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From homes for heroes to green belts

In 1943, the London Natural History Society (LNHS), after being approached the Ministry of Town & Country Planning, provided a list of potential nature reserves in the London area to be considered for incorporation into Patrick Abercrombie's proposals to address the post-war development of the city.
 
His Greater London Plan (1944) disappointed as it gave no consideration to the general problems of nature conservation, but it did state:
 
"There are few nature reserves in the London Region; they might well be increased in number.
 
"The difficulty in a populous region is to fence them off or to enclose them inconspicuously. Human intrusion may be quite unwitting, but there is also the natural curiosity to penetrate into what appears to be set apart.
 
"On the other hand people should be encouraged to rejoice that some few places are left free for wildlife: The plantations within Richmond Park are examples of the attraction of forbidden ground: They should not tempt to invasion".
 
Nevertheless the Plan set out a radical vision of a future London with large numbers of open green spaces to punctuate new housing, and aspirations for two new regional parks - at Mile End and Camberwell (Burgess Park).
 
Accompanying the vigorous post-War developments was a widespread programme of tree-planting in streets and parks.
 
The post-war Labour government instigated some radical changes and introduced the nature conservation frameworks in place today.
 
Through the Town & Country Planning Act (1947) they helped establish a means to control development, and (by 1955) the identification of Green Belts to limit urban sprawl.
 
The National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act (1949) established the Nature Conservancy, which was to oversee the identification and protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National, and Local Nature Reserves.
 
The LNHS were active during the 1950s in recommending such sites for designation in London.
 
Nevertheless, matters weren't always bright for wildlife. Richard Fitter, who had published London's Natural History (1947), remarked that herons were unlikely ever to return to London.
 
The River Thames, still a highly polluted river, was biologically dead, and as means to combat flooding, many of her tributaries had been shut away under tunnels and within concrete culverts severely restricting opportunities for fish and wildfowl to survive.
 
Nevertheless, the Nature Conservancy did proceed with notifying 11 Sites of Special Scientific Interest in London in the 1950s, although most for their geological interest, including Gilbert's Pit, Harefield Pit, and Ruislip Woods.
 
The 1950s in London, however, were dominated by smog, and the attempts to deal with air pollution, notably through the Clean Air Act (1956).
 
House building picked up, with new estates occupying bomb sites and concerted slum clearance, especially in London’s poorer districts.
 
This continued into the 1960s and 1970s with modernist approaches to estates laid out in large expanses of greenspace.
 
The Naturalists' Trusts for most of London's surrounding counties were inaugurated in the late 1950s, followed by the Herts & Middlesex Naturalists Trust in 1963.
 
Their operations took off some of the burden carried by a hard-pressed LNHS Conservation Committee, and from 1965 found that part of their areas had become incorporated within Greater London, although their activities by and large ignored the inner metropolitan core.
 
The London County and Middlesex County Councils were abolished in 1965, and in their place the Greater London Council (GLC) was created, occupying a far larger land area - still in place today - and known as Greater London.
 
At the same time the constituent boroughs were reconfigured into the 31 boroughs and two cities (Westminster and the City of London).
 
The GLC was responsible for strategic planning, housing, and the management of a large number of parks and open spaces, for example Crystal Palace and Finsbury Park.
 
Gravel extraction and the creation of reservoirs for London's water supply had begun to change the shape of London from the 1920s, and by the 1960s these presented new opportunities for leisure.
 
In 1966 the Colne Valley Regional Park was established extending from the western half of Hillingdon into Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.
 
The following year, Parliament established the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, 40 square km of greenspace stretching from Old Ford into Hertfordshire and Essex.