Day out: Wormwood Scrubs, London
This urban park close to the centre of London offers a welcome wild escape from the humdrum of city life
Deep within urban west London lies an oasis known as Wormwood Scrubs. At first glance, the Scrubs, as it is affectionately known, may not look like the sort of place that would attract birdlife.
Covering 183 acres and surrounded by urbanity, it is an attractive park encircled by a thin band of woodland, dominated by sycamore, birch and plane. Over half the park’s centre is taken up by sports fields. But there is a special magic about the place that is never more evident than in the spring. As an urban birder, I can barely contain my excitement on an early morning spring visit. What migratory visitors might I discover? How many of the local songsters will make their presence known to me?
Birdlife at Wormwood Scrubs
Despite the number of dogwalkers and joggers on site, I always manage to see or hear something amazing in spring. The scrub and woodland begin to populate with good numbers of singing warblers, including chiffchaffs, blackcaps, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats – a London scarcity. Not all stop to breed. The Scrubs can attract scarcer migrants, such as redstarts, garden warblers and even ring ouzels – a wary migrant thrush more usually found in the remote wild scree of western and northern Britain.
The evocative sounds of the summer migrants complement the resident and melliferous blackbirds, incessantly calling great tits and the conversational warbles of the many robins inhabiting my local patch.
HS2 and Wormwood Scrubs
However, as with many urban wildlife areas, all is not rosy in my urban haven. HS2 (the UK’s new high-speed railway, currently in development) has decimated the northern edge of the site, summarily destroying a key London breeding stronghold for song thrushes and linnets. Meanwhile, the small grassland area at the western end of the park was once home to possibly the nearest breeding colony of meadow pipits to central London. They were forced into local extinction by the excessive intrusion of dogs rummaging loose through these sensitive ground-nesters’ domain.
But hearing a rare visiting nightingale briefly belting out its unbelievably glorious song from deep within a bush always brings up the hairs on the back of my neck. Hearing its song in such an incongruous setting, in the heart of London, reminds me of how amazing nature is and that it is all around us, if we choose to notice.
David Lindon, aka the Urban Birder, is a British birdwatcher and author.