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.
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