Spring on the Copse 2016

April 27, 2016 § 3 Comments


There has been so much rain in recent months that even the days of sunshine have failed to dry out the ground. The path through the Copse has been almost a sea of slippery mud. Bluebells are beginning to raise their heads but even they look bedraggled at the moment and the strong winds have removed some of the weak branches which have gathered in drifting piles. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether people might have dumped them there over their garden fence.

Two trees were blown down across the path in the recent gales, one of them completely blocking it so that the dogs and I have had to scrabble through some prickly undergrowth to get round it. I had this debate with myself; joggers, dog walkers and families with children do pass through the Copse and the fallen trees are large obstacles. Should nature be allowed to take over or should I phone the Council, who are responsible for the maintenance of this local amenity. I thought about it for a day or so and then decided I would phone as the Copse seemed to be falling in on itself. There was also something in my mind about wanting to prove that people do make use of this small piece of nature, so that there wouldn’t be an attempt to de-label it as green space and make it vulnerable to building development – which has been mooted. I was surprised when the trees were cleared within a week especially as I had agreed with the young man in the parks department that this wasn’t an urgent job. When I say ‘cleared’ I don’t mean completely cleared away but chopped so that there’s a way through.

The other day I was talking with one of the people from a nearby house and we discussed mud, gales, fallen trees and litter on the Copse. The lady said that for quite a while she had cleared the litter but stopped doing that when the Council only started to collect fortnightly and her dustbin got too full. She told me that some young folk have re-built a den again in part of the copse and even installed an old bench. They collect there in the evenings sometimes, lighting fires and making noise. This must have been since a ‘ring’ of branches was laid-out in the area during the Autumn. I wondered about contributing something – maybe I might introduce the bark mask as a decoration. I’ve had some email contact with members of The Elephant’s Journey and when I mentioned this John recalled Stig of the Dump. I’d forgotten Stig but it does fit. I have to acknowledge that I’ve felt a bit of a fraud somehow in relation to The Elephant’s Journey because the other members do their work in urban areas, highlighting adverse developments through their art, whereas I’m out of that loop, working in small green spaces in the suburbs, interacting with what I see. However, John was very encouraging around the idea of a discourse with the den builders.

I’ve also just started to read a lovely book Common Ground (R. Cowen,2015) which is an account of Rob Cowen’s explorations in a nearby edge-land after moving from London to a new home in Yorkshire. He writes, ‘Enmeshed in every urban edge is also the continuous narrative of the subsistence of nature, pragmatic and prosaic, the million things that survive and even thrive in the fringes. This little patch of common ground was precisely that: common. And all the richer for it’ (2015:9) Looking at the illustrated map at the front of the book  Cowen’s  piece of edge-land is much much larger than mine but I can still notice changes over time and see how nature and people impose their presence.  A little further on Cowen writes of entering Chauvet Cave  in the Ardeche Gorges and seeing the representations painted and scratched on its walls over between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago and how they show  the engagement between animal, land and human. He concludes, ‘What I didn’t realise until later is that in seeking to unlock, discover and make sense of a place, I was invariably doing the same to myself. The portrait was also of me’ (2015:11).




Cowen, R. (2016) Common ground. United Kingdom: Windmill Books.
King, C. and Ardizzone, E. (1963) Stig of the dump. United Kingdom: Puffin Books, Middlesex.


§ 3 Responses to Spring on the Copse 2016

  • John Levett says:

    The matter of ‘The Commons’ & ‘Common’ land generally is an increasing site of contestation. In Cambridge we have multiple ‘Commons’: Midsummer, Coldhams, Stourbridge, Christ’s Pieces, Coe Fen, Parker’s Piece & others. We still graze cattle on them too. We still note & publicize any incursions & attempts to ‘temporarily’ make use of them by commercial companies. I recall Carla being amazed at the cattle grazing on the commons beside Fen Road.

    These spaces are mightily used and their use is growing; a sign of ‘use them or loose them’ taking hold.

    Large parts of riverside are college-owned for use by the rowing clubs.They have clout too.

    We have good walking space in Cambridge & on it’s outskirts too; especially between the roads out to the villages. There are old quarries around Cherry Hinton & there’s the Gog Magog Hills up beyond Addenbrookes Hospital. The other side of the hospital is the site of a vast house building development. Every development trope is present including the creation of the country walk. I spent Boxing Day out there trying to get a snap shot of the state of play. There are adjacent developments related to the expansion of the hospital & the university research provisions. Interestingly, there are spaces between that are beginning to take on ‘abandonment’ characteristics.

    There are walks to be made here!

    Cambridge Commons

    John Levett

    • Catherine says:

      It’s good to know that there is so much available around Cambridge. Horsell Common is opposite where I used to live (H.G. Wells had his martians land there). Apparently Horsell Common Preservation Society is the largest private landowners, as it were, in the area. They’ve done deals with McLarens the Formula 1 Company,who keep on applying for planning permission to build on green belt (http://www.horsellcommon.org.uk/news/hcps-acquires-heather-farm/ ) but I think it’s a constant battle and vigilance to resist encroachment especially when the topic of providing work for Woking residents is utilised.
      Cattle have been placed on various parts of the Commons over the past few years and horses as well. The Commons has its size as a good bulwark but its those smaller pieces of land that get gobbled up.. Definitely “use them or lose them”.

  • […] Subsequently I continued to develop this with a further project where I set up a mini exhibition in the Copse (write-up under Personal Project category here ) and I will be including a photograph of this in my Assessment portfolio box. Another result of this post was an invitation to join the blog the Elephant’s Journey a collaboration of urban artists who take photographs in the environment and then place these back within the environment. I now have two posts on that blog and the latest one is here . […]

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