London exploded into her surrounding countryside from the early 19th century, fuelled by the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the railways.
These helped spur new urban development and the creation of new suburbs - the ‘railway suburbia’ of Wiilesden, Battersea, Norwood, and Hackney.
The city’s population multiplied over six-fold between 1801 and 1901. Much open space was lost in the process.
Woodlands that had survived due to their economic importance fell into dereliction undermined by cheap coal, new technologies and imports.
Enclosures were enacted to privatise common land (often referred to as ‘wastes’), which was then sold for new developments. Only land on steep slopes or otherwise difficult to access became safe.
Campaigns began in the 1860s to protect many spaces for the benefit of people. Wimbledon Common, Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath, Hounslow Heath, Croham Hurst and One Tree Hill are all with us today through such concerted effort by local people.
Otherwise London became a polluted hell-hole, covering much of the skies with coal-smoke, and the Thames and all other rivers became biologically dead, being used as open sewers.
The nature of London that survived in the Victorian Era was largely confined to the city’s outer limits which were still rural - such as Southgate, Ruislip, Morden, and Barking - a mixture of farms, market gardens and woodlands (often used for game-rearing).
Nevertheless, persecution of wildlife still occurred - crow, rook, jackdaw, stoat, weasel, mole, and fox were killed in large numbers on farmlands, and small song birds were captured for the pet markets in the East End.
However, there was a growing awareness that exploitation of nature couldn’t continue unabated.
The RSPCA (founded 1824), Commons Preservation Society (1865, to become the Open Spaces Society),the Selbourne Society (1885), Fur, Fin & Feather Folk (founded in Croydon, 1889, to become the RSPB), and the National Trust (1895), all reflected a growing need to take action to protect wildlife and the spaces in which it needs.
These complemented a surge of interest in natural science, and the establishment of august societies that explored and published their findings - London Natural History Society (1858), Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society (1870), and Hampstead Scientific Society (1899) are all still active.
The end of the 19th century saw the growing importance of parks and gardens being taken up by the new middle classes (and advertised for the good health of the working classes), and the first attempts to combat serious air pollution by tree planting.
The Corporation of London acquired Epping Forest in 1878, and a legal power to bring other land into its ownership for the benefit of Londoners, including Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood, and Farthing Downs.
Ornamental ducks and geese were introduced into parks, as were other species that soon escaped from their surrounds, such as grey squirrel.
It was not known that the willow tit occurred in Britain until 1897, when two specimens obtained at Hampstead were found among skins of marsh tit (which looks similar) at the British Museum.
In the same year Tring Museum received two birds killed at Coldfall Wood in Finchley; one of these was taken as the type specimen.
William Hudson published Birds in London in a later, a spirited acclaim to protect and conserve the city’s ornithofauna.