Is it Time London Began Rewilding to Reduce its Carbon Footprint and Improve City Wellbeing?


With world leaders gathering in Edinburgh for the COP26 Climate Change Conference last month, the issue of climate has been in the spotlight more than ever. With rising sea levels, melting ice caps, extreme heat and the death of beautiful natural sites including the world’s coral reefs, something needs to be done before it’s too late.

The future of our children and grandchildren could look very different if we don’t commit to making real changes on a global scale. Not only can going greener save the planet but it can help our wellbeing too. Studies show that surrounding ourselves with nature can dramatically increase our moods while it can even go as far as aiding recovery following illness or surgery.

However, this concept is challenged by our ever-growing cities, which see more and more green space replaced with large concrete structures. Could the answer lie in rewilding?

What is Rewilding?

Rewilding is a growing global trend that sees nature re-introduced into urban environments. But unlike the pretty parks that are well kept and aesthetic, these sites are designed to received little or no maintenance. This allows wildlife to reside and a more natural, remote feel be delivered to residents or commuters in surrounding areas.

Examples of rewilding in other cities have proven to be very effective as well as popular. Take Manhattan’s High Line for example. The 1.5-mile park was built on an abandoned railway above city blocks. Or Germany’s Mauerpark. This example of rewilding runs along a stretch of what used to be the Berlin Wall.

The concept can even work in residential areas as with the Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest. The design comes from architect Stefano Boeri who describes the initiative as, “a home for trees that also houses humans and birds.” It sees 18 and 26 storey structures covered in greenery, totalling 125 trees of various species and around 5,200 shrubs and plants of smaller dimensions.

What are the Benefits of Rewilding?

An article by Bloomberg reports, ‘rewilding can help solve three challenges: loss of biodiversity, “rewilding has become a powerful strategy to bring back butterflies, insects, birds, and wildlife”, urban over-heating (shade and greenery provide coolness), and climate resiliency (treed spaces can serve as carbon sinks, for instance).’

Another benefit surrounds the issue that rainy countries such as the UK have been seeing more and more of. Flooding. Quoting Marie Law Adams, a landscape architect at Landing Studio in Somerville, Massachusetts, Bloomberg reports, ‘“Stormwater systems in cities aren’t built with the capacity to keep up with the rain we’re seeing today,” she said. To mimic natural processes of managing rainwater, she said, some cities subject to flooding are using different soils and plants for holding and filtering stormwater before it flows to waterways.’

Then there are the benefits to human wellbeing and happiness. Since the pandemic people and workspaces are prioritising wellbeing both at home and in businesses. Ensuring we surround ourselves with nature as often as possible is one way to lift spirits, promote calmness and satisfy our inherent connection to nature.

How Green is London Currently?

As major cities go, London doesn’t perform too badly in terms of greenery. London has over 35,000 acres of public green spaces – around 40% of the city’s entire area. It is also the world’s first National Park City. Which in simple terms means the city aims to protect its green spaces, encourage the growth of green areas, waterways and paths and encourage residents and tourists to access them.

Since the city has gained this title, a record 170,000 trees have been planted in three years. What’s more, around 200 green space improvement projects have been implemented affecting 175 hectares of land. This has seen a new swimming lake, a 23KM cycleway, a new wetland and 18 hectares of riverways introduced across the city.

An article in Forbes also reports these impressive figures, ‘”Beside 8.6 million people, London is home to more than 8.3 million trees and 14,000 species of wildlife.“’

With the Mayor announcing ambitious targets to be carbon neutral by 2030, is it time that London joined other European cities and began rewilding?

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