Nature under our noses

The myth that London is a wildlife desert, especially in the centre, has been comprehensively debunked by one individual’s study of a small urban park in Peckham. 

Over a six-year period, from 2011 to 2017, Penny Metal has spent thousands of hours - and taken thousands of photos - of the insects in Warwick Gardens. She found an astonishing 555 different species of insects and spiders in the park including regional rarities and one species new to the country. There really is nature under our noses, even in the capital.

Warwick Gardens would usually be considered an insignificant park just a couple of miles south of Elephant & Castle. It’s a 1.52ha (3.8 acre) area between a railway line and private gardens in the heart of Peckham, in walking distance of Peckham Rye station. 

Warwick Gardens, Lyndhurst Way, Peckham, London SE15 5AQ
There’s a playground for young children, a space for natural play, a ball court for football and basketball, table tennis tables and a grass field for games. Recently a community orchard has been planted. It is managed for the local community by Southwark Council Park Department and is a Green Flag award holder.

You can read about Penny Metal’s remarkable study on her website, or in her beautiful book “insectinside: life in the bushes of a small Peckham park” (Sept 2017) available via the website.

As Penny says: “The habitat turned out to be better than envisaged – the park is flanked by a railway line and gardens, with ash, hawthorn, hornbeam, horse chestnut and silver birch trees dotted around. The council has allowed the borders to go wild with barley grass, thistles, nettles, green alkanet, comfrey and black horehound; plants like ivy, rose and bramble overflow from the gardens alongside sycamore, hazel and lilac. Much of the grass is punctuated with yarrow and ragwort. In 2014 the council planted an ‘edible hedge’ on the rail side of the park. Among the chosen plants are cherry plum, hazel, crab apple, wild pear, blackthorn, field maple, hawthorn, honeysuckle and gooseberry.”

A total of 17 butterfly species have been recorded:
  • Essex Skipper, Large Skipper
  • Orange Tip, Large White, Small White, Brimstone 
  • Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Gatekeeper
  • Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma 
  • Small Copper, Holly Blue, Common Blue 
This list of species is very similar to that I identified in Burgess Park and in Nunhead Cemetery (both about 2 miles away). See reports on these here:
The list of moths runs to 42 species, and counting - including: 
Knot Grass, Silver Y, Toadflax Brocade, Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner, Tree-lichen Beauty, Burnet Companion, Jersey Tiger, Brimstone Moth, Snout, Riband Wave, Least Carpet, Gypsy Moth, Red-barred Gold, Lime Hawk Moth, Clay, Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Angle Shades, Ruby Tiger, Large Ranunculus, Budmoth, and Cinnabar. T

his list is, again, similar to that from the moth trap in my garden near the Oval, some 2 miles away.

As well as the butterflies and moths, Penny has logged the ants, aphids, barkflies, bees and wasps (dozens!), beetles (also dozens), bugs (dozens again), bush-crickets and grasshoppers, centipedes, damselflies and dragonflies, earwigs, flies (dozens again), harvestmen, lacewings, midges, sawflies, spiders, springtails and woodlice.

Penny’s survey should be an encouragement to us all - to get out there and explore our local green spaces. There’s nature under our noses, if we only care to look!

Warwick Gardens satellite view

Warwick Gardens location


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