Green space covers over 47% of our city, and exploring it — or better still, wading, clambering or crawling through it — is great medicine for the soul.
So whether it’s just a gentle Sunday amble with friends you’re after, or you’re looking to get knee deep in a local conservation project, we’ve listed the best ways to swap those shiny brogues for a pair of muddy wellies this summer in London.
Discover nature in King's Cross
A little slice of nature nestled right in the middle of bustling King's Cross, Camley Street Natural Park is sadly very easy to miss, hidden away on a quiet side street near Granary Square. Pack a picnic and pop in any day of the week to experience this beautiful and restful habitat for birds, butterflies, amphibians and a rich variety of plant life, set on the bank of the Regent's Canal. Don’t forget to grab a member of the friendly and knowledgeable conservation team to find out about the current projects they’ve got on the go to protect our local flora and fauna.
Find animals among the hipsters
We all know that Spitalfields is the natural habitat of the greater bearded hipster, but look a little closer and you’ll actually discover a farm with donkeys, goats and chickens. Spitalfields City Farm is on a former railway goods depot and makes for a little unexpected oasis among the trendy, concrete surrounds. Don’t leave without checking out their farm shop selling plants, seasonal produce, preserves and local honey.
Wade through the creek
What if we told you that you can find leeches, Chinese mitten crabs and parakeets just moments from Deptford Market? Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you, they’re actually in Deptford. Head down to Deptford Creek, don some waders and go for a muddy tour of the diverse and exotic wildlife that reside in this unlikely canyon. See their website for specific dates.
Hunt for treasure along the Thames
We Londoners may not have white sands or crystal clear water, but the Thames foreshore is one of the richest archaeological sites in the country. Thames mud is anaerobic (meaning without oxygen), so acts as a fantastic preservative to all the hidden treasures inside. Anyone can beachcomb along the Thames without a licence so long as you only pick up what you find on the surface. Sadly there’s no guarantee you’ll uncover treasure chests, gold bars or pirate remains — but there’s no harm in trying.
Stroll through the forest
Pass through Blackheath and you’ll stumble on a large plot of forest which is delightfully quiet, considering its location near busy Shooters Hill. You can stroll through Oxleas Wood for quite some time before encountering any wellie-wearing dog walkers. It’s like a little piece of the New Forest right in the middle of south east London.
Get adventurous in Lee Valley
Just beyond bustling Walthamstow you’ll encounter the start of this expansive, green valley which stretches all the way from London to Essex and Hertfordshire. Inevitably, with so much space, there are heaps of activities to choose from, from cycling and walking to white water rafting and horse riding. With the country parks, nature reserves and trails, it’s very easy to forget that you’re so close to home.
London has a network of canals which offer a quiet haven for birdlife and wildlife, and which join together some of London’s most bustling areas. Take a stroll from Limehouse to King's Cross, or pass around the back of London Zoo for some free animal spotting when you walk the waterway from Paddington to Camden. See our canal videos for more of what you can spot along the towpaths.
Explore the remains of the Great North Wood
Sydenham Hill Wood Local Nature Reserve forms part of what remains of the old Great North Wood that once stretched 8 miles from Selhurst to Deptford. The wood is a mix of old and new woodland as well as, surprisingly, the remaining flora from large Victorian villas that previously sat on the land. The woodland contains over 200 species of trees and flowering plants, including wild garlic, bluebell, sweet woodruff and early dog violet.
By Hannah Foulds