The first Dawn Redwood is planted

In the first week of May a few FoMC members helped the Council team to plant a Dawn Redwood just below the Community Orchard on the main Common. The background is given in the article below. This is the first of 3 redwoods promised for this part of the Common. The others should appear by November. Until then we must keep the present one alive by frequent watering.

Trees on the Common

It was the poor state and declining number of trees on the Common that led to the formation of Friends of Midsummer Common (FoMC) in 2006. FoMC worked with the City Council in formulating the 2010 Plan which called for 50 new trees and 10 replacements. FoMC members helped buy some of these trees and created the Community Orchard which added 50 more trees. Since then, FoMC has kept a wary eye on the Council's management of trees on the Common whilst keeping in mind the 2001 Conservation Plan's Guiding Principles. In 2019 the Council felled the only Tree of Heaven left on the Common and FoMC has asked for its replacement.

These are interesting times for trees. Our Government has called for more trees to be planted to combat global warming and climate change; Cambridge has its own Canopy Project to increase tree coverage from 17% to 19%. The 2019-24 Management Plan for the Common says that "ways must now be found to increase the number and variety of trees on the Common".

Variety is important. The Council's new policy is to plant a mix of both native and non-native trees. Doing this will help protect against the loss of one or more species through pest, disease or climate change. So FoMC floated the idea that the felled Tree of Heaven be replaced by another of Chinese origin - a Dawn Redwood.

The word Redwood makes most people think of the giants of the Californian coast, which reach heights of 115m! However, Dawn Redwoods are only 50m high in their natural environment and have grown to no more than 30m after 70 years growing in the UK. They were first discovered as fossils in 1939 – it wasn’t until 1945 that living specimens were identified in the Hubei province of China. Seeds were acquired and passed to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden where they can be seen growing. And in other Cambridge gardens.

Redwoods are fast growing and long-lived deciduous conifers making them excellent carbon sinks. They are well-suited to floodplains and tolerate drought. They are not invasive so do not pose a threat to native species. They provide the aesthetic benefit of beautiful foliage in the summer and minimal light obstruction in the winter. They greatly enhance the aesthetic appeal of any area in which they are planted. Such attractive and long-lived trees would be a lasting feature on the Common, and a beautiful way to commemorate the strange year we’ve had.

The Council Tree Team has been thinking along similar lines and has agreed to plant not one but three Dawn Redwoods on our Common. Plans are to located them at the eastern end of the main Common - between Cutter Ferry Bridge and the Community Orchard near where the Tree of Heaven once grew. Subject to Councillors approval, one will be planted soon and the other two before the UK hosts the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November. When all three are in place, we believe they will make a positive contribution in combating global warming and climate change as well as being an aesthetic joy to those who visit our Common.

An unusual year on the Common

Coronavirus has had striking effects on Midsummer Common. Events were cancelled and this left a glaring hole - Midsummer Fair had been running for over 800 years. The Fort St George pub and Midsummer House restaurant closed their doors. Cyclists crossing the Common became a rare sight during the first lockdown with schools closed and people working from home. The Grass was mowed only once and the weeds appeared in profusion. But this didn't stop many families taking their daily exercise walking across the grassland and picnicing under the summer sun. FoMC volunteers continued to keep the Community Orchard a popular venue. And our Secretary produced a new Summer Newsletter followed by another one for the Autumn.

No Midsummer Fair

Midsummer Common has been a tranquil place to take exercise and watch the grazing cattle over the last few months. Walkers have complied with the coronavirus guidelines and kept their social distance. The Council stopped their programme of events on the Common so Midsummer Fair did not turn up last week. But that did not stop some of its followers turning up in great numbers yesterday. Social distancing was no more as crowds assembled near the Fort.

The police and Council had advance warning that the Gypsy Roma Travellers would turn up for their annual reunion. Council powers were limited: they moved the cattle into the Eastern pound, closed the pub and blocked vehicle entry to the Common. The police patrolled local streets and were ever present on the Common to keep order. A number of people were arrested for criminal matters, a number of people were dispersed from the area and a number of drivers were ticketed for inappropriate parking. Fortunately there was little violence and the travellers left at nightfall. The Council was quick to turn up the following morning to clear the rubbish on the Common and release the cattle.

Coronavirus behaviour

The Common is proving a popular place for people to take their exercise. The dog walkers in the picture are following government orders and standing 2m apart whilst discussing when they will be allowed back to work. And in the background others are looking at the herd of 16 cows that have just arrived back on the Common.

Hooligans on the Common

Drama as hooligans dug a big hole on Butt Green. Were they looking for plague victims that were buried in the area in the early 17th century? Did they know that byelaws in 1851 imposed fines of forty shillings on every person who shall dig up any Common pastures? Pictures provide the evidence.

To make matters worse, one of the hooligans decided that if the Fort St George would not serve food and beer, it was time to eat whatever was available. Will anybody be asked to pay the bill?

To draw more attention to their presence, one decided to go swimming in the river and it took two fire engines, a dozen firemen, half a dozen canoes, two longboats and many other helpers to get the hooligan back onto dry land. Will anybody be asked to pay this bill?

Green Volunteering

Over the years, FoMC members have worked hard to improve the state of Midsummer Common and the adjacent Community Orchard. They established the Orchard - cleared the site, planted the trees and hedges, landscaped the entrance and installed two benches, a picnic table and a boules court. But these green spaces need constant maintenance and a group of FoMC volunteers plays a big part in this. They plan to meet in the Orchard on the first Sunday of each month. Please do drop in for some exercise and a social chat.