I’m leaving Walthamstow next week and it’ll be a sad day. Not only will I miss the rows and rows of Patisseries along the top end of Hoe Street and the strange characters and misfits that frequent the place, but I’ll also miss the easy access to some of the best wildlife sites in London. Admittedly, wildlife might not be what you first think of when you finally emerge from the end of the Victoria line like a bad simile at the end of a poorly worded sentence. But there’s plenty to get to grips with, even smack bang in the heart of the ‘Stow. Away from the assault course of the High Street (6 bookies and 5 pawn shops over 1.5km last time I counted, but that’s a different story), the majority of housing around has garden space and all this adds up to some serious greenery that’s not to be underestimated. Yesterday morning (it was very early, and I’ll admit I may have been still mostly asleep) I saw an adolescent Peregrine Falcon sat on top of a TV aerial, surveying the gardens below. Earlier in the summer, I saw a Banded Demoiselle damselfly just minding it’s own business mooching about outside the International Supermarket. And almost every time I visit the High Street I see a rabbit (OK, so that one of the more curious residents of Walthamstow may not be truly wild).
But that’s just the start. Walthamstow is surrounded by a great variation of habitats and sites. To the East and North, the huge sprawling Epping Forest sits like a green wedge piercing almost to the heart of central London (urgh, sometimes I make myself ill with this stuff). Epping Forest is famous for many, many things. Most of them nefarious in some way. But I worked there for two years and was never once propositioned inappropriately (maybe my sex appeal is waning), nor did I trip over a single dead gangster or get attacked by a feral Staffie. I did once stumble on a filming for TOWIE though, which is enough to scare anyone off the place for life. By far the most irritating problem I faced were the incessant queries about the health of the local swans though. I digress…(it seems to be habit forming)
Out west you have the Lea Valley, the marshes and the new, about to open London Wildlife Trust site at the Walthamstow Wetlands (which I will be watching with special interest). You even have Lloyd Park, which, amenity grassland and dachshund-frolic-spot though it may at first appear, actually has some small areas of interest for the truly nerdy ecologist.
I have often considered (when I took a wrong turn on to Oxford Street last Friday for example) just how much I have come to appreciate the green spaces of London in my eight years here, something I never thought would happen. But for a jumped-up country boy and seasoned misanthrope, and for anyone surrounded by so much concrete and so many bloody people, they’re pretty vital for the maintenance of a semblance of my sanity.
All this is a roundabout way of introducing the Greater London National Park project thingy. Of course, I’ve got my concerns (I always do). Does the labelling of the clichéd sprawling behemoth as a National Park (even notional as it may be) devalue the more obvious aesthetic and ecological appeals of our other, more legitimate, National Parks? Would it then set a precedent when areas of said National Park of London are inevitably developed? And yes, I understand it’s just a PR thing again and that London would never actually be listed as a National Park, but I’m a chronic worrier.
I’ve decided to get positive about this one though (to add a little variety to the blog if nothing else); if I’ve learned one thing from my time in London it’s the value of urban green space. Indeed, perhaps green spaces in our cities are so much more worthy of protection simply because they are not in far-flung, remote corners of the uplands. Maybe it is the threats from development, the population pressures, their very nature as islands of green in a sea of grey (and generator of purple prose) but most of all the accessibility to so many people who truly need it that make them so much more valuable.