Wednesday 31 July 2019

London National Park City Week

This post is about the week London was declared the world's first ever National Park City, a designation encouraging cities to become greener, healthier and wilder.

22nd July 2019
I had just returned from a short trip to Hungary the day before, and couldn't wait for this exciting, historical week. I had only been a part of the London National Park City campaign for under a year, and I had been invited to speak at the Summit at City Hall, where London would gain its new designation. When I arrived at the unusually-shaped building, It was brilliant to meet the inspirational Dan Raven-Ellison, guerrilla geographer and founder of the National Park City movement, as well as the National Park City team, including Tim Webb, editor of the National Park City Maker newspaper, and Paul De Zylva, chair of the National Park City Foundation. I was also privileged to meet Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, who informed me of his birding travels around the world, and books he has written about the Spix's Macaw! 

At the VIP room a few floors above, I was introduced to people from all aspects of the campaign: Ebs Akintade, TV presenter and broadcaster, Princess-Joy Emeanuwa, young nature enthusiast and ambassador for Action4Conservation, Marianella Cervi, head of Timberland's sustainability programmes, Feryal Clark, deputy mayor of Hackney, Kobie Brand, director of Local Governments for Sustainability's Cities Biodiversity Centre, Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for the Environment and Energy, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. 

At 10:00 we walked into City Hall itself, which had a very long spiral staircase winding upwards to a viewing area, where we would have lunch. Ebs welcomed us all to the event, which was followed by a history of the National Park City campaign from Dan. Sadiq Khan then gave a mayoral address, praising the work of the campaign and the steps we should take forward after the declaration. The rest of the morning was packed with talks given from a range of organisations from London and beyond, such as National Geographic, Hackney Council, Charlton Manor Primary School, Timberland and Heston Action Groups, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great honour and a privilege to speak there myself, representing the Cameron Bespolka Trust. My talk was about how we can all see London in a completely new way, by protecting and enjoying the wildlife on our doorstep. All the speakers got to sign the National Park City Charter, which was very exciting!

Lunch took place at the very top of the building, where I met many more people from different organisations across London, all making the capital a better place for everyone. I was also given the opportunity of a short interview on the viewing platform, where I was asked about how I think London's wildlife would be affect by the designation, particularly migratory birds.

The afternoon was mainly discussion panels, in which a large range of organisations participated in, including the Greater London Authority, Wild in the City, the Ramblers and Glasgow National Park City. 

I had a wonderful time at the Summit, meeting and hearing about so many amazing people and organisations, who all have a massive influence on the capital, and I am very grateful to have seen London being given this amazing designation.

One of the afternoon's discussion panels

Meeting the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, Marianella Cervi and Paul De Zylva

Speaking at the Summit

24th July 2019
On Wednesday, I visited a number of places around the capital, one being St Pancras Square, King's Cross. Taking place there was one of National Park City Week's flagship events. The London National Park City Photography Competition. There were many beautiful and entertaining photos of Foxes in Lewisham, Red Deer in Richmond Park and even a white Squirrel in Tooting! I was lucky to be a finalist myself, with my photo, 'Rainham Robin', taken at RSPB Rainham Marshes.

Photos from the competition

Photos from the competition

My entry, 'Rainham Robin'

I then headed to Noel Park in Haringey, where I met Luke Newcombe, a wildlife gardener and head of GrowN22, an organisation transforming the N22 postcode into a sustainable, green environment. He showed me around his fantastic nature reserve, Westbury Banks, which is within minutes' walking distance from Turnpike Lane Station. The reserve is an oasis for the wildlife of Wood Green, with many species of butterfly such as Red Admiral, Comma, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and Brimstone, and I also saw my first Jersey Tiger Moth there too! Luke told me about the many challenges he faces in the nature reserve, which has inspired me to become more resilient and resourceful in my own garden, and was fascinated by how the reserve gets children involved with practical work as well. He showed me many aspects of the reserve, including a tree avenue, fox runs, bug motels and a wildlife pond, which is flourishing. I look forward to help design and build the reserve's bird hide with Luke and the reserve's volunteers in the near future, and I can't wait to visit again soon!

