Parkland Walk Survey

Parkland Walk, Southern Section

“We’re being counted,” declared a man from a group of eight walkers.  I was sitting on my comfortable waterproof mat on a convenient wall at the entrance to the Muswell Hill tunnel on the Parkland Walk.

Comfortable waterproof mat!

“Yes,” I replied.  I’m helping with a count of walkers, cyclists, runners and even dogs so that we can advise the Council on a strategy for reducing litter and dog poo.”

“We’re all sound engineers,” said the man, and as if it prove it the group went whooping through the tunnel listening to echoes.

Tunnel at Muswell Hill

Although it was a cloudy afternoon in November, it was a Sunday and the  intermittent drizzle hadn’t put off the 100 walkers I counted in an hour. Most people were wearing navy blue or black down jackets with the odd splash of colour from a rainbow faux fur hood or a pink, yellow and white woollen shawl flung over a jacket.  Dogs were another matter: tartan, striped, spotted and plain; woollen, down and waterproof jackets were sported proudly.

Walkers on the Muswell Hill Section

This was one of four separate counts I took along the Parkland Walk on both weekdays and Sundays.

One very sunny Sunday I counted over 300 walkers, cyclists and runners – and 23 dogs passing by one spot by the meadow near Stapleton Hall Road, a popular walk for locals going to and from Finsbury Park. I even met my neighbour with his adorable King Charles spaniel.  Soon a small group of dogs and their owners had congregated by my bench, but I had to keep an eye out on passers-by to complete my count.

People were intrigued with what we were doing and stopped to chat on weekdays when it wasn’t so busy.  One woman pushing a buggy wanted the Walk widened as she felt at risk in case dogs or cyclists bumped her.

The Footfall Survey took place between 1st November and 14th December last year.  Volunteers carried out 38 one-hour stints over both the southern section (Highgate to Finsbury Park) and the shorter Muswell Hill section. Unsurprisingly, Sundays had the highest usage with my own count of 302 walkers, cyclists and runners and 23 dogs topping the count. But the Parkland Walk is well used any day of the week.  On the southern section an average of 77 people an hour passed by on a weekday with their 13 dogs; and on the Muswell Hill section an average of 64 users and 25 dogs an hour were recorded on a weekday.

For information on the survey and the Parkland Walk see here.

Cast your clouts!

Cow parsley on the Parkland Walk

A quick post today as I’m stuck at home.

I was out in my favourite place, the Parkland Walk, a few days ago. This time a couple of us were identifying the flowers that were out in May. The most profuse was the cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). There it was frothing away at the sides of the path leading up to the walkway beside the bridge at Stapleton Hall Road. I don’t know why it’s called cow parsley – as far as I know the cows don’t eat it. It’s variously known as Queen’s Anne lace, wild chervil or (in Yorkshire) keks. But one of the most evocative names is mother’s dead or mother’s die, or even the less sexist deadman’s flourish, based on its similarity with hemlock, which is poisonous.

On the Stroud Green meadowland, a steep bank sloping towards Florence Road, we identified a number of ‘damned yellow composites’ (the equivalent of the ‘little brown job’ in birding terms!), those dandelion-like composite flowers of the Asteraceae family. Aside from dandelions there was a coltsfoot (Tussilaga farfara) and a cat’s ear (Hypercaeris radicata)- the latter is similar to the dandelion but has hairy basal leaves with the shape and feel of a cats’ ears. Just as we were ready to leave the meadow we came across a single yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis), also known as meadow salsify or more intriguingly Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on account of its tendency to open its flowers in the morning sunshine. It has rather spectacular bracts which encase the petals.

We looked at bushes and shrubs too just to see what species were emerging in the meadow. At the bottom of the slope towards the Florence Road gardens are more substantial trees and shrubs, including a mature hawthorn tree, or may, which was fully out. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’. There seems to be a dispute about whether this means not taking off your jacket until the may blossom is out, or until the month of May is out. Which one I do not know, but it was a rather nice day so we did consider casting our clouts.

Cow parsley
A photo of an original antique illustration by John Sowerby published in 1860s in The English Botany.
Goats beard or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon
Ne’er cast a clout till May be out

Parkland Walk Wildlife Trail

Silver-washed fritillary butterfly

I used to work with the Conservation Volunteers in my student days in Scotland. Many are the rhododendron ponticum shrubs I’ve dug up to make way for native Scottish plants, and once I spent an idyllic two weeks camping on the beach at St Cyrus near Montrose, building a cliff path. So I was pleased when I met a group of Conservation Volunteers constructing a Wildlife Trail at the Highgate end of the Parkland Walk.

I chatted with Simon Olley, who chairs the Friends of the Parkland Walk: “The idea for the Wildlife Trail came out of a conversation I had with Ian Holt, the conservation officer at Haringey Council, about 18 months ago,” he said. “The idea came to fruition when we were successful with the Tesco Bags of Help grant which gave us £10,000 to spend on fencing and materials.”

