Founded in 47 CE, London has flourished into a bustling metropolis of around nine million residents closely huddled within its expanding circumference. It’s a hive of urban culture, a compelling mix of old and new, with gracious Victorian and Edwardian terraces nudged up against soaring skyscrapers of glass and steel. Patchworked in between this architectural melee are plenty of pretty gardens and verdant stretches to explore within the UK capital. These, and the urbanscapes that surround them, are home to 15,000 species of wildlife.
In recognition of the city’s biodiverse ecosystems, London was recently named the world’s first National Park City. To celebrate this momentous accolade, we look into how the prestigious title came about, while travelling to London’s beautiful Royal Parks and grassy commons, enjoyed by locals and visitors year-round. Guests staying at Red Carnation Hotels’ London hotels are never far from an immaculately manicured lawn or beautifully tended garden to stroll in at their leisure. Here are the capital’s most spectacular parks to visit and what London’s new National Park City status actually means…
The result of one man’s mission
London is hardly synonymous with rolling pastures and verdant wilds. However, taking into consideration residential gardens and communal allotments, green zones and undeveloped stretches of land—as well as the city’s famed Royal Parks and commons—the city is 47 per cent green space. This was the major consideration for Daniel Raven-Ellison, pioneering naturalist and self-professed ‘guerrilla geographer’, when he began campaigning for London to become a National Park City six years ago.
Despite its towering high-rises and thronging commercial districts, Raven-Ellison pointed out that London is extremely biodiverse, with hundreds of bird species and the largest population of stag beetles in England. There are nearly as many trees in London as there are humans, with approximately 8.4 million birch, lime, apple, sycamore, oak, hawthorn and many more varieties dotted all over. The British capital is replete with green and blue spaces, comprising of winding rivers, peaceful canals and broad reservoirs. Urban foxes inhabit the city’s alleyways, holing up in narrow gaps between buildings and often raising their cubs in residential gardens.
“London is the most biologically diverse place in the United Kingdom, precisely because people are there,” says Raven-Ellison. “Why shouldn’t that amazing diversity be valued alongside that of more remote and less altered places? Rainforest national parks are very different from desert national parks. A city is very different from both of those, but it is not necessarily less valuable.” By broadening the definition of what a park is and emphasising the importance of urban nature, Raven-Ellison shone a new light on the UK capital. London’s National Park City status highlights how towns and built-up areas can greatly contribute to biodiversity and public wellbeing.
The National Park City Foundation (NPCF) works in partnership with World Urban Parks and Salzburg Global Seminar. The current goal is to crown at least 25 National Park Cities by 2025. London is the first, while Newcastle upon Tyne and Glasgow have already started campaigning for recognition on the list. The NPCF is consulting with forward-thinking cities across the globe to help them to gain National Park City status.
A greener city for all
Just because London has been awarded the impressive accolade doesn’t mean the hard work is done. London National Park City is a movement on the march to improve life in the capital, while the declaration of London as the world’s first National Park City comes as Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans for it to go even greener. Khan intends for the city to be 50 per cent green by 2050, while its transport system strives toward producing zero emissions.
“By continuing to invest in our environment and work with boroughs and communities, we can improve the health and wellbeing of everyone living in London,” Khan says. “We must protect, improve and add to our outstanding green spaces.” The Mayor hosted a summit for the signing of a London National Park City Charter, which urges boroughs and their residents to do their bit to protect the local environment. Conserving the wildlife and ensuring that children can explore and learn outdoors are among his key aims, too.
Since taking office in 2016, the Mayor has funded 200 green space improvement projects and planted a record 170,000 trees in a bid to enhance and conserve the green belt. In the wake of London’s National Park City achievment, Raven-Ellison’s ambition is for London to welcome in even more wildlife and develop further ecological innovations. Affordable green homes, cleaner air schemes and rivers that are safe to swim in are next on his agenda. It’s the start of a new chapter in London’s richly storied history.
Likewise, each of Red Carnation Hotels’ luxurious properties in London strives to benefit the historic capital’s environment in line with our commitment to protecting the planet. The Rubens at the Palace is the proud cultivator of the largest Living Wall in London. It stands at 350 square metres and supports 10,000 herbaceous plants. Not only does it supply a habitat for the local wildlife, including insects and birds, it moderates the temperature of the hotel throughout the year and improves the air quality. The Living Wall’s blooms change in line with the seasons. Look out for spring bulbs and geraniums ranging from bright blues and sunny yellows to calming purples and whites. The list of plants comprises a rich variety of native flora, including the species recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society for attracting insect pollinators. In particular, buttercups, crocuses and strawberries draw butterflies and bees.
