About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
This blog will contain pictures and information from my everyday encounters with nature in London and the surrounding areas. I will log details of the origin of each photograph thus recording what there is to be seen and where it was seen. I very much welcome anyone else who can upload photos and information about nature in London and the home counties. I work freelance in the film industry so have plenty of days off. I hope to update Monday to Friday and once on the weekend posting at around 19.30, I don't post on bank holidays

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Due to work commitments, Nature in London will start posting again on Monday 18th of July.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Sedge Warbler

This is a common summer visitor to Britain. It is well worth stopping and spending a bit of time watching this bird if you come across one. They are extremely lively characterful little birds that sing very powerfully. The one in the photograph taken in Hertforshire let me get very close whilst he belted out powerful, virtually non-stop song for five minutes or more. They migrate from Africa, where they spend the winter and may be found in Britain from around mid April to mid October. They feed mainly on insects and their numbers are healthy, in fact The inhabit a massively extensive range of countries from Asia through Africa to all over Europe.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Brockwell Park
 This thistle is in bloom at the moment, which always reminds me of Scotland who’s national emblem is the spear thistle which has larger flowers. There are over a dozen species of thistle in Britain and it’s a common group of plants well known for their spines which the plant has developed to discourage animals from feeding on it. Thistles are male and female and grow near one another to breed. They are notoriously hard to get rid off, so consider embracing their presence in your garden, when flowering they’re very popular with several species of rare butterfly and once they go to seed there’s a good chance of seeing goldfinch feeding on the seeds.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Meadow crane's-bill (Geranium pratense)

Shakespeare rd, SE24

 This a really lovely wild meadow and garden plant which is in bloom now and should remain so until the end of September. This plant is best distinguished at this time of year by it’s large violet blue flowers with crimson veins. As you can see from the Latin name it’s part of the Geranium family of which there are over 400 species. Crane’s bill is the translation of the Greek Geranium. It’s so called because of the seed dispersing area of the plant, which is a column that opens to reveal a seed, looking like a beak, Not all geraniums have this.  The only suggested herbalist use I’ve found for it is to use the leaves, placed on cuts to help bind the wound but I’m sure there are more. I don’t know the remedy I’ve mentioned to be certain and I’d always recommend seeking specialist advice before you try any herbalist remedies.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

White water-lily (Nymphaea alba)

This plant produces the widest flower of any wild British plant. They can grow up to around 10 inches. The plants grow in relatively shallow water not liking water much deeper than a couple of metres. The flowers are well known for only opening when the sun comes out. There are about 50 species of the genus Nymphaea. The white water-lily has lots of herbalist uses, through history, different parts of the plant have commonly been used for their sedative and aphrodisiac properties. This picture was taken by the same pond that I found the newt in yesterday, in Dulwich.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Common or Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

Common Newt - Dulwich
I took this picture today, next to a garden pond in East Dulwich. I saw at least half a dozen newts in this pond which was great as they have been in decline for sometime. It just shows how valuable gardens and garden ponds are as mini ecosystems. I’m very fond of newts, a fondness somewhat developed by Gussie Fink-Nottle a ‘Newt Fancying’ character in Jeeves & Wooster novels. So it was rather nice to photograph this specimen in Dulwich close to where Woodhouse went to school; Dulwich College. Unlike Lizards, Newts do not bask in the sun, nor do they have scales but they do both hibernate. Newts should start to appear at the end of February depending on temperature at this point they will travel to water to breed. During breeding season the male displays to the female with tale vibrations then leaves a pod containing sperm in the water for the female to collect. The female gives birth to tadpoles which are carnivorous throughout their lives. Newts have been recorded living up to 20 years but their average life span is far shorter than this. 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Hawke Binoculars

