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Andrea Merrington from the Howard de Walden Estate on Wild West End—a new collaboration designed to help wildlife thrive in central London

Words: Viel Richardson

“Wild West End is an ambitious project,” says Andrea Merrington, who spends her days working in the planning department of the Howard de Walden Estate. “The idea is to entice back some of the wildlife that has deserted London by creating new environments that will be appealing to the kind of birds and animals that once lived in the city.”

As London has grown, more and more of its wildlife habitats have been lost to development, with green spaces disappearing under a sea of concrete and tarmac. Those green spaces that remain have become increasingly isolated. The solution proposed by the Wild West End programme is simple yet elegant: recreate some of the habitats lost to building work by using the buildings themselves.

“The idea originally came from the Crown Estate and Arup, one of the world’s leading structural engineering companies,” Andrea explains. “The plan was to create ‘wildlife corridors’ using Crown Estate properties. It was a response to the fear that the some of the city’s wildlife was becoming isolated in these small green islands.” The initiative has since mushroomed, with other landowners, including the Howard De Walden Estate, becoming increasingly involved.

Parks and gardens
“The aim of the project is to create stepping stones for wildlife between the city’s large green spaces using properties controlled by the big London estate owners,” Andrea explains. “We take a look at the existing green spaces such as the major parks, garden squares and private gardens, then see what we can do to add to this mix in a strategic and attractive way.”

As well as benefiting the city’s birds and animals, the project is predicated upon the belief that interacting with nature is good for its human inhabitants. Giving people more opportunities to engage with nature would, it was proposed, benefit everybody.

“From our perspective it is about creating a greater connection between the people who live and work in Marylebone and the nature that surrounds them,” Andrea explains. “Initially the Estate is looking at small projects such as installing more green roofs, green walls and beehives. We are also looking at planting more street trees if that is possible.”

One of the first things the Estate is investigating is the introduction of a beehive on a Queen Anne Street roof. Consideration is also being given to the establishment of a window box competition for the area’s mews streets, for which the Estate would provide the planting boxes and Marylebone’s gardeners the hard work and imagination. It is very early days, so the details are not yet finalised, but it sounds like a promising route for the local community to get involved.

Wildlife habitats
For many years now, the Estate has been actively seeking out opportunities for creating wildlife habitats within its development projects, but Wild West End will provide a higher degree of coordination and contribute to a better understanding of the type of habitat that might suit a particular building. “We have already had specialists coming to talk to us about the type of planting we can have which will provide the right habitat throughout the year,” says Andrea.

Green roofs will play a major part. Most people think of these as being an elevated version of a lawn, but this is not the case. In fact, some green roofs don’t actually look very green at all—what defines them is the availability of habitat for wildlife. “This may involve the creation of small structures. In one green roof we installed, we took floor joists and floorboards from the building and used them to create habitats which are great for birds and other wildlife,” Andrea explains.

“We are currently looking at making use of roof terraces, trying to create a bit of outdoor space which will benefit both commercial and residential users, and we are also looking at buildings where there is no work planned but where we can easily put in planter boxes or bird boxes.”

Worth the effort
Green walls offer similar benefits. “These are walls with plants in pots or trays held up by a structure attached to the wall,” Andrea tells me. Green walls can be slightly trickier to manage than green roofs, but they are definitely worth the effort.

They allow much more space to be made available, and when well done they are very attractive as well as useful. Because they are vertical, they tend to be more visible than a roof. “It means they help to brighten the environment for many more people as well as the helping wildlife,” says Andrea.

Andrea will continue looking for potential sites. And this involves more than just seeking out flat roofs and wall spaces. “I’m looking beyond the projects where we would traditionally look to include an environmental aspect. It is part of finding new and interesting ways to help encourage nature back into Marylebone—seeing if I can create small initiatives throughout the Estate in areas where we may not have looked before.”

However small, each of these initiatives represents a step on a much longer journey—one aimed at bringing nature back into the city and in doing so making Marylebone an even more attractive place to live and work.