London is set to get its first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Apart from a few pockets of wildness – buddleia sprouting from abandoned pockets of land, the wooded sprawl of Hampstead Heath, overgrown railway sidings where foxes frolic – there’s not much that’s natural about London’s landscape. Even its most green and pleasant bits are often covered in carefully managed lawns or deliberately planted patches of flowers. So it’s pretty surprising that one of the UK’s latest Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) could be a little-known patch of this city.

You probably haven’t heard of Farthing Downs in Coulsdon, south London, but if its bid to become an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty gets approved, that’s likely to change. The planned proposals would add it to the Surrey Hills AONB, which it adjoins, making it the first London area to achieve this honour, giving it extra protection from planning proposals and ensuring it’s well conserved in the future.

So what makes Farthing Downs so special? To the untutored eye, it looks like a large and especially nice park, one with scrubby grass, hedgerows and trees. But go deeper and you’ll discover that it’s a magical place, one that’s dotted with the mysterious detritus of history, from neolithic burial mounds to traces of Saxon farms to the remnants of WWII anti-aircraft guns. It’s already designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its impressive range of flora and fauna, including skylarks, orchids, pipistrelle bats, roe deer and Roman snails (which our Latin-speaking forebears brought over to enliven their lavish banquets).

Today, it’s owned by the City of London, which makes it freely available to walkers, cyclists and horse riders, while preserving its delicate chalkland-based ecosystem (that means no barbecues, ya sausage-guzzling reprobate). If Farthing Downs does get granted special status, its long-term future will be secured, so generation after generation can enjoy its gorgeous views, rare flowers and well-hidden lumps of deer poo. Get down there fast, before everyone else cottons on.

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