Having recently been parted from my binoculars for a week I realised how much I use them in day to day life. I’ve not written about any kit for a while so I thought a few sentences on my binoculars would be fitting. Bar the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet I don’t think there is a more important piece of equipment to interact with nature. They make any walk so much more fruitful and interesting. Sometimes I look at what appears to be blank pieces of sky or landscape then I put my bins to my eyes and a multitude of birds are often revealed. What to buy? I favor something mid size for walking like the pair pictured. They are 10x42 magnification, which gives me good viewing range without being too cumbersome. I also really like this brand, Hawke these ‘Nature Trek’ binoculars were around £90 and I think the optics compare well with other brand models in the £200/£300 bracket a view which is shared with some professionals in the industry that I’ve asked advice from. For the price these are excellent waterproof and robust binoculars.You can feel quite odd walking round London with binoculars but I do it all the time and it's well worth it.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris)

Canal System N1

Dulwich Rd SE2
I’m writing briefly tonight on Common Mallow as I’ve had a seriously busy week. I always see this plant around Herne Hill on lawns and in the park but today I noticed it in abundance whilst walking between Haggerston and Angel along the Canal where the wide shot was taken. It took me some time to identify this plant, it’s been in flower for a couple of months now and will remain so for a couple more. The flowers are stunning and the plant is related to hibiscus and hollyhock. It is edible but be careful that it isn’t growing in too nitrogen rich soil and also that it’s out of ‘dog pee’ range which a lot of it is not. The round fruits it bears may contain little edible nuts. I’ve had a brief look for herbalist uses and like many things, diuretic properties were one of the first that came out. Today I saw it growing in tall wide clumps but often you may just see a few leaves and a flower in a lawn. I think the flowers are particularly attractive and I look forward to tasting the nuts. This is an easy and useful plant to identify.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Moonshine yarrow (Achillea)

The yellow flower in the photograph belongs to Moonshine Yarrow. The Latin genus above contains just under 100 flowering plants, many of which are used decoratively in Gardens like this one. The name comes from Greek mythology where it’s said Achilles soldiers used Yarrow to treat wounds. I find this fascinating as the blood clotting qualities of Yarrow are well documented by herbalists. Only a few months a go a herbalist in the Natural History Museum garden was telling me to put yarrow up my nose for a nose bleed. These properties give yarrow some of its other common names like blodwort and allheal. This is one property of many that Yarrow has been scientifically proven to have, it has antiseptic properties and is often used as a carminative and to treat colds and flu. Usual warning…be certain about identification to the untrained eye, there are some nasty plants this may be mistaken for especially as there are such a range of species flowering in a multitude of colours.

PS: Please would someone identify the moth for me?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)

Queen's Park - North Side

The above Latin name refers to the common blackberry. There are over four hundred species of blackberry. As you can see from the photo I took today amongst the railings at Queen’s Park, blackberry bushes flower in late spring/ early summer and are usually pink or white. This plants tolerance for poor quality soil is the main reason why it’s so common. We know and see them in thick tangled bushes with large thorns on the stems but certain agricultural species have been cultivated; thorn free. Dewberries look similar to blackberries and are part of the Rubus genus but they lack the woody fibers in the stem. Obviously they are very nutritious, containing lots of vitamins and fibre as well as anti-oxidants. The seeds are also high in fibre and nutrients.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)

Teasel, - Lee Valley canal system.
This is another one of our common plants, which has lots of names. The scientific name above comes from the Greek ‘to Thirst’ because of the area which joins the leaf and the stem that collects water like a bowl. This is also why it was known as Venus’s basin by the Roman’s and Mary’s basin by the early Christians. Apart from being a really important source of food for birds and pollen for butterflies I have not found any uses herbalist uses for Teasel. It does get commonly used as an ornament (I’ve definitely seen my Mum dot the odd one around the house) and, more significantly a as a tool it was an is used by Fuller’s who would comb wool with it. Today it is still cultivated for use in the textiles industry.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

 I’ve seen quite a bit of this on grass around London, it likes sandy soil, which makes sense as I took the above photo on a football pitch in the Sir Joseph Hood Memorial park. This plant is about the size of a buttercup and the common name Trefoil comes from the Latin trifolium meaning three-leaved plant. It is said to have a few herbalist properties but I’ve not had time to research it thoroughly enough to confirm that. This is easy to find all over London in parks and Lawns.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


