London’s countryside

Middlesex from the air, on the approach in to Heathrow; this is winter -- in summer the tree canopies hide much of the housing

One of the guys who works for Hoxton Beach was baffled when he arrived by air for the first time in London after previously living in Kinshasa the capital of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). When he looked out of the window he couldn’t see a city – just, apparently, an endless forest.  This wasn’t the primeval woodland that once crowded down to the banks of the Thames – the natural history of England, as Professor Oliver Rackham has shown, involves an interaction between people and the natural world. Much of what grows in Middlesex is exotic – the giant plane trees, (such as the one planted in Uxbridge around the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, probably descended directly form the original London Plane, Platanus x acerifolia, hybridised in Oxford Botanic Gardens around 1670,  from and felled in July 1906 to make way for Uxbridge’s new Great Western railway station,) the ornamental cherries, the buddleia from China . . . – but it sustains a greater living diversity than much traditional farmland, with foxes, grey squirrels, deer and more than a hundred kinds of birds.

Huge numbers of trees, fields, sports grounds, parks and heaths have survived, often formally being adopted as Green Belt.  This didn’t happen by accident: it was the outcome of centuries of struggle by Londoners, from the fight to keep Lincolns Inn Fields clear of property development that began in 1613  , to Octavia Hill’s campaign for Hampstead Heath,  to the first purchase of what was to be Green Belt land, by Middlesex County Council and Hendon Rural District Council at Edgwarebury in 1932. The same battles are being fought today, as documented in the London Parks and Gardens Trust’s ‘At Risk’ webpage.

'Spring' -- illustration from Richard Mabey's Unofficial Countryside

Some nature reserves and surviving countryside;

Edgwarebury Park

Fryent Country Park

Monken Hadley Common

Ruislip Woods

Scratchwood and Moat Mount, Mill Hill

Stanmore County Park

Trent Country Park

And large areas are unchanged from their original use as farmland as described on this page.

Stanmore Country Park -- ancient fields formerly used for grazing livestock

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *