Sue Lees may have most recently been involved in the campaign to Save Kiln Meadow, but before that she was helping create a wildlife-friendly space in north London.
'My heart used to sink when I thought about Archway Cuttings South East (one of the wooded slopes around the Archway Bridge in North London, on either side of the A1).
In the London Borough of Islington there is little space for nature. However, Archway Cuttings South East - unusable by people - is a reservoir for biodiversity.
Despite the site’s status as a Site of Borough Importance Grade 1, the owners, Transport for London (TfL), confined their maintenance activities to safety works, and an annual strim of all vegetation that was not an established tree, or the privet hedge. In addition, there was a stand of Japanese knotweed at the southern end, and a tip of tarmac from the adjacent path, as well as various other smaller flytippings.
Ten years ago I managed to make contact with TfL and they agreed to produce a lorry and some men to help clear the rubbish. Local residents and I cleared the mess and the TfL men got it into the lorry. Islington Council’s staff, who have been supportive throughout, kindly gave us hundreds of wild narcissus, anenomes, ramsoms, snowdrops, and bluebells, and volunteers planted them. TfL agreed to stop strimming the site in the interests of nature replenishment. They have allowed us to continue working on the site on the basis of an informal agreement.
Over the years we have got more organised, and now the Islington Wildlife Gardeners' Group comes in a few times over the winter to cut the hedge and judiciously prune the undergrowth. There is a stand of holly trees at the northern end of our triangular site which we understand is rare. There are various big trees, not all native.
We have planted native tree saplings (oak, hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, bird cherry, crab apple, wayfarer, buckthorn (for the brimstone butterfly), and smaller delights like dog rose, spindle, and honeysuckle. Despite our very hot dry site many have survived. We have also put in iris foetidissima, violet, lords'n'ladies, fern, dwarf comfrey. The site already had elders, sycamores, nettles, hogweed, brambles, bindweed, ivy, and nicer things emerged when the strimming stopped: pink campion, celandines, alkanet, garlic mustard (for the orange tip butterfly). The Council’s Biodiversity Officer kindly put up bird- and bat boxes.
We have spent no money. All plants came from our gardens.
Recently we have made steps out of bricks and broken flagstones left lying around. We litter-pick periodically. We now see bees and assorted insects, and tits, robins, wrens, blackbirds, woodpigeons. This is never going to be an SSSI, but as our young trees and plants develop, there will be more flowers and fruit, and more biodiversity. It is viewable from the adjacent path and allows inner city people to glimpse nature.
On one side there are gardens and big ivy-clad trees, it is part of a wider area of biodiversity. When we go in there, despite the background growl of the A1, we do hear the song of the earth.
At the moment, the North Eastern Cuttings (which has a separate entrance) is maintained by TfL in accordance with their previous practices. However, I'm delighted to say that TFL have recently committed both to conduct a clean-up of the site (with which we will gladly help), and to review and update their maintenance activities in light of the lessons learned in our patch.'
I am delighted to report that since writing this piece TfL have cleared out the rubbish from the Archway Cuttings North East, many thanks, TfL!