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City of Trees
an unexpectedly biodiverse adventure
The Capital Ring is a 78-mile walking route around Greater London, broken up into 15 sections. When I first heard about it I wasn’t too enamoured with the idea - my initial impression was that it would be trudging along congested streets past fried chicken shops and litter-strewn blocks of flats.
I was very wrong.
The route has been strategically planned to take in many of the beautiful parks and commons that make London a remarkably green city.
We explored the South West section, starting in Wimbledon Common and ending at Richmond.
This was new territory for me. Having grown up in Essex and lived in North & East London for the last few years, I’ve rarely had reason to venture across to the other side of the city other than to visit Kew Gardens. Richmond Park has been on my go-to list for years so that piqued my interest - but I imagined Wimbledon Common to be an open space of lawn and playing fields (and Wombles).
What greeted me was actually a tapestry of rich, biodiverse habitats I could have spent several days exploring.
1,140 acres of woodland, heathland, acid grassland, bog, ponds and rivers, an absolute stunning oasis of nature just minutes from the bustling city.
the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act of 1871 prevents it from being enclosed or built upon, and most of the space is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.
Our trail sliced through the middle of the park, taking us through every type of habitat along the way. The trees were alive with birdsong, and a quick scan of the area’s recent sightings reveal some absolute corkers - firecrest, meadow pipit, siskin, and snipe - to name just a few.
That such a project was undertaken and protected in the 19th century - at the height of the industrial revolution when the entire country was dramatically urbanising - gave me a quiet burst of optimism.
The value of these green spaces is undeniable. Locals and tourists flock there. The tree cover was cool, the earth was damp and sponge-like, reducing flooding in a way the rest of the country isn’t managing to achieve at the moment.
A current UK Government plan to restore nature involves ensuring everyone lives within a 15-minute walk of a green space. This will be a marked improvement for the millions of people who currently live without easy access to nature. Once these spaces are established, they must be connected so wildlife can move freely around, but acknowledging this is the first step in re-establishing our connection with the natural world in our cities.
A couple of hours of wandering in Wimbledon Common lifted my spirits for several days afterwards. Imagine if that was norm, rather than the exception?