Wildlife in London? Deer Me!

In the Americas, people aren’t used to their cities having very deep history.

The layers of London would blow many minds.

Take for example Richmond Park. It may appear to be a place of wild refuge within the city, a patch of ancient wilderness that somehow escaped man’s boundless reach for millennia. But even here, the human touch has been registered. Richmond Park has been a park for at least 700 years. (Help to get London named a National Park City.)

A young red deer in London's Richmond Park shakes water off its back and picks up an otherworldly halo in the process. (Photo by Luke Massey)
A red deer in London’s Richmond Park shakes water off its back and picks up an otherworldly halo in the process. (Photo by Luke Massey)

While humans haven’t cleared the trees and built towns and highways there, our presence has shaped it considerably. Such parks were set aside in the past not just to be free of construction and development, but specifically to provide an environment for game to thrive. The removal of predators and the stocking with prey like red and fallow deer then completely altered the pressures on plant life, affecting erosion and other forces shaping not just the forests and grasslands, but the landscape as a whole.

So the Richmond Park of today, with its centuries-old trees and large herds of deer looks drastically different than the Richmond Park of the 14th-century, and certainly than the open areas on the outskirts of Roman-era London.

Richmond Park, like London itself, is a complex and living thing, responding to the effects of nature and nurture for centuries.

This realization is part of what’s driving National Geographic Emerging Explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison’s project to get Greater London named a National Park City. Recognizing that all living things live best in diverse and balanced landscapes, he’s made a call to wake people up to the fact that when we build buildings and roads we don’t create a parallel universe, we’re just layering on to the richness of the natural environment.

If we recognize the wildness of our cities, we can get in better touch with all of the wildness in the world.

This week the London Assembly plans to vote on a motion that would pave the way for the Greater London Authority to support Dan and his teammates’ work to make London a National Park City.

You can help by supporting the project on crowdfunder.co.uk and spreading the word with @LondonNP using #GLNP.

Read All Posts About Daniel Raven-Ellison


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Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.