At more than 600 square miles in area, covering a large swathe of south-east England, it is easy to think of London as the epitome of post-industrialisation urban sprawl and hardly the most likely place to enjoy wildlife.
However, you might be surprised to learn that, according to figures from Greenspace Information for Greater London put together in 2015, around 47 per cent of Greater London is green. Of that, just over two-thirds is vegetated green space, according to surveyed habitat information, and the rest is estimated to be private gardens. Plus, a further 2.5 per cent of London is ‘blue’ space i.e. rivers, canals and reservoirs.
So, in fact, around half of Greater London’s total area is actually potential animal habitat – making the city a surprisingly good place to spot and enjoy wildlife, especially birds. This includes a number of exciting and unusual species for those thinking that the feral pigeon harassing tourists in Trafalgar Square are the avian highlight of this great city.
If you’re not lucky enough to be contributing to the 14 per cent private garden statistics, you can easily attract wildlife to your back yard by making a few simple additions – the RSPB has loads of great advice on its website, including setting up bird feeding stations, plating wild flowers and building log piles.
But if, like me, your not quite so privileged and your window looks out onto a car park or road, London’s numerous parks (including eight royal ones) are the perfect place to get away from the noise and traffic and appreciate Mother Nature.
Hyde Park, for instance, in central London doesn’t just play host to big concerts and gaggles of tourists, it’s large lakes are a haven for wildlife including large bird species such as grey heron and the exotic great crested grebe (pictured below).
While these bigger water-dwelling birds are fairly easy to spot, by taking a bit of time to stop, look and listen – not just a useful tactic for safely crossing roads – you may also see a number of smaller species that you had no idea were even there in the first place.
Britain’s smallest bird, the goldcrest (pictured below), which weighs the same as a 5p coin, is a regular visitor to my local park. And I’ve seen terrapin basking on the banks of the ponds and shoals of perch swimming through the water.
And for the ultimate immersive nature experience, why not spend a day at one of the nature reserves in the capital? Yes, they do exist! The London Wetland Centre is just a stone’s throw across the Thames from Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham Football Club, where recent sightings include bittern, one of Britain’s rarest and strangest looking birds, and adorably cute and cuddly water vole (pictured below).
So, there you have it: London isn’t just a concrete jungle and if you take the time to appreciate nature you will be rewarded with some truly amazing wildlife encounters. And with spring around the corner what better time to start?
Goldcrest cover photo by KHR Images