How is London’s wildlife faring?

The London Assembly’s Environment Committee wants to hear Londoners’ views on the state of London’s green spaces and the importance of the urban wildlife – plants, insects and animals – supported within them.  I’d like to think the fantastic action from Woodland Trust supporters during the last Mayoral election helped put wildlife, woodland and tree issues further up London’s political agenda, and this survey is another opportunity to influence the debate. 

One of the questions in the survey asks “do you think London is more biologically diverse than it was 10 years ago?“.  My feeling is No, but without a rolling programme of wildlife surveys, I can’t back this up scientifically – so that’s one of my suggestions for what the Greater London Authority (GLA) could start doing again. 

One question in the survey is whether you feel biodiversity has improved in London

One question in the survey is whether you feel London is more biodiverse than it has been

I believe there are examples of positive changes happening to green spaces in London:

  • More street trees planted; improvements to a selection of parks (Priority Parks);
  • Allowing more wildflower meadows in parks (and on road verges); and
  • The Capital Woodlands Project that helped six individual woods directly (including promoting access and community involvement) and provided best practice for many others. 

However, I’ve also noted negative changes happening to green spaces in London:

  • A continuing loss of trees in parks and on streets (despite the increase in new planting);
  • Developments on or adjacent to wildlife sites;
  • Closure/reductions in service of environmental centres; and
  • Reduction in the management of street trees, parks and green spaces.

 Therefore I think there is more that the Mayor/GLA could do, such as:

  • Retain a strategic focus on biodiversity on its own merit, not just as a small part of a rigid All London Green Grid approach;
  • Comment on planning applications with wildlife/tree implications;
  • Carry out a London-wide survey programme to assess changes in biodiversity and canopy cover;
  • Encourage boroughs to engage in London’s Biodiversity Strategy and look for woodland creation opportunities in the right places;
  • Refresh and resource the London Tree and Woodland Framework‘s action plan;
  • As part of the latter action plan do more to help deliver the promised increase in tree canopy cover; and
  • Promote access and enjoyment of woodland and green space as “natural galleries”, outdoor fitness centres and playgrounds.

The London boroughs are being squeezed of resources, and as a “non-statutory service”, wildlife and tree officers are being lost through cuts, but if these boroughs could recognise the multiple benefits (including better health & wellbeing) of a vibrant, resilient and well managed network of woodland, trees and other valuable habitats, I’d hope they would retain the service of experienced officers and a budget that allowed them to maintain and improve that network. Research has shown that more woodland could be created while reducing maintenance costs in some types of green spaces. 

I’m lucky enough to be writing this in a relatively leafy suburb of London, but you’d be surprised at the woodland jewels scattered throughout the city, so as well as responding to the survey (and feel free to share your thoughts below too), why not try out the VisitWoods website to find a woodland near you to visit this Bank Holiday weekend?

Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Adviser

About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation, Consultation, Local Government, Planting, Protection and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How is London’s wildlife faring?

  1. Tony Chadwick says:

    One of the things that always strikes me is that the Mayor and Assembly are, and rightly so, very keen to record how many trees are planted in any one and ongoing years. However, there is no way of recording how many trees are lost due to new developments, street tree removal or general loss. If we don’t know how many trees are lost how can we tell if there is a net gain? TonyC

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Hi Tony, I agree, I think some statistics are collected by planning departments but I’ve never seen a Londonwide collation published. That’s why I’d like to see a more thorough recording of canopy cover to see if there is a net increase in line with the mayor’s vision…

  2. Perhaps the availability for roof space for Swifts needs to be monitored as in Newcastle many eaves are being blocked by special under-gutter boarding.

  3. LINDA DOLATA says:

    a couple of small but interesting locations in LONDON N2 which very few people know about…1). LONG LANE PASTURES.. a relict of Pasture used to feed London’s horses in the past- now managed as a hay meadow, with a wealth of interesting organisme…not rare in them selves, but rare indeed to find such a biodiverse combination of native animals and plants. 2) COLDFALL WOOD (creighton Ave) an amazing surviving piece of ANCIENT WOODLAND.. coppiced Hornbeam, with Oak standards, recently coppicing (last done in the 1930s recommenced with a resultant huge surge in ground cover. If you live nearby, these are both worth seeking out.
    Linda Dolata

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Hello Linda, welcome to the blog and thanks for highlighting some great locations in your patch. I’ve visited Coldfall Wood and saw the benefits you mentioned, started through the Capital Woodlands Project and carried on by a commited partnership between the Council and the local community. One of my favourite woodlands is Lesnes Abbey Woods, in south-east London – if you go now you’ll see heather on the upper slopes ( ), and visit in late March to see the wild daffodils!

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