Elsewhere, two of Red Carnation Hotels’ ethically minded London hotels have marked out a quiet corner for beehives, seeking to conserve the city’s bees. Thanks to a partnership between Bedford Estates and The Montague on the Gardens, a swarm of 20,000 bees inhabits Bloomsbury.
“Cities don’t have to be sterile. They can be a home to lots of creatures as well as humans,” explains bee keeper Paul Walton, whose 30 years of experience made him the right man to introduce bees to the area. Paul speaks about the process of bringing them to Montague Street Gardens: “I’ve kept bees on the farms belonging to the Duke of Bedfordshire’s estate for many years. I also tend the hives in the Dowager Duchess’ private garden. This led to a request to teach a small team from the Bloomsbury estate office to become beekeepers. I taught them the basics before inviting them for a practical day among my own hives on the Duke’s estate. Simultaneously, an area was selected in the garden behind the office on Montague Street that would be most suitable to house two beehives. This was paved and planted by the gardeners and prepared for the arrival of the bees, which were brought down to London from Lady Tavistock’s own hives.”
The bees produce the fragrant honey served at The Montague and play a key role in supporting the surrounding ecosystem. The hotel’s garden grows seasonal delights, too, such as fresh mulberries during the warmer months. What’s more, around 120,000 bees live atop The Chesterfield Mayfair at the peak of summer. The prestigious Mayfair hotel cultivates its organic honey and serves it at breakfast. Come harvest time, approximately 160 pounds of honey are procured—more than enough for guests to drizzle over pancakes, fruit and yoghurt or stir into their tea in the morning. From HM The Queen’s residence at Buckingham Palace to Clarence House and St James’s Palace, The Chesterfield Bees cover a radius of about three miles. The bees help fertilise nearby private gardens and the carefully cultivated beds at St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park, as well.
London’s loveliest parks and gardens
Bordered by ancient forestry and with its centre peppered with parks and gardens, London has plenty to inspire keen naturalists and outdoorsy types. The capital’s parks consistently evolve with the seasons, from stark, monochromatic drama come winter to bursting with colourful life at the height of summer. Those staying at The Milestone Hotel & Residences can roll out at a rug on the lawns of Kensington Palace Gardens for an al fresco feast that’s fit for royalty. Simply ask the hotel to prepare a fresh, treat-packed picnic hamper to bring with you. Large and leafy, Hyde Park, home to the Serpentine Gallery and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, is also a stone’s throw away. The park is a jogger’s utopia, threaded with scenic running routes to suit all abilities.
If staying at The Rubens at the Palace or Hotel 41, St James’s Park in front of the Victoria Memorial is well worth exploring. The gardens make for a great lunch spot, before or after some classic London sightseeing. Meanwhile, chic Chelsea is the well-heeled home of The Egerton House Hotel. Across the bridge, Battersea Park makes for a tranquil pitstop from the prestigious shopping precincts of Sloane Street and Brompton Road. Find an exquisite boating lake at its heart, not forgetting the peaceful riverside pathways that make you question whether you’re still in the capital.
Not only is London a cornucopia of landmark parks, it’s patchworked with more secluded garden squares, each with a unique history and character. Fortunately for guests at The Chesterfield Mayfair, some of the city’s most spectacular green spaces can be found mere steps away in Mayfair. Join local dog-walkers and joggers for a stroll beneath the sweeping trees of Mount Street Gardens. Alternatively, a handsome stretch of green, Grosvenor Square Garden, is among the largest gardens in Mayfair and is a cherished inclusion in the city’s grassy portfolio. The space has received a fair amount of limelight, having featured in four of Oscar Wilde’s works, as well as Grateful Dead’s Scarlet Begonias. Trade the bustle of the surrounding city for a precious moment of tranquillity in the dappled shade. London’s myriad green enclaves and superlative parks easily elevate a visit to the capital, while its new-found status as a National Park City promises a brighter, greener future for all.
The world’s first National Park City, London’s most enchanting green enclaves and elegant gardens are all a leisurely walk from Red Carnation Hotels’ London properties.