Rewilding London: Kew Gardens
Letts Safari's focus on urban rewilding continues with the exciting project at Kew
Nestled at the far reaches of London’s District line, in the famous borough of Richmond, lies the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, a historic and yet increasingly progressive centre for biodiversity and horticultural science.
The first thing that strikes you on arriving at Kew Gardens is the size of the area. The gardens themselves make up almost half the finger of land stretching toward the Thames that makes up the district of Kew in London, an impressive extent that once you reach within it, feels like it stretches on and on, with around 500 acres of fully green land, and unique historic structures.
The gardens themselves date back as far as 1759, when it was originally an exotic garden of Lord Capell of Tewkesbury, however from 1840 it has been under the administration of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew which have transformed it into a site of biodiversity and plant preservation. In total the gardens themselves contain more than 50,000 diverse plant species growing all at once, in the wild, with the botanies and herbarium housing upwards of 8.5 million preserved plants and fungus.
The diversity of the gardens are striking not just in the variety of plants to see, and colours to experience there, rather the number of environments are striking, from the majestic cedar walk which is lined by all sorts of huge cedar trees reminiscent of the main thoroughfare at Devon’s Capability Brown gardens, one of the Letts Safari Network of parks, all the way to the Rocky facsimile of the Alps, containing plants native to the Alp mountains all just 200 metres separated from traditional English gardens.
The habitats share this diversity, with a notable adoption of the trio of core habitats identified as essential to rewilding projects. From the first entry at the Victoria gate, the Kew Gardens’ run of wilded woodlands, grasslands and scrub are wonderfully well integrated, even exhibiting areas of possible silvopasture.
Even more striking is the variety of waterway habitats that can be found throughout the gardens. Whether it’s the fascinating rock pools that can be seen above from the Alpine environment, or the small ponds that feed smaller streams creating unique secluded gardens, or the large dominating lake in the middle of the Gardens which can be crossed peacefully to observe from its centre.
These habitats provide homes for plenty of diverse wildlife, even if obviously the preservation of the animal life is not the core focus of the botanical gardens at Kew. From traditional London animals, such as foxes and geese, all the way to the unique bees such as the cuckoo bee, and sightings of badgers or rarer aquatic birds.
The Gardens still adopt some essential rewilding techniques, for example allowing collapsed trees to lie on the ground, even in spaces where they may be cutting off footpaths. A commendable decision, especially as this is often viewed negatively by attendants, but surely a decision which has strikingly improved bug and bee life in the gardens, and will be also contributing to continued effective carbon sequestration.
As well as this, wildlife friendly techniques for wood stacking and piling have been utilised, enabling the gardens to create small habitats that greatly benefit small mammals and birdlife. On top of this, while the gardens do have larger clearly paved throughways and paths, the majority of trafficked passages are not paved, and rather take advantage of the frequent human activity to create foot trodden dirt pathways.