No ordinary walk in the park – Richmond

Richmond Park is big. In fact, at 2360 acres, it is very big…

  • It is the largest green space inside the M25.
  • It is nearly seven times bigger than Hyde Park, and nearly three times bigger than Central Park, New York.
  • It is even bigger than some countries… nearly five times the size of Monaco, and almost twenty times the size of the Vatican City State.

If you haven’t been, I recommend it – particularly if you live in London. It is the only one of the Royal Parks where you feel you are approaching being in a truly wild space. Here is a brief Hipsta-tour to whet your appetite…

The fauna

The park is home to about 600 wild deer (Fallow and Red). Their stock dates back a very long time before they were walled in by Charles I. The park was named by Henry VIII and used as a hunting ground, although its royal connections go back much further to when it was called the Manor of Sheen owned by Edward I.

In the park, Fallow Deer (above) and the larger Red Deer (below) have become, inevitably, less cautious of humans than their cousins in wilder parts of the country, but they are still wild animals and it made my blood boil to see people trying to feed them crisps and pet them (more on feeding and petting animals below). I’d like to see someone try and feed crisps to a rutting Red Deer stag in October!

The Green Woodpecker below is about to slam its pick-axe of a beak into the grassy mound beneath its feet. The mounds are the homes to the almost entirely subterranean Yellow Meadow Ant. It is very possible that you have never seen one of these ants even though they are incredibly common (unless, like me, you like digging little holes into anthills to watch them at work), but you will have almost certainly seen the grassy mounds that can have been the homes to ants for literally hundreds of years.

The Egyptian Goose (below) is so called because of the distinctive eye markings that resemble the ancient Egyptian eye make up.

I’m definitely not going to win any photographic awards for the shot below, but then you try photographing the fastest creature on earth! If you are thinking that the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on earth, I would argue you are only partially correct. The Peregrine only reaches the top speed due to a lot of help from gravity. Nothing can touch the Swift going flat out. The Swifts below are acrobatically catching their insect prey on the move.

To me, the Swift is one of the ultimate flying creatures. Not only is it the fastest, it is simply made to exist in the air. When a Swift chick is ready to fledge, it will wobble towards the nest hole on its tiny feet (its Latin name, Apus apus, means ‘without feet’) and then take off into the sky. Its first flight (if successful) will last for four years without a break! The little bird will not touch ground again until it is ready to rear young. It will eat and sleep in the sky and never perch.

The Song Thrush (below, perched in a Beech tree) declined in number by over 50% from 1970 to 1995 due to the loss of its natural habitat. Watching the males sing their love songs from tree-tops in early spring before the females have even migrated back to the UK is a truly moving wildlife experience.

A lesson in life and death

Baby animals are cute. But, they are also wild animals and watching children rush up to cygnets like the one below (ugly duckling?) when the adult swans are there protecting them makes me wonder if the children’s parents have any common sense whatsoever!

Or… feeding a baby Canada Goose bread whilst its mother hisses out of shot…

Just as Spring brings goslings, so too comes the new growth of plants, such as this fern…

Whilst we celebrate new life in Spring, Richmond Park is an excellent example of the importance of death and decay. Everywhere you look, there is dead and rotting wood that is left deliberately and attracts some of the rarest insects (including the mighty Stag Beetle) and fungi.

Nature is not always pretty and cute. We should never kid ourselves that threat, predation, and death don’t occur in parkland. The young rabbit below had perhaps fallen prey to a Buzzard which was then scared away from its food by cyclists or dog walkers. It may be nicer to take pictures of baby birds than dead bunnies, but both are part of the wonderfully wild life and death that exists at Richmond Park.


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