Getting back to nature doesn’t always have to mean travelling to remote areas or long walks in the countryside. Plenty of us live in urban areas and while we may not think it we have plenty of nature and wildlife all around us. This month, we at Ultimate Library have interviewed Paul Wood, author of London Tree Walks and London is a Forest, who dedicates his life to trees around the world. A lot of Paul’s literary work focuses on the urban environments a lot of us are familiar with, and how even the most mundane aspects of nature in our lives can have a huge impact. His last book London Tree Walks provides readers with the botanical facts about tree species and historical information that makes the walks a point of interest for the city.

We found out more about how Paul became interested in nature. Similarly, what we can each do to support and expand the ecosystems in our own urban jungles.

Why have you chosen urban nature to focus on rather than focussing on the countryside or nature reserves?

I grew up in Kent very close to the country, and I got to know and appreciate nature as a kid, and that appreciation has never left me. Now I live in London, a city I love, and my love of nature has remained, I have lived here for over twenty years, and so its landscape is what I know best.

Are there any places you wanted to include in London Tree Walks but didn’t?

I’m already thinking about London Tree Walks Volume 2, as there is so much to see in our great green city! Some of the places that stand out for me are the woodlands of southeast London including Lesnes Abbey and Oxleas. But perhaps the most obvious places to include in the next volume are Hampstead Heath with all its hidden corners and remarkable trees, and Richmond including Richmond Park which is home to London’s largest collection of ancient trees.

What are some easy ways people can help urban ecosystems?

There are tons of volunteering opportunities in London with organisations like The London Wildlife Trust, The Conservation Volunteers and, a cause close to my heart, Street Trees for Living in Lewisham. These organisations are crying out for people to help maintain nature reserves, plant trees and nurture them too. By getting involved, people can make a real, positive difference to the urban environment.

A photograph of Paul Wood delivering a talk during an urban forest exploration.

Where in the world have you travelled to, or would like to travel to in order to see the trees they have?

I have particularly loved seeing trees, and the ecosystems they are a part of, in the remnant Kauri forests of New Zealand’s North Island, and the awe-inspiring Coastal Redwoods of northern California. My bucket list is growing though, and the places I really, really want to visit include Chile’s Monkey Puzzle groves, the Alborz mountain forests of Iran and the fruit forests of Kazakhstan. Of course, any tree-lover would want to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season, and that’s also on my list!

What are the top 3 books that have inspired your love of nature?

The cover of the book 'Woodlands' by Oliver Rackham. It features red text and red illustrations of trees on a cream background.

Woodlands by Oliver Rackham.

This is a fascinating book that uncovers all sorts of insights about the social and natural history of British trees and woods.

The cover of the book 'The Trees of San Francisco' by Mike Sullivan. It features white text on green blocks of background interspersed with photographs of trees.

The Trees of San Francisco by Mike Sullivan

I picked this book up when I was in San Francisco, a city graced with a wonderful array of trees, and it inspired me to write my first book, London’s Street Trees.

The cover of the book 'The Baron in the Trees' by Italo Calvino. It features white text over an illustration of a tree.

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

I love this novel about a young man who leaves his stifling aristocratic family home to live among the trees.

We want to give a big thanks to Paul Wood for agreeing to be our expert of the month. We also want to thank him for educating us on supporting local wildlife trusts and ensuring that nature has a place in the city. Paul is currently working on a new book on the great urban trees throughout Britain and Ireland, a project he describes as ‘bigger than I realised’. If you want to find out more about Paul’s work go check out his website, Instagram and Twitter.