In a green oasis surrounded by urban jungle, ancient trees stand as sentinels. They have watched over this space for centuries, watching as time and history passes by. Some have even stood in this spot for over 800 years, growing taller whilst a wall was raised, royals hunted deer, and a city grew up around its edges. As a busy metropolis hums and pulses at its borders, this park rolling on for 2,500 acres, has lain timeless for centuries. It now continues to capture the hearts and minds of the millions of visitors that step through its walls every year.
Nestled in the south-west of London, Richmond Park stands as London’s largest Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Grade One Heritage Landscape, with even the Royal Ballet School and a royal residence within its walls. This impressive park first came to my attention last year when I was given the book ‘Park Life: The Memoirs of a Royal Parks Gamekeeper’ written by John Bartram. This book recounts the author’s 30 years working and living within the bubble of Richmond Park. Sparking my imagination, it was his story that inspired in me the desire to make my day trip to his beloved Richmond.
On a hot, but grey autumn day in early September, I made my trek to Richmond Park, with the company of my aunt by my side to guide my path. Starting at the Roehampton Gate in the north-east of the upside-down pentagon-shaped park, we set a route to allow us to take in a range of beautiful habitats, incredible wildlife and the character of this impressive landscape.
Our first steps took us south, hugging the 2km of river that winds down the east side of the park, known as the Beverley Brook. This river for a time became our birdwatching paradise, filling us with excitement with every stretch. We saw everything from a family of long-tailed tits feeding, fish swimming in the shallows, a spotted flycatcher doing its iconic hunting routine, and a bedraggled juvenile kestrel, to a pair of resting mandarin ducks, a tree creeping tree creeper, the flash of yellow of a chiffchaff, and a grey wagtail wagging. With around 100 bird species having been recorded in the park, we could not wish for more fantastic species to start our walk.
Moving on from the river, we then headed into the heart of the parkland. With Richmond also being a Special Area of Conservation, the park is home to over a thousand ancient trees; over 1300 species of beetle including iconic stag beetles; at least 9 species of bat; and a range of habitat types including acid grassland, bogs, and 30 ponds. It is truly an incredible space that feels isolated from the rest of the outside world. With every step you can spot another butterfly species, discover a whole host of plants, spot a range of bird species from green woodpeckers to wheatears, and simply escape everyday life.
Our journey through the park also took us through the middle of the Pen Ponds which were filled with a myriad of bird species. This ranged from coots to black-headed gulls, tufted ducks to greylag geese, and moorhens to little egrets. With drama unfolding in front of us with every sight, we got to see gulls mobbing late nesting grebes, ducks competing for food, and birds flying low overhead, whilst getting the closest views of great-crested grebes that I have ever had!
Though Richmond Park is home to many amazing species, it is the majestic beasts with sleek coats and antlers standing heavy on their heads, that are the star attraction for millions of visitors each year. The Park is home to about 300 red and 300 fallow deer, and these deer are most popular during their impressive autumn spectacle of rutting. Of course during my journey through the park, my aunt and I came across many of the red deer impressive with their bare antlers, and watched them in awe from a far. These deer were very much a main part of John Bartram’s 30 years in Richmond Park as a Park ranger.
As I neared the end of my adventures in Richmond Park for one day, it was evident that though my few hours of escapism were great, you could also easily lose yourself in Richmond Park for days, or in the case of John Bartram, years. It was easy to understand how he spent 4 decades hidden away working and living within this park. Its a place which has something for everyone, with everything from open space and incredible landscapes to amazing wildlife and cafes! For me, seeing 44 species of bird in a short space of time was my highlight. When beautiful places such as this can be found on your doorstep, what more could you want?