A short walk from Perivale underground station in west London is a wood so precious it’s open to the public just once a year, when the forest floor is carpeted with more than four million bluebells.
Perivale Wood covers 27 acres of ancient oak forest and meadow, a remnant of the forest that once covered all of southern England. It was one of the UK's first nature reserves and is owned and managed by the Selborne Society, founded in 1885 to commemorate the 18th c. naturalist Gilbert White. In 1957 it was registered as a site of Special Scientific Interest and the Society began an intensive management programme to restore its fragile habitat, which had suffered from neglect during and after World War II.
Today there are signs of coppicing on the larger trees, and a programme of planned felling is creating clearings where seedlings have a chance to develop and rejuvenate the forest. The first Open Day was held in 1970, initially in May, but now on the last Sunday in April as global warming means the bluebells are flowering earlier. (Even so, the carpet of blue was almost past its best this year, and some visitors were suggesting the Open Day should perhaps be brought further forward.)
On the Open Day, a nature trail takes visitors along a specific route past the wood’s highlights and special displays. I loved this Bug Hotel made from recycled materials that provides shelter for wasps, bees, spiders, ladybirds and woodlice.
As well as the bluebells, there are banks of wild flowers, three ponds, two streams and glimpses of the Grand Union Canal that runs along part of the wood’s border. The reserve is also home to 24 species of trees, some carefully marked on the trail map. More than 100 species of birds have also been seen there, but maybe the sudden influx of people on Open Day sent them into hiding - on our walk round the wood, we heard just one crow.