London: the National Park City

National Geographic Explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison is campaigning to make London the world’s first National Park City.


This week I moored up beside a meadow of buttercups and was awoken by the dawn chorus. I locked eyes with a baby stoat in the grassy marshes and saw stripy perch swimming past my boat. My friend and I baked a cake using foraged elderflower blossom topped with tart cherries picked from a nearby tree. This might sound like the perfect wilderness scene, but I was in fact onboard my narrowboat in one of the biggest and greenest cities in the world: London.

If you look beyond the grey maze of high rises, you’ll find that almost half (47%) of our capital is made up of green space. In fact, London boasts over 850km of streams, rivers and canals – all rich with wildlife.

Hyde Park - Lule Massey_1jkGuerrilla geographer and urban explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison is on a mission to share this information, and to reconnect those who live and work in the city to this green space by making London the world’s first National Park City.

“It will not be a National Park, it would be a National Park City.” he tells me. “One of the really exciting things about the campaign is that so many people would be able to not only help care for the National Park, but also help to create it. There are 8.6 million people living in the capital, who all have the agency to explore, improve and create habitats for wildlife. So rather than just visiting a national park, millions of people would be able to take ownership of it – even if this just meant adding a flower pot on the front porch.”

Stratford to central London - Lule Massey_1jk

Daniel hopes his campaign will not only help to conserve the capital’s natural beauty, but also encourage people to enjoy nature – bringing wildlife-deprived urbanites a breath of fresh air. They needn’t look far – there are already 3,000 parks, 300 farms and a vast array of watery wildlife along the capital’s canals and rivers. And the city’s 8.2 million trees officially make London the world’s largest urban forest.

“Urban habits can be just as ecologically diverse as rural national parks,” Daniel continues. “There are more than 13,000 species in the capital. One of the benefits of making London a National Park City would be the cultural shift – to make people really think about the wildlife around them.”

Daniel lives and breathes his campaign. In his spare time, the National Geographic Explorer investigates new green spaces and swims in the city’s many rivers.

Swimmer 2 Hampstead - Luke Massey_1jk“There’s a real opportunity for local people to bring life back to our city’s waterways. I had a go on an origami canoe recently. Flatpack style canoes and blow up paddle boards are great for city folk who don’t have much space at home or cars to transport them.”

“There’s also all sorts of wildlife along the cities waterways. Otters are making their back to the Thames, you can even spot grass snakes along riverbanks and keep your eye out for for kingfishers. Being close to blue space creates a sense of awe and wonder, and helps kids and adults unwind.”

Find out more Daniel’s campaign at or @DanRavenElison. You can also visit an exhibition, The Making of a National Park City at South Bank Centre


Luke Massey