Green Elephants

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a ‘brilliant idea’ must be in want of a fortune. And with that rather laboured introduction, I think it’s only right that I get straight to the point: The Garden Bridge. Or rather, the Garden Bridge and its ilk.

green elephants

I’ll admit, for once I am feeling quite smug about this week’s title

Everyone’s got a ‘brilliant idea’. Take me, I have about five a day (although admittedly nutella-bacon sandwiches might not have been the product of a Spike operating at the peak of his mental powers). Problem is, these days an idea can very rapidly go from ‘in here’¹ to ‘out there’ thanks to Bloody Twitter, bypassing the much neglected ‘actually thinking it through logically’-stage. If you’re a famous person, a person with a lot of pull or some influential friends, or just a ruddy loud mouth narcissist, these ‘brilliant ideas’ can very quickly develop into a bit of a bandwagon.

It’s true there is now a generation that ‘like’² things. Wildlife charities are desperately (and occasionally embarrassingly) trying to make hay out of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and to an extent projects like the Garden Bridge or London National Park City³ feed on them, like bloated, green, trunked pachyderms. Or something.

Green-y, fluffy-on-the-surface projects tend to do quite well out of this click button, armchair conservationist demographic. There’s a definite sense of ‘It’s Green, yeah, let’s do it!’ – and kudos to them for taking that groundswell of ‘likes’ and turning it into something more solid. My concern is that the why is all too often subservient to the what. There’s a line about could we and should we in here somewhere.

Take the blasted Garden Bridge (no, please…), with its £60M of public money and £3.5M of annual maintenance costs in perpetuity (and just for comparison here, the London Wildlife Trust with their 400+ odd hectares of nature reserves and an annual expenditure of around £2.5M…but let’s not get lost down a Garden Bridge cul-de-sac). It sounded like a great idea when you first heard it, but then you scratched beneath the surface, you realised that they’re closing libraries in Lambeth, and you started to wonder…what is this adding? What are we actually getting for our money here?

Particularly as we are now in the age of the Kickstarter, these projects can quickly crop up and before long a few people have slung a tenner at it and it has gathered some momentum. Green walls at bus-stops? Sure, that’ll work. No problem. I mean, you might want to avoid putting them on any night bus routes… Or a milk-float-potting-shed? Why not? Or, rather, why?

I’m not really sure where I’m leading with all this, except that I’ll shortly be announcing the launch of my new pop-up nutella and bacon sandwich bar. Donations welcome.


¹ *Taps head thoughtfully* – Sorry, the blog now appears to come with added stage directions. It’s a multisensory experience. Sort of.

² And, by the way, feel free to ‘like’ the blog. If only for the positive affirmation it will give me. It absolutely, definitely will not achieve anything. Although the key difference between Adventures in Conservation and the National Park City, say, is that I’ll carry on regardless of whether people ‘like’ it or not. So there.

³ About which I was briefly positive before reverting to type. I’m still largely confused about just what this will achieve and how.


The Value of Urban Green Space – Greater London National Park and What Wildlife is Where in Walthamstow?

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.


A great info-graphic with no smart arse comment attached

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.