Rewilding London: Barn Elms Riverside Park
A haven of biodiversity between Putney and Barnes - surrounded by the river Thames and London's urban sprawl
We continue our series on urban rewilding having been asked to visit Barn Elms Riverside Park. Located just across from the more built-up centres of Fulham and Hammersmith, Putney and Barnes make for special London neighbourhoods, filled with green spaces and designed around the river more than you see in much of the rest of the supposedly river-centric city. Whether its the Putney Piers, the riverside walks, or the long walk of quays and waterside rowing, kayaking and sailing club, the strange finger of South London reaching into the Northern areas holds a real appreciation of its aquatic surroundings.
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It is not a surprise that this is the place of the WWT Wetlands, one of the most extensive natural projects within the nation’s largest metropolis that will be covered in a future edition of Rewilding London. In this visit we examine the green that borders WWT, Barn Elms, and the riverside space that it conjures.
One of the interesting aspects about the approach to Barn Elms Green is the way the walk along the Thames feels like an actual walk beside the river. Rather than what you might experience along the Southbank, Westminster or around Canary Wharf - the banks of Putney and Fulham are like mini-parks with parts of the river lined by trees. The only hint of London’s metropolitan expanse is the site of the Craven Cottage stadium and the distant buildings of Hammersmith’s city centre. Just the feeling of being right on the water is unique to this walk, and as someone who has been a resident of London nearing on 9 years now, its something I associate with trips out of the city, not walks within it.
Another uncommon element of this walk is the amount of people actually making use of the Thames here. The number of canoes, kayaks and rowers surging past you is very noticeable, blending in nicely with the many birds and particularly seagulls hovering across the river. At points the water even laps onto the walk itself, making it easy for the numerous sailing and boating clubs to get themselves straight into the water presumably, but nevertheless creating a special feeling of connection with the Thames.
The routes through Barn Elms Green are constantly surrounded by scrubby verges and banks, with thriving hedgerows allowed to develop around the pathways. This does incredibly important work for nesting areas for the numerous birdlife and the small mammals that will be migrating into and out of the WWT Wetlands area. Additionally it helps to promote biodiversity, with the larger hedgerow spaces able to cover up vulnerable new growths to slowly build up through it, without threat of being eaten back, or more likely trodden down by haphazard human travellers.
Tree life is also prioritised in the green, with border spaces filled with small and larger sized trees to create a shielding skyline, protecting the visitors from feeling like they are still in the heaving urban sprawl of London while also sheltering the thousands of birds and insects that make homes in these trees. But more importantly this focus on providing spaces for thick tree growth promotes biodiversity and helps the city to breathe. As well as this, those same trees will be doing significant work in sequestering carbon, and helping to increase the storage of carbon within our soil.
As you edge closer to the Wetlands themselves you come upon the other waterways of Barn Elms Green, with little ponds, streams and brooks able to feed some diverse and extraordinary habitats for a London location. These waterways are a special feature to any rewilding and naturalistic project. Barn Elms takes advantage of them as much as possible, creating numerous diverse habitats from them, little ponds, lakes, along with brooks and streams, and boggy areas of run off, before finally also utilising the river itself to feed its banks and verges.
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