New guide about walking in London’s green spaces is a great addition to the library of books about the capital. These 25 London wildlife walks will suit beginner, intermediate and advanced city walkers and will show you a different side of London.
I welcomed the information of the new guidebook about London wildlife walks “Walking in London. Park, heath and waterside” by Peter Aylmer (Cicerone 2017) with excitement.
The topic felt different. It felt intriguing. And It felt adventurous. Indeed, it is.
Peter’s book contains 25 walks in London’s green spaces, stretching from North to South, and from East to West, showing us – the readers, the richness of London wildlife, which otherwise we may have missed.
When I took my first (after long break) walk in Hyde Park 5 years ago, I couldn’t believe I saw a fox (until then the foxes were to me the animals living in the woods), but also so many species of flowers. Then I got to know the perroquets in West Acton and I couldn’t believe I saw them in the middle of the city. However, all that is only a tiny part of all the species living in London. Peter’s book proves that there’s so much more to learn about London’s wildlife. There’re so many exciting things waiting along the routes of his wildlife walks.
The walks are not only around the suburbia and you don’t have to have a whole day to do one of them. If you live nearby, go for an evening stroll in the summer. Maybe, you work near one of the Royal Parks– then go there in your lunchtime (even in winter). If you want a mix of urban and natural, visit Kew & Isleworth.
The walks are outlined in simple and easy to follow way. The guide size is perfect for your small bag or even a big pocket. Many of these walks will satisfy your hunger of being in the nature without leaving London and others will give you so much needed rest in one of the local green spaces. Now, a special treat for all of you – below interview with Peter Aylmer, the author of the guidebook, and a chance to win a copy!
Read the interview with Peter Aylmer below and find out where you can go for one of London wildlife walks and win a copy of his guidebook!
What’s the best place in London to observe its wildlife?
The best place to start is where you live. Make the most of it. London is so built up, but at the same time pretty much everywhere there’s a green open space you can access.
Check in the guide, if one of the walks is nearby and go there. It so often happens that people living in London don’t know what’s in their closest proximity. By going on one of those wildlife walks you may find out things about your neighbourhood, which you didn’t know before. I tried to match one species with one walk, so everywhere you go, you’ll get to know something about London’s wildlife.
You can also join various walking groups which may go out for walks in green spaces. You can also join one the walking groups, like London branch of the Long Distance Walkers Association, which I’m part of, or one of the Ramblers group, or ‘Friends of …’ different parks. You can check if they advertise in your local library. Your local council also may have one.
In London you’ll be a happy walker, because the city is big enough to satisfy a beginner, an intermediate person or a very experienced walker.
What are the most interesting species, in your opinion?
Buff-tailed bumblebees are fascinating. Walk #18: Kew and Isleworth in the guidebook gives a chance to see a lot of them. These days, you can see the bees even in December, because the temperatures are higher than they used to be, due to the climate change, but also many more winter-flowering plants are there. In last few years we’ve seen an explosion of urban bee-keepers in London, which is great. We rely on the bees to pollenate the flowers. And bumblebee is interesting, because it’s one of the marks of the climate change.
The London plane tree is also one of the best-Loved London species and one hard to miss. You can see it a lot in the royal parks.
What’s your favourite walk?
My favourite walk from the book is number 6, which is the river Lea walk. Don’t be misguided, it’s not just a walk down the Lee navigation. It’s a mix of river’s natural course and the late 18th-century ‘navigation’ (canal cut).
It starts at Tottenham Hale, goes through the Wetlands, Walthamstow Marshes, then it joins the Lee navigation, and goes to Middlesex Filter Beds. There’re different ways to finish it – either at Queen Elizabeth’s Olympic Park, at Victoria Park, or at Bromley-by-Bow tube station. You can make it longer by continuing on to walk #8 – one along Regent’s Canal.
I like this walk, because it gives quite a lot of variety within 6 miles and you can see the contrast between old (not canalised) and new river. It also helps to re-discover one of the three lost rivers of London, which I’m quite keen on.
How did you start exploring London wildlife?
I walked London Loop and Capital Ring. Having walked those I had good knowledge of London’s open spaces. Some other I knew from my other experiences of travelling on the tube. For example, Dagenham – it’s a home to some rarest tree species.
Some other walks I just tried out hoping they would be interesting. That was the case with Ruislip Wood. It’s a brilliant National Nature Reserve. Together with the Ruislip Lido it makes for a perfect walk. I belong to various walking groups, like London branch of the Long Distance Walkers Association or the Wren Group, and some of the walks included in the guidebook were done with those groups.
Did you have to leave out any walks even though you wanted to include them in the book?
If I could’ve included 26th walk, it would be one on the boundary of London and Kent, near Bexley. There’re two very different, but very interesting habitats there – Joydens Wood and River Cray. which creates a lot of water meadows.
Is London a unique city, because of its wildlife?
I don’t know enough about other cities of the world to say that it is, but I think there’s something special about it. New York City has so much loved Central Park, but I think it would be swallowed by Richmond Park. Paris has some great open spaces and Sydney has the coastal walk, but I’m a Londoner and I’m proud that my city has managed to preserve its natural side. We should celebrate London’s wild side, because if we don’t, we may loose it to houses and workplaces. It would be very short-sighed decision if we did.
I was born in London, then moved out and then came back, so in total I’ve lived in the city for about 30 years. Walking in the city, even in the green areas, is different than walking in the countryside. When I go to Lake District the surroundings are pretty much the same most of the time, but city is different – there are so many things to take in.
Kew & Isleworth walk is an example of that, with its South/North bank alternatives. This walk is almost village-y at the beginning in Isleworth and feels very urban in Brentford. On the other side of the river though, you have beautiful Kew Gardens. I quite deliberately put it in the book. London isn’t just important for wildlife but also trade, history, religion and it would be a mistake to not think about these parts.
The city has a rich human history which we all know about, but we make so little of its natural history. London geology gives us so many different habitats. The more different habitats, the more species.
Whom are the walks for?
All these walks are designed to be done outside of rush hours, between 9.30am and 4.30pm. That’s what we did with one of my walking groups – met at Stratford at 10am and were back by 4pm or 4.30pm. If you live nearby one of those walking routes, you can easily fit it in in the afternoon or in the evening. Most walks are 6-miles long, but you can easily take a break, shorten them or even make them longer by combining a few walks together. It’s London – you can stop at any time, take a bus home and come back another time, or have a break at a local pub. Make it what you like, not what I’m telling you.
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