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Books London is a Forest

The Low Down on the New Edition of London is a Forest

I’m excited to announce that the New Edition of London is a Forest will soon be published. It’s more than just a makeover: the New Edition has been fully revised and updated, AND it contains a brand new seventh urban forest trail. The new book has 32 more pages, a lush and luminous cover, and a fancy gold badge, making it an even more desirable tome.


Pre-order your signed copy now


The new chapter describes a route from Harrow to St Pancras. It takes in some splendid trees, some memorable views, and green spaces that certainly surprised me.

Kensal Green Cemetery
Alive and kicking: Kensal Green Cemetery is home to a significant group of mature oriental planes, could this be the finest clump in London?

The first edition was published in 2019, since when it has sold steadily and by Christmas 2021 it was pretty much out of stock. The publisher decided they would reprint, and asked if I’d like to make any updates. There were one or two things that I thought could be improved, a couple of individual trees I’d misidentified and there were a few things missing from the nerdy species lists too. After a little to-ing and fro-ing, we decided it would be great to include a new trail – I’d always felt there was a bit of a north west London green hole – and this was the opportunity to make amends.

Here’s an excerpt from the new chapter, this snippet introduces Acton and a memorable swamp cypress that resides on a residential street:


“The North Circular marks the start of a gradual transition from outer to inner London as Ealing becomes Acton, another area of Victorian expansion. Acton has very old roots. Its name is derived from the Old English word for tree, ‘ac’, which is also remembered in the common names ‘oak’ and ‘ash’, as well as the Latin Acer, the maple genus. These enigmatic names for different tree species are thus very, very old, coming from a single, simple word – more a sound, really – that contains myriad influences, meanings and questions. An ‘ac’ might be an obstacle, resource or landmark – the sound of things that are frequent and boundless. How were trees differentiated in the past? Certainly not by modern taxonomic methods. More likely it was by practical means. Pollard, coppice, spinney, copse, frith and penge are all terms associated with trees that have very specific meanings but are now largely forgotten. It seems implausible for a place to have been named after something generic, so the ‘ac’ of Acton must have referred to a noteworthy feature, perhaps a single oak, a multitude of landmarks, or a place noted for the quality or fecundity of its trees.

Acton is not known for its trees today, but offers frequent evidence of a boskier past. Alongside Ealing, it was a popular location for country houses, handy for London, but definitely not the city. These estates would have been grand and leafy, but are now only remembered in street names and open spaces given over to other uses. Springfield Gardens is one such space, while Shalimar Gardens remembers an estate of that name, and Perryn Road is named after Sir John Perryn, a local landowner who left his estate to the Goldsmiths’ Company. Where Shalimar Gardens meets Julian Avenue, a monumental reminder of Acton’s past soars above the Edwardian terraced cottages. The considerate developers of this corner of London thought fit to build around a tree that now takes over half a carriageway of the narrow street. Unlike Ealing’s Elephant Tree, this one has a protective kerb to reduce its exposure to frustrated motorists. It is a huge and aged swamp cypress, its size emphasised by its surroundings.”

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London is a Forest Urban landscape

Trekking through the urban forest

In August last year I walked through Epping Forest from Epping tube station to Chingford. It’s an amazing walk with incredible beech pollards and prehistoric earthworks, musclebound hornbeams and rare wild crab apple trees to be seen along the way. It’s just a section from one of the trails through London, from the greenbelt to the inner city, I describe in my new book, ‘London is a Forest‘, published by Quadrille Books on 2nd May.

London is a Forest Endpapers trails
Trail Mix: The six forest trails in London is a Forest

As well as Epping to London Fields (its eventual destination), I walked five other urban forest trails, High Barnet to Barbican, Erith to Canary Wharf, Richmond Park to Westminster, Croydon to Deptford and Tower Bridge to Heathrow.

GPS coordinates for dozens of landmarks and fascinating individual trees have been included in each trail, allowing them to be plotted. I hope this book will hold as much appeal for intrepid explorers armed with phone, map and compass, as for those who prefer the comfort of an armchair or a seat on the tube. Along the trails, I attempt to outline what the forest is and how it takes the form that it does. I explore the rich diversity and interdependence of species through the fragile and entangled relationships between places, plants and animals, including us humans. 

Of course, today’s urban forest has been shaped over many centuries, and I have included insights and anecdotes about the history, heritage, ideas and people that have influenced it too.

The trails have been turned into beautiful graphics by Fieldwork Facility, and feature as the end papers from the book, and each landmark has been plotted on a Google Map. In the book, these appear as GPS coordinates in the margin, so the truly adventurous might follow the trails independently. And here’s the map:

Want to read more? You’ll have to wait until 2nd May when the book will be published, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon or Waterstones.