London unveils plan to 'rewild' Hyde Park

Badgers, water voles and other species could be reintroduced but changes to the site will bring intense scrutiny

Hyde Park in central London could be in for some major changes. Photo: Alamy
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Once a symbol of taming nature to make walks, lawns and flower beds, Hyde Park in London is turning back to its medieval roots with a "rewilding" makeover.

The gentrified rectangle stretching across central London, surrounded by Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Kensington and Notting Hill, abuts some of the most expensive postcodes in the city and in the Serpentine lake has a feature that is a prime example of a man-made body of water designed to appear natural.

The plan to rewild some of the park is designed to tackle the problems of living in the 21st century, such as air pollution and climate change.

Parts of the green sanctuary will revert to scrub and species lost to the park, including badgers, will be reintroduced.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has set aside £600,000 ($796,000) for rewilding projects at 45 sites to help special species, including water voles, to thrive and birds, from swifts and sparrows, to flourish.

Hyde Park is one of the city’s best loved and most famous parks, and any changes to the Grade I listed site will bring intense speculation.

The Rewild London Fund aims to help restore some of the UK capital's vital wildlife sites and create more natural habitats for plants and animals.

“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world," Mr Khan said.

"In London, we need to take bold action to ensure that we not only halt the decline of biodiversity in our natural environment but pave the way for growth and change.

“That’s why I’ve announced my new Rewilding Fund, which will help restore the capital’s precious wildlife sites, improve biodiversity and ensure all Londoners have a thriving web of nature on their doorstep.”

He also announced plans for a rewilding round-table event to look at opportunities for more ambitious, innovative projects to support nature in the UK capital.

The plans will help make London a leader in urban rewilding through the restoration of rivers and the reintroduction of lost species, making the city's Royal Parks wilder. People will also be encouraged to plant green rooftops.

“I am proud to have helped London to be recognised as the world's first National Park City in 2019," Mr Khan said. "This funding shows my commitment to protecting that status and doing all I can to protect London’s amazing network of green spaces, rivers and natural habitats.”

The plans will also help London reach its net-zero commitments and Mr Khan’s goal that everyone in the city live within a 10-minute walk of a green space.

Mr Khan is working with Ben Goldsmith, a non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and brother of Zac Goldsmith, one of the mayor’s beaten election rivals.

“I’m so excited to be working with the mayor on this new rewilding task force for London. All people need to experience close connection with nature in their lives, and yet for many Londoners this is a remote possibility today,” Mr Goldsmith said.

“From green rooftops to pocket parks, nest boxes for peregrines and swifts, rewiggling streams and reintroducing long-lost native species, our plan is to weave wild nature back through the very fabric of our city.”

Improving the city's floodplains and planting more greenery could ease air pollution.

"Given the overlapping nature and climate crises, and mounting pressures facing our health service in the UK, urban greenspace rewilding – large-scale nature recovery – should be a top priority for all city authorities,” a spokesperson for the Rewilding Britain organisation said.

“So the reported plans for rewilding Hyde Park look positive and we'll be watching with interest. It's absolutely the case that ambitious urban rewilding across Britain is much-needed, because the country is languishing as one of the most nature-depeted countries in the world.

There are 1,600 sites of importance for nature conservation in London, covering 20 per cent of the capital.

These include Richmond Park, Sydenham Hill Wood and the downlands in Bromley and Croydon that inspired Charles Darwin’s discoveries.

Updated: December 15, 2021, 1:41 PM