Jersey Tiger Moth

Bug motel

The wildlife pond

Cotton growing near the tree avenue

26th July 2019
On Friday I decided to visit a local site in Hillingdon, called Gutteridge Wood. Managed by the London Wildlife Trust and within the Yeading Woods Local Nature Reserve, the woods provide a habitat for Squirrels and Roe Deer, and the Yeading Brook, a tributary of the River Crane (which flows out into the Thames at Twickenham) is home to Frogs. Families of Squirrels can be seen playfighting, and virtually dominate the treetops. Unfortunately, the Yeading Brook had dried up in places, which was a very worrying sign. However, butterflies thrived in the adjacent meadows. In the coming months I hope to visit this reserve again, a hidden gem right on my doorstep!

The Yeading Brook

A part of the brook which is close to drying up

Gutteridge Wood



The Squirrels are everywhere!

27th July 2019
To end this spectacular week, I visited a more unusual designated site, a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) directly opposite Wimbledon Common. Wat Buddhapadipa, or the Thai Temple, is a magnificent Buddhist temple in Wimbledon, and is not the first place people think of when watching wildlife in London. the temple grounds are filled with the song of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Treecreepers, Robins, Blue Tits, Goldfinches and many other species. There is a small woodland, with Barn Owls, Magpies and Squirrels, and a tranquil lake, where Mallards, Moorhens and even Herons can be found! 

The Buddhapadipa Temple

A Heron standing still on the lake's waterwheel

The Temple's Wildlife Protection Area

A foraging Squirrel

The Temple's woodland

The visit to the Temple provided a superb ending for a historic week, and in the weeks, months and years that follow, everyone in London and beyond should be encouraged to make life on the capital greener, healthier and wilder for all.

Saturday 13 July 2019

Volunteering at the Dingle

12th May 2019
When I was looking for volunteering opportunities around my area, the most interesting and exciting one was a few minutes away in the neighbouring London Borough of Harrow, specifically in Pinner Green. This was a small area mainly comprised of Montesole Playing Fields, and the ancient Grim's Dyke, a stretch of wall which dated back to Roman times. Apart form its fascinating history, adjacent to the playing fields lies a small, secluded woodland called the Dingle, managed by the Harrow Nature Conservation Forum (HNCF). On my first visit there, I met Karen Pillai, the warden who manages the site. Karen kindly showed me around the Dingle, home to large numbers of Badgers and Foxes which coexist underground: she also knew individual animals' favourite spots, and all the ancestral Fox and Badger paths! 

We then went to the edge of the woodland, where Karen showed the new expansion of the Badger sett, intended for their young (similar to a nursery). The area was a perfect habitat for birds, and I ended up seeing Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Red Kite and Green Woodpecker!


Green Woodpecker

Red Kite Vs. Carrion Crow

14th May 2019
Karen gave me an introduction to feeding the Foxes, which was very exciting! By every fox run (a path which Foxes use to get around), I had to put an egg, and a few jam sandwiches on top of it. The feeding was part of a six-week drive to clear up mange amongst the Fox population. The Foxes were very calm and friendly, and were used to being fed up close, so I got amazing views of them throughout the evening!

One of this year's cubs with an egg

One of my most memorable encounters with a Fox

15th-18th May 2019
The next few days were very similar: scattering plums outside the Badger sett, and putting eggs and sandwiches out for the Foxes. However, they were all very memorable, and I saw a few Pipistrelle Bats too! The Fox population seemed to have increased quite a lot this year, as in total, more than ten cubs came to eat the food I put out. This was presumably because they were left by their parents to fend for themselves, and by putting drops of anti-mange on the food, all of their health improved considerably well!

Badger footprint

One of this year's cubs sniffing for eggs

A Fox stares curiously at my camera

What seems to be a Pipistrelle

This volunteering experience has not only helped me discover some of the amazing wildlife near my doorstep, but has made me notice that even the smallest of habitats can be home to a myriad of wildlife, so a big thank you to Karen and NCF for showing me such a wonderful green space. This is one reason why London is soon to be declared a National Park City, on 22nd July. The Dingle should definitely receive the designation of Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), so I'd encourage Harrow Council to come and assess the site. Finally, the next time you're in the London Borough of Harrow, I'd encourage you to visit one of HNCF's many sites, including Bentley Priory, Stanmore Common and Newton Farm Ecology Park, the latter which I will be volunteering at from September. By visiting these sites, we can all have the potential to make Harrow greener, healthier and wilder!

A view of the Dingle and the abandoned Pinner Chalk Mine- get exploring!