The Trail area consists of about 3000 square metres of gently sloping land just off the main path. The idea is to create pockets of interest and a variety of habitats around a meandering path. Information boards, mainly aimed at young children, will help identify the flora and fauna. The lower section will be completely accessible to those with mobility issues and work is being done to improve access to the sloping area so that they can use the whole site with some assistance.

The Trail is really shaping up with mixed hedging of hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose, field maple and dogwood forming the boundaries. As well as forming a habitat of its own, the hedging will also act as protection for neighbouring houses. The path is already set out but is awaiting a covering of woodchip which can be sourced from the sycamores that are due to be felled. “There’s a bit of a controversy about the felling,” Simon explained. “Some people think nature conservation is about conserving the status quo and find it hard to understand why a woodland has to be managed. But a healthy woodland has a much lower density of mature trees. The current woodland area is crowded which means the trees compete for light and grow up towards it becoming unbalanced. Originally in Haringey’s wild woods there would have been wild boar and deer keeping the saplings at bay and creating open glades where wildflowers could thrive. We must explain this to local people so they come on board with us.” Simon also told me that sycamore is a non-native tree and only hosts about six varieties of native insect, whereas oak can host 200-400 different varieties.

There were about ten volunteers working when I arrived. I met Sarah who was looking for trees marked with orange dots. She would cut back about a third of the ivy on these trees to reduce the weight of ivy so they would prosper. “I come out with the Conservation Volunteers most weeks,” Sarah told me. “It’s addictive and I’ve worked at sites all over Haringey.” Other volunteers were clearing a patch of ground ready to plant the wildflower seeds donated by Kew Gardens under its Grow Wild initiative, a campaign bringing people together to transform local spaces by growing native pollinator-friendly wildflowers and grasses. This mixture should attract a wide variety of insects and butterflies such as common blues, silver-washed fritillaries and small tortoiseshells.

I asked Simon what made him become interested in the Parkland Walk. “I think, like a lot of people living in densely populated towns, I’ve got more and more interested in green spaces. I’ve always been interested in gardening and I walk my dogs regularly in the Muswell Hill section of the Parkland Walk. It gives me the opportunity to stop and listen to birdsong and take in all the colours of the plants and the activity of the wildlife. I wanted to put back something I’ve gained so I contacted the Friends. I’ve been on the Committee now for six years and what I bring to being the Chair is my encouragement to get more people involved.”

That’s certainly true, as Simon has now signed me up to become a litter picker on the section of the Parkland Walk near to me!

Lunchtime with the Conservation Volunteers
Ivy arch
New hedging
Ivy-clad tree
Grow Wild seeds

Graffiti Art on the Parkland Walk

Anyone familiar with the Parkland Walk will know about the brick railway arches that make ideal canvasses for graffiti artists. I used to think that spray cans were wielded by local young people who use the Cape Play and Youth Project, but I now realise the arches attract graffiti artists from across London who want to make their mark one way or another.

Walking underneath the arches last week I met Nil, from Marseille, who moved to London a year ago to work in advertising. I talked to him about his art: “I’ve been interesting in painting all my life and became obsessed by graffiti when a friend introduced me to it when I was 18.”

Nil was taking some paintings to a friend who works as a framer in Crouch End when she told him about the graffiti wall.

Talking to Nil about his art: Photo credit – Michele Monticello
Underneath the arches: Photo credit – Michele Monticello

I asked him what the graffiti meant and he said that he always paints in light blue and pink: “I love these colours and last year I chose them to mark my work. It should be more recognisable now.” Who is Ben, I wanted to know. “He’s a friend of mine. I’ve also signed this with my own name and the date,” he said, indicating his signature.

Nil painting underneath the arches: Photo credit – Michele Monticello
Nil’s graffiti

“This is a new place for me. I usually paint at the wall surrounding the Trellick Tower in North West London near my home.” The Trellick Tower wall is one of the three legal graffiti sites in London, the other two being Stockwell Hall of Fame and the Leake Street tunnel at Waterloo.

Trellick Tower Graffiti Wall

Further along I examined a menacing masked figure clad in black and red armour with the hashtag #do1cancer. I’m intrigued so when I’m back home I do a bit of searching to enlighten me, finding that do1cancer is a group of graffiti artists who organise events to raise money for cancer charities.


Concern about graffiti along the Parkland Walk has been raised by users. However, most complaints are about the ‘tagging’ or non-artistic variety rather than the artistic graffiti underneath the bridges. So it’s a controversial issue, but the graffiti is tolerated because probably most people would agree that the wall paintings brighten up the dark arches.

Thanks to who shared his photos with me.