Many of the motorists hurrying past beside the edge of Monken Hadley Common have probably never stopped to take a walk or had a chance to enjoy an historic and incomparable green space on the boundary of Greater London.
Perhaps an even greater indictment of a lack of awareness among drivers using short cuts along roads like Camlet Way is that they are just as likely to have no idea that the scenery they admire -- with its iconic cricket pitch -- is preserved and maintained entirely by volunteers.
Control over Monken Hadley Common, the seventh largest in London, is in the hands of a newly established trust which owns the land, and which is anxious to attract greater support and widen community involvement in the enjoyment of the common.
Three of its leading custodians – see above, from left to right, Roger De La Mare, Peter Davies, and Jonathan Hewlings – hope their appeal for new members and a greater awareness of the trust’s role will help safeguard the future of a much-loved natural amenity.
Footpaths through the 74-hectare common, a mix of woods and open grass land, extend east from Monken Hadley -- seen here at Gladsmuir pond -- all the way to the outskirts of Cockfosters, and they are a well-used route on the London Loop walk around the capital’s perimeter.
By taking on responsibilities previously held by the churchwardens of Monken Hadley parish church, and by freeing themselves from legal constraints dating back to the reign of George III, the trustees are eager to explore ideas for the future management of the common.
“Our priority is to keep the common as it is, while dealing with day-to-day issues like clearing up litter and facing up to challenges that lie ahead like climate change which could have a big impact on the health of British woodlands,” said Jonathan Hewlings, who has been appointed one of the common’s two curators.
“People might assume the common is run by Barnet Council, but it is not publicly owned, and we receive no council funding.
“We need to explain our role as a charity and why the trust needs more members. Upkeep of the common depends on income from our members and donations to the charity.”
Constant vigilance is required to counter threats to the common – such as damage last winter (see above) when car and van drivers created a muddy morass by ignoring a road closure in Camlet Way and instead drove across the grass to head towards New Barnet.
Currently the Monken Hadley Common Trust has 60 members and the appeal for greater community support has been launched ahead of its first annual meeting on Monday 16 October – a chance to welcome new members and hopefully recruit additional trustees and conservation volunteers.
Footfall through the common rose enormously during the Covid pandemic lockdown and the increase in visitors only served to highlight the importance of the trust’s role.
Tuesday and Thursday working parties, drawn from a team of 15 volunteers, spend the morning on a variety of tasks including clearing up litter and other detritus. They are seen above celebrating their success in reinstating an ancient ditch which had been filled up with dumped builders’ waste, including hardcore, bricks and plastic.
“There is sometimes a misunderstanding about what is meant by common land. It does not mean it is a free for all as there are regulations,” said Roger De La Mare, co-curator with Jonathan Hewlings.
“We are happy for people to have picnics, but we would ask people to take their litter home. Barbecues are banned due to the risk of starting fires. The ground is like peat, and we had to call out the fire brigade again this summer.
“Some dog walkers are thoughtless. We find more and more dog poo bags thrown into the undergrowth.
“Cleaning up the woodland never ends. Some of the litter has been there for decades. I regularly pick up old R White pop bottles and Express Dairy milk bottles.”
Peter Davies, who has stood down after 13 years as a co-curator of the common – seen here examining grass clippings and garden rubbish dumped in the woods – said he shared the sense of achievement they all felt as volunteers in preserving a stretch of woodland where people can have some quiet enjoyment away from the pressures of suburbia.
“Our challenge is to keep the common as it is, so that visitors have a sense they are in a place where no-one else goes. Obviously, it cannot be entirely natural but what we cherish is the sense of it of being wild and unkempt.
“We have tried to avoid putting up too many noticeboards and signposts for every footpath. We want visitors to have the freedom to explore.”
Cattle were grazed on the common until the 1950s. A much-loved relic of those early traffic-free days are five white-painted wooden gates that used to control access, and which are listed as being of Grade II historic or architectural merit.
Establishing a charity to own and manage the common – the last tract of Enfield Chase still preserved as common land and saved from development – was considered the most efficient way to ensure it was maintained for public recreation and nature conservation.
A recent innovation has been a series of open-air concerts beside Jack’s Lake, about 70 per cent of which is within the common, and where fishing is currently licensed by the Hadley Angling and Preservation Society.
Cricket has been played on the Common since the 1830s and Monken Hadley Cricket Club has its matches there. The grassland also hosts sports days for Monken Hadley Primary School.
In the last two years Barnet U3A has planted and maintained around 60 trees – just one of the examples of community engagement which the trust hopes to build on.
The trustees hope that among the new members they recruit there might be some volunteers with knowledge and experience of woodland management.
“Climate change will have an impact. Some of the trees in the woods won’t do as well,” said Peter Davies.
“We have a lot of ash trees, and ash die back is a real problem as are other diseases and pests like the processionary moth which affect oak trees.”
After having walked in the woods for 30 years from his home nearby in Clifford Road, Jonathan Hewlings had always been aware of the significance of the common. He started as a volunteer three years ago and was keen to take on the role of co-curator.
“We are all ready for the next chapter in the history of the common.
“By establishing ourselves on a charitable basis, the trustees believe we are now fit for purpose and much more accessible as the body responsible for an open space which gives so much enjoyment to local people.”
The Monken Hadley Common Trust is holding its first annual general meeting at 7.30 pm on Monday 16 October in the clubhouse at Old Fold Manor Golf Club. It is an open meeting, and all are welcome, but only members of the trust will have voting rights. For details of how to join the trust following the closure of Friends of Hadley Common as from 31 October, 2023 please see: