When you think of a national park, images of sweeping landscapes and rolling hills likely spring to mind.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that London has officially been crowned as the world’s first National Park City. In doing so perhaps finally shunning its its reputation as a pea-soup smog-filled metropolis to become the first city to sign up to the International Charter for National Park Cities.
This is a movement I wrote about back in October 2018 London – The first National Park City in the World so I’m glad to see it has come to fruition.
The National Park City Foundation (NPCF) aims to name at least 25 National Park Cities by 2025 and is already in discussion with other UK and world cities to help them gain National Park City status.
The National Park City initiative has been designed to help improve life in cities by working with residents, visitors and partners to enjoy the outdoors more and make the city greener, healthier and wilder.
It is true that London might not seem like the most obvious candidate given that it is a city of millions – with 14,000 residents per square mile (on average) it is still an incredibly green place. According to mapping company Esri, Greater London’s public green space covers 16.8 per cent of the city, while there are also an estimated eight million trees in the city.
Half of its urban areas are either green or blue space, meaning rivers, canals, and reservoirs. The 3,000 public parks are only growing in number too, in fact just as London has more construction going on than the rest of Europe combined which can make driving and being a guide difficult, almost on a weekly basis I come across new gardens and green spaces that simply weren’t there the last time I visited. At this time in particular everything is green, it’s as if London has been built amongst a forest or parkland, not forgetting it’s waterways.
In comparison to other major cities such as Paris which, according to Treepedia – a site that shows the density of greenery in cities around the world, has a green view index (GVI) of just 8.8 per cent.
Environmental records centre, Greenspace Information for Greater London (GIGL), adds that nearly 15,000 species of wildlife also live in the capital, including eight species of bats, the largest population of stag beetles in England, and hundreds of bird species. A city is a very different landscape than a rainforest national park, but the foxes, deer, falcons and other wildlife living in a city are no less valuable
Gaining National Park City status is just a small part in a massive plan to not just make London carbon neutral in its transportation end energy supply but also to enriched the lives of its people and wildlife and so finally put an end to a near millennia of terrible pollution, one way or the other.
All ready my home city of Newcastle Upon Tyne is drawing up plans to become the second such National Park City with Glasgow in hot pursuit.
It’s not just government that is working to make London greener but us people too. People are making their city more nature-rich and vibrant by filling balconies and yards with wildlife-friendly plants. Or growing vegetables and fruits in gardens and public spaces. Or covering concrete and brick walls with ivy. Or cutting small holes in fences to let hedgehogs roam the city. Or simply sharing stories about the hidden gems of nature they discovered in the city.
Globally speaking it is thought that Nairobi and Capetown might be prime candidates given the high density of biodiversity of their regions. Places like Bogotá, Manaus, Seattle, Chengdu, Bandung, Chiang Mai, and Sabah are just a few cities that could be great candidates.
Green places in cities bring a wide array of benefits from reducing air, water pollution, and flooding to absorbing carbon and cooling ever warmer cities. A number of studies document how those contribute to human well-being. A recent Danish study found that childhood exposure to green spaces, including urban nature, reduces the risk for developing an array of psychiatric disorders during adolescence and adulthood.
Japanese studies have shown that being in nature for a couple of hours—so-called forest bathing—enhanced our bodies’ natural killer cell activity. Other studies have documented stress reduction, reduced mortality, and improved cognitive development in children.
The situation in the United States is not yet so advanced either politically speaking or in terms of general attitude and education of urban dwellers but should that change one day then it is something important that the people can take the lead on rather than the state.
My October post on Green London is well worth a look at if you’re interested in why London is now the first National Park City.
My tiny garden is itself something of a nature reserve with over 25 mature bushes and trees including pear, plum, fig, apple, cherry trees, grapes vines and all manner of soft fruit bushes and vegetables. At least 4 different species of birds created nests in the garden with such diverse species as Red Kites (Raptors) and Partridges as well as the dozen or so more common garden birds.
In an age of extinction and drop of number of species the garden is host to a large number of butterflies and moths, insects, frogs and mice as well as being the hunting ground for bats and foxes.
Just this morning when getting a bit of cool air before the weather gets back into the mid 30’s/90’s I was sitting having a cup of tea sat on the front door step and I caught site of one of my hedgehog friends. On top of that there is a natural bumblebee hive in the garden too.
If my rather tiny garden in London can be such a haven for wildlife, imagine what you could do!