Hawthorn blossom in January at Crabtree Fields

A hawthorn tree in Crabtree Fields is already in blossom and it is only January.

A hawthorn tree in Crabtree Fields is already in blossom and it is only January.

A hawthorn tree in Crabtree Fields is starting to blossom, yet it is only the first week of January. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) also known as the May tree after the month it normally blooms is a common sight in the hedgerows outside London. When in bloom it is usually at a time when spring is turning into summer. But due to the exceptionally mild (and wet) winter so far the fragrant flowers are already unfurling under the winter sun.

“Even with global warming and an early season, hawthorn is unlikely to flower before the end of the first week of May,” noted gardener Monty Don.

Hawthorn is very important to wildlife and can support more than 300 insects. “It is the foodplant for caterpillars of moths, including the hawthorn, orchard ermine, pear leaf blister, rhomboid tortrix, light emerald, lackey, vapourer, fruitlet-mining tortrix, small eggar and lappet moths,” says The Woodland Trust.

“Its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The haws are rich in antioxidants and are eaten by migrating birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals.”

A mature hawthorn tree or a hedge with its dense, thorny foliage makes it and excellent nesting shelter for many species of bird.

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Reusing Norway spruce to help nature conservation in Crabtree Fields

Deadwood area.

A deadwood area next to a brick wall provides an important habitat for wildlife.

The Friends group made light work on Saturday morning of a couple of discarded Christmas trees left on the pavement outside Crabtree Fields public open space.

Twenty minutes with a pair of pruning loppers and a handsaw, and the abandoned festive decoration was ready to be upcycled as deadwood to support insects.

The Christmas tree or more correctly Norway spruce (Picea abies) is a familiar non-native, and a value to native wildlife even when it is dead and chopped up.

Deadwood provides sustenance, nutrients and shelter for numerous species of animals, plants and fungi. It directly increases habitat diversity and provides niches which are more stable, moist and sheltered than most surrounding habitats.

Conservationists with the Friends group have been working hard over the winter months cutting back vegetation and creating piles of “brash” and leaves to improve biodiversity in Crabtree Fields.

Camden’s parks contractor idverde wanted to come along with leaf blowers and destroy the habitat. But after a series of meetings to educate idverde and Camden council they have adopted and praised the cutting edge nature conservation work being carried out by the Friends.

But please don’t dump your unwanted Christmas trees in our parks and open spaces. The work the Friends do is only voluntary and a lot of preparation work needs to be done. Instead, please see Camden Council’s website page on how to recycle your Christmas tree.

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Ten beech trees planted in Crabtree Fields this autumn

Beech stems.

A newly planted beech tree grows out of the existing hedge at Crabtree Fields.

The Friends group have planted ten beech trees at Crabtree Fields public open space, to restore the hedge that surrounds the eastern border of the park. The beech saplings, which are about five years old, were all planted by volunteers in November. They were bought from a nursery in Kent and paid for by a local, anonymous donor.

Over the years the beech hedge has been a distinctive characteristic of the much loved little park. But some of the beech trees that make up the original hedge have died. The prolonged drought in 2018 meant several trees had to be removed leaving gaps in the hedge.

Common beech (Fagus sylvatica) is native to southern England and makes a good hedging plant. “If clipped it doesn’t shed its leaves, and creates a year-round dense screen, which provides a great habitat for garden birds,” says the Woodland Trust.

Dead wood and fallen leaves are not thrown away. Instead the Friends group have created dead wood areas and leaf piles in out-of-the-way parts of the park to encourage insects and food for wildlife. We don’t use leaf blowers but sweep or rake the leaves into piles.

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Please keep away from fenced-off area in Crabtree Fields until repair is complete

Pergola hazard tape area.

Visitors to Crabtree Fields public open space are advised to keep away from the fenced off area under the pergola until repairs and urgent maintenance is completed. The area affected has been marked off with hazard tape.

The Friends group have completed a small repair and put the hazard tape up to make the area safe. Camden’s parks department have been notified and will complete the repair in due course.

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Fungi pop up in Crabtree Fields

Fungi growing.

Quite a lot of fungi has emerged out of the ground in Crabtree Fields this week after all the rain. The visible part of fungi is the mushroom or toadstool and is the fruit of the underlying mycelium, a system of fine threads that stretches out beneath the mushroom in search of water and food. Fungi breakdown dead wood and leaves and recycle nutrients back into the soil, which helps plants to grow and thrive. Please don’t touch the fungi, let it grow. We don’t know what type it is and it may be poisonous.

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Repairs and maintenance at Crabtree Fields this autumn and winter


The Friends group have asked Camden parks’ department to make a repair to the pergola at Crabtree Fields after a section of timber broke on Friday 11 October. The Friends group fenced off the area under the pergola and alerted Camden to carry out an urgent repair.

The Friends have identified further repairs where sections of timber supporting the wisteria, ivy and kiwi vines are rotten. We will try to arrange for these sections to be repaired without damaging the greenery it supports, which is a much needed and well-loved feature of the public open space.

In November the Friends group will be filling the gaps in the beech hedge by planting new trees to restore the hedge to its formal shape and improve the habitat for wildlife. Several of the beech plants have died and need replacing. This work is being done thanks to a generous donation from someone who works in Fitzrovia, is a frequent visitor to the park and who is paying for the new beech plants.

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This is why park hedges should not be cut in the spring and summer months

Juvenile blackbird on hedge.

A young blackbird sits on a hedge in Crabtree Fields public open space.

Farmers are not allowed to cut hedges between 1 March and 31 August to protect the habitat of nesting birds. The same guidance should be applied to public parks in our cities, yet all too often it is ignored.

Using machinery such as hedge trimmers and leaf blowers can disrupt the habitat, disturbing nests. Birds that have left the nest but are too young to fly can be separated from their parents who still help them to feed. While juvenile they can hop around and find food and still retreat to the safety of the hedge when danger threatens.

This young blackbird has left its nest but cannot yet fend for itself. If a small army of maintenance workers turn up and start cutting the hedge and blowing cuttings around it will likely take fright and become separated from its parents and could starve and die.

So please Camden Council, give our wildlife the chance to live. Cut the hedges in the autumn and winter months just like farmers are supposed to do.

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