Words by Jessica Peace
For the past 4 years, you've been campaigning for London to become a 'National Park City'. What will it mean for London if you succeed?
It’s a fantastic way to recognise the 2000 years of history that have led to London being one of the greenest cities in the world for its size, arguably being one of the most biologically diverse regions in the UK.
The key point behind it is that this is something that every single Londoner can contribute to. Everyone can go and plant something; everyone can go and make the city a bit greener and a bit wilder. As an example, we’ve calculated 49.5% of London is physically green and blue – the nature reserves, the ponds, the rivers the canals, gardens... And if every Londoner was to make one square metre physically green, than the majority of London would become green and blue. That’s the transformative effect that people can have by working together.
photo credit: http://www.nationalparkcity.london/map
What gave you the idea?
I travelled around the UK and visited all the National Parks, we have moorland, we have woodland, mountains and around the world at the National Parks there are rainforests, deserts. I began to wonder why it was, considering London with 14,000 plus species, why wasn’t a major city, a major urban area included in our family of National Parks around the world? Cities are clearly very different from rainforest, desert and moorland but I don’t think they’re any less valuable.
So it’s about saying what if people in cities thought of themselves as living in a National Park much more and how would that change the landscape.
Your adventuring as one of National Geographic's 'Explorers' takes you all over the UK and the world, why keep London as a base?
Three reasons. Firstly, genuinely London by international standards is truly remarkable and awesome. Secondly, London is the most politically complicated place for this to work but because it’s such a global centre for culture if we can make it successful in London than the idea is far more likely then to spread to other cities across the world. Third reason, I live here.
We at G&T are plant heads first. If you could turn us onto our next nature obsessions what would it be?
It would be really great if we could find a way to change the aesthetic, to celebrate more budget, liberated, feral garden spaces. Where a garden that would look neglected to many becomes desired and seen as invested in. So that garden that has nettles and ivy, that’s bonkers with nasturtium, that has butterflies and fox shit and y’know is kind of grizzly, that that becomes seen as invested and not neglected.
And that ‘concrete garden’, that so many houses across London have – 40% of gardens are now paved over, that that becomes socially unacceptable. Somehow we need to share photos and share stories and flip that so that something ‘neglected’ looks very different.
Now we've got you, give us yer knowledge.. Best wild places in London?
A place that has stuck in my heart is Phytology, a project in Bethnal Green Cemetery, they’ve managed to combine art, culture, a mini wetlands, medicinal growing...
and Tower Hamlets Cemetery... I could go on.
Give us an adventure!
Start at Crystal Palace, walk through that metropolitan park, which is just brilliant, check out the dinosaurs.
Then walk through Dulwich and Sydenham woods, up to the Horniman museum, check out one of the best views in London from there. Then go down to Honor Oak and up to One Tree Hill and try another great view and maybe see a Peregrine Falcon and hear some Parakeets. See the top of Nunhead reservoir which is covered in grass, and should be liberated – there’s a campaign to free that space for it to become a park. Go down to Nunhead Cemetery which is one of the old Victorian Cemeteries which is a home for stag beetles and is completely awesome
then through Peckham, checking out the gardens and seeing the potential of that part of the city to be so much greener and so much wilder. Down to the Surrey canal, all the way down to Burgess Park which is one of the most multifunctional, fantastic, largest parks in London. Then there is a green link that will take you down to Elephant and Castle where hopefully something nice will come of that proposition...
Everyone should walk the Capital Ring, then after that everyone should walk the London LOOP. I’d also recommend that everybody walks the city east to west/ north to south.
How GREEN IS YOUR GAFF?
I’ve got a house that is full of plants and I’ve got a garden which is looking quite autumnal now but was ferocious over the summer. Feral is a good word for it.
GET FERAL AND FIND OUT MORE...