Oaks and hornbeams make a return in Whitfield Gardens and Crabtree Fields

Top of an oak sapling.
An oak (Quercus robur) sapling planted in Whitfield Gardens.

“By the time London was first colonised by people, it would have been covered by oak and hornbeam woodland,” says the London Wildlife Trust. Yet there are no oaks or hornbeams in Fitzrovia’s public open spaces… until this month.

Now the Friends have planted saplings of English oak and hornbeam along with other native trees as shrubs and mixed hedges to increase biodiversity in Whitfield Gardens and Crabtree Fields, reversing the trend for planting ornamental and imported species.

Top of a hornbeam sapling.
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) sapling growing in Whitfield Gardens.

The project is part of a London-wide scheme to make London the first National Park City, an idea now taken up by the Mayor of London and supported by many local councillors including those in Camden’s Bloomsbury ward.

Native trees are far more valuable to wildlife than non-native species like the London plane, the most common tree planted in open spaces and along streets. The value of this hybrid of the oriental plane and the American plane (Platanus x hispanica) apart from its sheer beauty is its ability to remove pollution, and the mature trees provide an important canopy to create shade in London’s often stifling summers.

But the key to creating wildlife-friendly parks is to plant a variety of native species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers, something the friends group have been doing a lot of recently.

Trees and shrubs planted: Oak, English (Quercus robur), Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Hawthorn, common (Crataegus monogyna), Maple, field (Acer campestre), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Cherry, wild (Prunus avium), Dog rose (Rosa canina), Holly (Ilex aquifolium).

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