I took a photo of this beautiful Eucalyptus tree yesterday evening as I’m working long days at the moment and I was looking for something quick and easily identifiable to write about. Little did I know there are more than 700 species of Eucalyptus worldwide, in fact it’s a genus that could quite easily provide a life of study on it’s own. Most Eucalyptus are native to Australia. Some species are more commonly known as Gum trees, the sap that they contain is a very important natural substance that provides natural antiseptic and cleaning oil. To counter the positives their ability to drain huge quantities of water is obviously less popular.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Bindweed (Convolvulus)

 There are five fused petals on this common plant that I photographed today on Wimbledon park. It’s so called because it will bind around other plants in a parasitic way and smother them. They are usually rooted very deep and it’s worth consulting a specialist for removal the Royal Horticultural society offer advice. There are lots of species of this plant and most are edible but don’t eat too much as it’s a purgative. I’ve read reports that it’s sweet and reports that it’s incredibly bitter but I’ve not tried it. I suppose it depends on the variety. Some bindweeds are massive and will provide a meal from their big starchy roots. Others, it’s claimed have psychedelic properties but that is specific to variety and not a property common bindweed has.  

Monday, 6 June 2011

Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus)

This photo was taken on the street set of Wimbledon Studios and is one of the most common members of the ragwort family. It is poisonous to humans and livestock and I don’t know of any herbalist uses for this plant all though I’m certain their will be some. I’m really interested in these types of plants that few people take any notice of. Just over 200 hundred years ago this plant would have been considered the height of sophistication as it was imported from the volcanic soils of Sicily by the Oxford Botanic Gardens. We now know that it each plant can contain around 10,000 seeds, which have spread incredibly effectively around the midlands and the south. A fact which might have deterred the 18th Century botanist from importing it.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Common comfrey (Symphytum offcinale)

I’ve read that this has sometimes confused with Foxglove which is a dangerous mistake Comfrey has some pleasant and useful herbal uses and Foxglove is deadly poisonous. Comfrey comes from ‘con firma’, which means made firm and it’s so-called for its ability to help heal bruises, sprains, fractures and broken bones. As always don’t attempt to use or ingest the plant unless you know exactly what you’re doing as it may cause problems, liver toxicity amongst them. The flowers are white, or pale pink when open and the droop over in clumps often below the leaves. The plant likes damp conditions and is often found lining river banks. this picture was taken on the canal between Ware and London.   

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxglove, Dulwich.
Most important to know about this plant is that every part of it is deadly poisonous and the smallest morsel ingested is likely to kill you. It is equally dangerous for live stock. Elements of it are used in advanced medicine to treat various heart conditions but it is not suitable for the amateur herbalist to use. The only use I’ve heard of for it is as toilet paper as the leaves are large and smooth but knowing about its extreme poisonous qualities I’m rather worried about the leaves breaking up and conveying their poison in suppository form. I don’t know if that’s likely but I should stick to dock leaves. The plant it's sometimes confused with is Common comfrey which I shall be blogging on tomorrow.  Foxglove may have as many as 80 single flowers that grow on one side, opening from bottom up. In the first year there is only a rosette of leaves viewable and in the second the tall stem grows up through the middle. There are twenty or so different species but this is the most common.    

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Lee Valley canal system

This picture was taken on the canal between Ware and Hertford on Sunday morning. There was one chick and a mating pair, which I watched for sometime. According to a passing cyclist there had been two chicks initially, it could have been taken by a number of predators including Pike. This bird is no stranger to adversity in the mid 19th century the population was hunted to around 40 pairs because the skins were so coveted by the fashion industry. They are interesting birds; their displays of spring courtship are one of the spectacles of the mating season. The pair I saw was still mating and the male was displaying after completion which was rather entertaining as the head shaking and feather ruffling is such a blatant show of pride. The young are patterned rather like a zebra and will keep that plumage until the winter by which time they will be about the same size as the adult. When the chick is fully fledged the parents will either drive the juvenile away or the family will just split. It seems like a sharp contrast from the first few weeks of life when the parents carry the chick round on their backs.