WHERE TO SEE WILDLIFE IN LONDON
Although it may not feel like it when you’re trying to navigate multiple lanes with all manner of vehicles surrounding you on the Elephant & Castle roundabout, or when you blow your nose after being on the tube and it comes out black, London is actually the greenest city in Europe and that means it’s home to a lot of wildlife. Whilst there is a great variety of it, the wildlife in the city can be divided into two main groups; actual wildlife that happens to found in London and London wildlife that’s more specific to the city.
Wildlife in London
Even if you’ve not seen them in person, you’ll know about the deer in Richmond Park thanks to the that viral Fenton (FENTON!) video but that’s not the only place to spot them as there are also deer in Bushy Park, Greenwich Park and Clissold Park (remember dogs on leads people). At 211 hectares, Walthamstow Wetlands is Europe’s largest urban wetlands with kingfishers, peregrine falcons, grey herons, little egrets and more flying in and out. There’s also a load of waterfowl and migrating birds to spot across the 11 hecatres of ponds and dykes at Hackney’s Woodberry Wetlands. You can even see bats in London; head down to Great North Wood in Sydenham Hill or up to Alexandra Palace if they don’t scare you.
In terms of flora and fauna it has to be Kew Gardens. Its collection of 50,000 living plants and 14,000 trees includes giant waterlilies, Venus fly traps, cocoa trees, bamboo, redwood trees and huge palms – basically any plant you can think of is probably in there somewhere. From the biggest botanical garden in London to the oldest, Chelsea Physic Garden has a unique microclimate that allows for plants that wouldn’t normally grow in the UK to thrive – amongst its 5000 different edible and medicinal plants is the UK’s largest fruiting olive tree and the world’s most northerly outdoor grapefruit tree.
Aside from looking at a calendar, you can normally tell what month of the year it is by the plants you see on Instagram – crocuses come out in Battersea Park in February, daffodils open in St James’s Park in March, the cherry blossom starts to bloom in April, followed by bluebells popping up everywhere from Wanstead Park to Highgate Wood in May. Summer starts with #wisteriahysteria, seen primarily on expensive looking houses in West London, and then it’s lavender turning the feeds purple as the Mayfield Lavender Farm opens in August.
There are two animals that have become synonymous with London life; the pigeon and the fox. It’s estimated that there are around a million pigeons in London so you certainly won’t have any trouble spotting them – they even get on the tube from time to time, which can be mildly thrilling. You may think that they’re pests but feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square used to be an actual tourist attraction before it got banned by the Mayor.
Once an animal you’d only catch a glimpse of late at night, foxes have now become so used to the urban environment that they’ll scavenge for old bits of takeaway chicken or curl up for a nap in your garden right in front of you. If you haven’t been woken up by the sound of them mating, you’re obviously new to the city because it’s a rite of passage that every Londoner experiences.
London is a city of dog lovers and the parks are where they congregate. On any given weekend in Victoria, Brockwell or Battersea Park you can’t swing a North Face puffer without bumping into a cockapoo, frenchie or sausage dog. Our other fave domesticated animal, the cat, is harder to spot in the park but easier to spot in the pub. Lots of pubs across the city have felines in residence, making full use of the cosy fires and prawn-based bar snacks.
And on very rare occasions, things get really wild and whales end up in the Thames.