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How Green is the Capital?


How do we view London? The capital is the largest city in the UK at 607 square miles and is home to nine million people, with another million living in the wider urban area just outside the formal city boundaries.

If you think of London, images that spring to mind are either of famous landmarks or of tall buildings, roads, traffic and people. Images of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Oxford Street, Wembley Stadium or the London Eye cover postcards sent around the world.

How often though do you think of London as a green city full of parks, woodland, gardens and green space?

As a comparison, Pembrokeshire in west Wales is of similar size to London at 610 square miles but has a population of just 124,000 – fewer people than even the smallest of the London Boroughs. There seems to be little else in common between the two though. Whilst Pembrokeshire is seen as full of lush rolling countryside, London is urban, it is concrete, and it is the complete opposite in the mind’s eye from a world of fields and woodland.

Maybe though this image of our capital is somewhat simplistic and misses the nature and the greenery surrounding the landmarks?

London is home to an amazing array of green spaces. The green belt, for instance, covers 22% of the land across 19 of the 32 Boroughs and, according to a London Wildlife Trust report from 2010, another 14% is made up of lawns and vegetation in domestic gardens. Then there are the thousands of parks and open spaces from the local recreation ground up to huge areas such as Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common and much of the thousands of acres of Epping Forest and Thames Chase.

This though is still not the full story. This summer the Mayor of London and the National Park City Foundation launch the National Park City initiative to make London the world’s first recognised National Park City. The aim is to make half the capital green and to increase the tree canopy cover by 10% by 2050. Between 20th and 28th July there will be a series of events across the capital celebrating London’s green spaces including free access to roof top gardens, such as the Barbican or Crossrail Place in Canary Wharf.

Additionally, on 8th and 9th June, Open Garden Squares weekend sees the opening of 130 gardens across London to the public. Some of them are historic, such as the garden of 10 Downing Street or the private central London garden squares, but others are brand new. If you’ve ever looked across the river to the roof top gardens on Cannon Street station or the Nomura International building and wistfully imagined a lunchtime garden stroll, then this will be your chance to visit.

These new buildings have provided green space where previously there was none through the power of thoughtful and sympathetic regeneration. New developments can bring green roofs and gardens to buildings in the urban area. The roofs can provide ecological improvements for wildlife but also gardens for residents or office workers to use.

London is an ever evolving city where everyone should be able to access some green space. Without these green spaces London would be the poorer for it. Schemes such as Open Gardens and National Park City help showcase how green London can be and in fact already is.