It’s a strange concept to talk about a National Park and a city in the same breath. But for some time, there has been an initiative in London to get the city declared a National Park City.
I have been broadly in support of this from the moment I heard it although I haven’t always paid as much attention to the natural environment in London as that support might imply. It was more a matter of political support. For example, the initiative’s supporters are trying to get local ward Councillors to endorse the idea and therefore are asking supporters to contact their local Councillors to ask them to do so. Of course, by now, many have done so, so your ward might already be covered, but just in case, you can still check this.
On Sunday 30 July this year, Countryfile covered this initiative. The focus of the programme was the city, its environment and the importance of ensuring that city environments are looked after. We learned that the London National Park City initiative has established that 49% of the surface of London is green space: gardens, parks, wetlands, riverbanks and the like. If every household in London added 1 m2 of green space – by digging up some hard landscaping in the garden or on the drive for example – this would be more than 50%. That’s pretty impressive and something a lot of us can do.
The programme featured a wetland in Hackney, which has been opened to the public relatively recently (in late 2016). I had never heard of it but decided to go and explore it.
So on Monday, off we went to Hackney.
It turns out that this wetland, the Woodberry Wetland, is within easy walking distance of Manor House tube station, less than half an hour on public transport from my doorstep.
It is quite an amazing place located in an area otherwise occupied by a range of different types o
f housing developments. Some of these are not very picturesque in themselves but it is obvious that the residents must have a fabulous view. Sometimes what you see from the inside of a home looking out is as important or more important than what you see from the outside looking at the building. And in a particular light, the unprepossessing tower blocks create a mirror image in the water that makes them look quite attractive.
In a city the green spaces are located within built architecture much more than would be the case in more rural locations. So taking the architecture into account in enjoying and interpreting the space is important. From one particular vantage point we looked at a view of a range of housing stretching from probably the 50’s (or earlier) to the very recent past.
We live in difficult times.
It is important that we see and appreciate some of the things around us that simply are, that simply are beautiful and simply lift our spirits. So I want to share some of the photos I took when we walked around the Woodberry Wetlands and along the New River Path.
This heron was sitting there for a very long time and moved very little. It exuded calm and a sense of just being there. Then it flew off – I missed that moment so no photo of a heron in flight – and we didn’t see it again that afternoon.
There were lots of gulls on the water.
They congregated around some logs or a sandbank or some structure they could sit on and fly off from and they did so all afternoon. I took loads of pictures but most of them were totally out of focus because the gulls are so much quicker flying off than I am pressing the shutter.
The ducks and moorhens were on the New River (which is neither new nor a river, by the way) and again, we saw some really wonderful sights of them just doing what they do. Here are a few pictures:
I’m sure that some of you will be able to tell me exactly what birds these are – I’m no expert in these things, though I’m pretty sure we’ve got a swan and some ducks here.
The wetland is also full of lovely wild flowers – I could have taken hundreds of pictures but one will do:
And we saw common squirrels running around freely. I didn’t get a still photo of them, just some video footage which I can’t add to this blog but will put up on Facebook along with some footage of a nest being tended.
Why am I writing all this on this blog?
This isn’t about rational thought, is it? Well, yes I do think it is. What we need to be clear about is this: we have to protect our environment in such a way that the whole ecosystem can sustain itself. We have to do that in the city as much as we do in the countryside. We have to embrace this as part of what makes life worth living and therefore it has to be part of the public discourse. If we don’t embrace it, if we don’t make a point of enjoying it, if we don’t let our politicians know that this matters to us and that we are willing to give it priority in terms of spending and decision-making, they won’t do it.
Creating a national park city in London would be one really important step in this direction and it is important that all of us pull in this direction so that it will happen.