The Royal Parks are home to an incredible variety of wildlife, from the threatened stag beetle to inner London’s only breeding population of hedgehogs.
Many species living in the parks are nationally-protected, including several species of bat, great-crested newts, reptiles such as grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms, as well as badgers and nesting birds, whilst others are essential parts of the history of the parks such as the red and fallow deer which still inhabit Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks. The rich variety of life within the Royal Parks and the interactions between species – the biodiversity of the parks – are integral parts of our urban ecosystem.
Invertebrates – animals without a backbone – are some of the smallest yet most important wildlife in the parks. Invertebrates play vital roles in our ecosystems, including pollinating our flowers, controlling pests, recycling organic matter and as food for other wildlife including birds, small mammals and amphibians. All other wildlife in the parks relies on invertebrates for survival.
These tiny creatures are so important, that we dedicated a five-year project, Mission: Invertebrate, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, to their conservation. You can find out more about the project here.
The Royal Parks are home to a wealth of different bird species, from wrens to woodpeckers, skylarks to sparrowhawks and many more besides. The parks provide a diverse range of habitats for birds, and the varied landscape in each park means that the range of birds you might spot in each are different.
Our ponds and lakes are home to waterfowl and wading birds, as well as the majestic grey heron and stunning kingfisher. Many of our lakes contain small islands, which we often manage as wildlife refuges, where birds can nest in peace away from the hustle and bustle. Woodlands and trees are very important habitats for birds, supporting tawny owl in the heart of London, whilst open grasslands provide food for a wide range of species such as starling and mistle thrush, whilst the nationally rare skylark nests in the wide open grasslands of Richmond and Bushy parks.
Please help us to keep wildlife wild by not feeding the birds. The natural diet of our birds ranges from invertebrates, seeds, berries and fruit, to small fish, mammals and amphibians – all of which are in abundance throughout the parks. Feeding the birds can upset the delicate ecosystems of the parks, reduce water quality and attract vermin. Find out more here.
If you would like to have a go at identifying some of the birds you see in your favourite Royal Park, download our bird spotter sheets that you can take with you to the park. In summer we will also be hosting birdwatching walks in each of the parks – sign up to our newsletter to be the first to find out details.
The deer of Richmond and Bushy Parks are some of our best-known animal inhabitants, and have been grazing the parks since the1600s. They play an important role in maintaining our grassland habitats: they nibble tree and shrub foliage to keep it at a level of approximately 1.5 metres above the ground, and eat self-sown tree seedlings. This keeps our grasslands as open spaces, allowing a range of plants and animals – from green woodpeckers to grasshoppers - to make their homes. The deer also help to maintain wet and muddy habitats - ponds and wallows – by grazing the plants and trees at the water’s edge.
The hedgehogs of The Regent’s Park are locally-famous, as the only breeding population in inner London. Sadly our population has seen a decline in the last year, so we are busy planting new groundcover for them to shelter and hibernate, and pollinator plants to attract caterpillars and other invertebrates that hedgehogs like to eat. You can find out more about our hedgehog conservation work here.
Bats, including the common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, noctule and Leisler’s Bat are found across all of the Royal Parks. At dusk, you may be able to spot these flitting above the lakes in St. James’s and The Regent’s Park, as they hunt flying insects. Rarer species such as serotine and brown long-eared bat can be found in Richmond and Bushy Parks. Find out more about the bats of the Royal Parks here.
A range of other small mammals from bank vole to field mouse make the parks their home, playing an important role as herbivores and seed dispersers, as well as providing food for birds of prey and larger mammals.
Amphibians can be found in all of the Royal Parks where there are waterbodies – as they require water to breed – if you are lucky you may catch a glimpse particularly in spring amongst marginal vegetation around pond and lake edges, or in ditches. These species are particularly vulnerable to climate change, if ponds dry up too early in their breeding season there is a risk that the young are not able to mature to adults. We therefore take particular care of waterbodies to try and ensure they hold water for as long as possible through the summer.
Frogs tend to spend more time in and around their breeding ponds, even when they aren’t breeding, and can hibernate within the mud at the base of the pond or in surrounding areas under log piles or underground, using cracks and crevices or mammal burrows. They can breathe through their skin, as well as their lungs! Toads on the other hand tend to live further away from water when they aren’t breeding, undertaking annual migrations between their breeding and hibernation sites. They will excavate a shallow burrow or depression under a log or rock that they will return to after a night out foraging.
The parks are also home to smooth newts, our most common amphibian, as well as the rarer great crested newt which is a protected species across Europe, having experienced population declines throughout the last century. It is dark brown or black in colour, with a bright orange belly speckled with black. Great crested newts are found in a few locations in Richmond and Bushy Parks, and we take special care to ensure that their habitats remain in good condition.
The reptiles of the Royal Parks – snakes and lizards - are rarely seen, being extremely shy of people. They are able to sense vibrations of visitors’ footsteps, and will quickly diver under cover of shrubs and plants to avoid being seen. On a warm morning, however, you might catch a glimpse of one ‘basking’ in a patch of sunlight. Reptiles are cold-blooded, and cannot regulate their own body temperature, so rely on the sun and radiated warmth to increase their activity.
Reptiles can be found in Richmond Park (grass snake and common lizard) and Bushy Park (grass snake).
The grass snake is the UK’s largest snake, which can grow up to 1.5m long, and is completely harmless to humans. They are fond of wetland habitats, and can be seen swimming across ponds and streams, where they hunt for their preferred prey of amphibians and small fish. We often also receive reports of adder-sightings from these parks, but unfortunately this beautiful species went extinct from the parks some time ago.
The common lizard is around 10cm long, and is mainly found in grassland habitats, or along the edges of scrub and woodland, where they can bask in the sun. Common lizard are ‘viviparous’, meaning unlike most reptiles, they incubate their eggs internally and give birth to live young!
You may also see red-eared terrapins basking within some lakes and ponds – these are unfortunately unwanted pets which have been released by people, and can do harm to the wetland ecosystems, eating fish and amphibians. No animals (or indeed plants) should be released into the parks given the risk of harm to the existing wildlife.