Welcome to our AFON Advent Calendar! Each day leading up to Christmas you will find a wonderful new post by a different member. This years theme is your favourite nature reserve; where do you go to escape from the world and connect with nature? Enjoy!
Bushy Park is the second largest of London’s eight Royal Parks, adjacent to the River Thames and steeped in history and significance. Henry VIII used to hunt red deer here; I can still hear the relict population belling every autumn, 500 years later. Back in Victorian times, the Royal Parks were known as the lungs of London, so I like many before me have found it to be a place of peace and restoration in the urban jungle. The wildlife and habitats of the park are rich and nationally important; it is a designated SSSI for its ancient trees and invertebrate life.
The wildlife comes alive at dawn and dusk when the park is remarkably devoid of people. After a stressful day this is the perfect place to spend the evening. It has a magical ability to cure headaches, stress and uncertainty. There is always a story to witness; watching the seasons unfold as swallows arrive and depart and mandarin ducklings, avoiding the murderous beaks of herons, turn into majestic drakes and ducks. The streams teem with banded demoiselles in summer, flitting about, the males fighting males and the females watching on from overhanging vegetation, all to fall still when the master, the emperor dragonfly patrols past. Many a joyful autumn evening has been spent watching hobbies chasing large insects over the meadows, whilst tawny owls hoot from the woodland and Daubenton’s bats zoom low over the moonlit water. In winter, the grass crunches underfoot most mornings from a thin shiny frost and redwings, and occasionally waxwings, can be seen feeding on the remaining seeds and berries from the trees. I know every nook and cranny of the park, I have walked it in dark, fog, rain and sunshine – but it has an alluring appeal regardless and it is always full of surprises. This year, I was attacked by an enraged colony of flying red ants, on a path I have walked a thousand times. It is a place of resilience, as despite being used by millions of people every year, I still find more wildlife here than in most of the nature reserves I have visited.
My favourite vantage point is a wooden footbridge overlooking a stream and the meadow. I can hear voles rustling around unseen and I see a kingfisher flashing past. The sun sets, this is my home.