going down steeply from the terraced house gardens at the back. Am I hoping in vain? Thankyou very much for any ideas.