Wild About Peckham

Since November, I’ve been living in Peckham. I’ve recently found time to explore more of the environment in which I find myself (whilst procrastinating over essay planning for my museum studies course), and have come to the conclusion that Peckham is not as bad as it looks! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like Peckham; it’s just that I’m a country bumpkin with a fondness for peace and quiet, and there’s very little of either to be had around here!

Today I visited Peckham Rye Park, and discovered, to my immense (and pleasant) surprise, that for an urban park in a very urban area of London, it is not only HUGE (the park covers 51 acres adjoining the Rye Common), but also full of interesting wildlife! Well, birdlife. The only mammals I saw were pet dogs, and a squirrel. Which would have been VERY interesting if it had been a red one. But it wasn’t.

Peckham Rye takes its name from the Old English word for river (rea or rhee), and contains the only above-ground portion of the river Peck. Which now appears to be little more than a trickle, and certainly doesn’t much resemble a river! But it does feed several ponds and a lake in the park, which are home to a variety of water birds, including Canada geese, coots (I stood and watched a pair of coots putting the finishing touches to their very well-built nest for several minutes), moorhens, tufted ducks, and mallards (many of whom were making spirited, and occasionally succesful, attempts at raping the lady ducks). There are also a couple of white domestic ducks in the mix, and of course many pigeons. Who have apparently learned that stationary human = food, because I got mobbed while standing watching the antics of the ducks!

The park is also home to some less common species, including green and greater-spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches, spotted flycatchers, and kingfishers. None of which I saw today! But I did see a sparrowhawk, plenty of ring-necked parakeets (which are still an oddly jarring sight (and sound) in a very English park), and a song thrush. The song thrush is now on the Red List in the UK, because its numbers are in decline: between 1970 and 1995 there was a 50% reduction in population, rising to 70% on farmland. This was due to many factors, including intensive farming (which removed the hedgerows and ditches in which song thrushes nest), and land drainage (which reduced the numbers of earthworms and other invertebrates that song thrushes eat). So it was good to see one thriving in an urban park.

Peckham Rye Park actually makes an excellent haven for birdlife, as it offers a range of different habitats: there are grassland, wetland, and woodland environments available, allowing it to support a wide variety of species. The park is also well-established, having opened in 1894 on the former site of Homestall Farm, which was bought by the council in order to extend Peckham Rye Common to relieve the serious over-crowding of the Common that occured on Sundays and Bank Holidays! Having been a farm before it was a park, the woodland is composed of mature, native trees of mixed species, rather than being a purely ornamental Victorian creation. Which also makes a nice change.

The park is a nice haven for people as well as wildlife, and if you go far enough into it you can even just about escape the constant noise of traffic (but only just – the park is surrounded on three sides by busy main roads). Next time I visit, I will try to do so on a nicer day (it’s a bit wet today), and I will keep my eyes peeled for woodpeckers; I’ve never actually seen one, despite growing up in the Somerset countryside!


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