22% of London is covered with trees. This is according to aerial survey company Bluesky International who've been bashing the statistics to calculate tree cover across the country. This is quite a subjective thing to measure, because exactly how much land does a tree cover anyway, but the data does allow some intriguing comparisons. The BBC News website ran a decent report at the weekend, with maps.
Across England and Wales the eight local authority districts with the highest proportion of tree cover are all in Surrey or Berkshire, with Surrey Heath topping the list at 41%. Both Camden and Croydon make the top 20 with coverage at 30%, which is damned good for a supposed built-up area. Meanwhile the three lowest concentrations of trees are in Lincolnshire and the Fens, at around 5%, with further poor performance across parts of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. An avenue with gardens has a lot more trees than a field.
The capital's chief treeless district, fifth from the bottom of the list, is the City of London. That's unsurprising given that the City is a commercial powerhouse with vast numbers of office blocks and no substantial greenspace, indeed it's easy to stand somewhere within the Square Mile and see no trees whatsoever. But several fine arboreal specimens exist, especially in former churchyards and other undevelopable corners, which is why in 2013 the City of London Tree Trail was published. I downloaded the pdf at the weekend and went in search of the eleven featured trees.
City of London Tree Trail
1) Sweet gum, St Paul's Churchyard
"Found on the south side of St Paul’s, this is the largest Sweet Gum in the City at 25m high"
There aren't too many trees on the south side of St Paul's Cathedral, and this is by far the prettiest. Its branches twist upwards, its leaves are on the turn and immediately alongside is a horizontal statue of Thomas a Becket. That's the tree I took photographs of anyway, even though it didn't strike me as being 25m high, because the directions in the leaflet were somewhat vague. But on getting home and researching further I discovered that the sweet gum was actually in the background (far right) swooping up beside the south transept, and what had impressed me was probably a strawberry tree. Poor start, sorry.
2) London plane, junction of Cheapside and Wood Street
"Originally purchased for sixpence over 250 years ago, this is believed to be the oldest plane tree in the City"
I couldn't miss this one, a vast tree planted in what used to be St Peter's churchyard, and which completely dominates its Cheapside street corner. The London plane is an American/Oriental hybrid which has proven unusually resilient to the capital's air pollution, and featuring it at Tree 2 is a masterstroke because you shouldn't now be confusing it with any of Trees 3 to 11.
3) Judas tree, Aldermanbury
"Beautiful dark pink flowers combined with heart-shaped leaves create a stunning tree during Spring and Summer"
Alas it's Autumn, and I struggled to find this one too. "Opposite St Mary Aldermanbury Gardens" doesn't help when St Mary Aldermanbury Garden is singular and isn't signed from the street. I'm fairly certain I found it against the rear of the Guildhall, like a woody shelter made of foliage, but after my sweet gum debacle I'm not entirely sure.
4) Foxglove, Barber Surgeons' Hall
"Its beautiful flower-spikes look like the foxglove plant (hence its name) and bear small egg-shaped fruits"
I went to the wrong side of Barber Surgeon's Hall to start with, and searched in vain in its manicured central garden. I now believe the foxglove is on the other side, probably, though the scrap of photo in the leaflet was insufficient to help me identify it. Still, a secret garden with chunks of Roman wall, brutalist Barbican pillars and waterlilies is as good a place to waste your time as any.
5) Handkerchief tree, Postman's Park
"Particularly stunning in late May when covered in white bracts that resemble handkerchiefs"
Less stunning in October when it completely fails to stand out among all the other trees in Postman's Park. A tiny photo in the trail leaflet means I think I deduced which of the deciduous trees along the longest wall it was.
6) Fig tree, West Smithfield Rotunda Garden
"Interesting species within the lovely Rotunda gardens include two Caucasian Walnuts and a very impressive mature Fig Tree"
If you know Smithfield, this circular garden lies within the sweep of the meat market's vehicle ramp. I assumed the ultra-gnarly tree with small roundish fruits underneath was the fig, but if so there are two of them, and now I'm concerned I actually got excited about the Caucasian Walnuts.
7) Tulip Tree, North end of Old Bailey
"This is an example of new tree planting and landscaping within the City and creates a vital living legacy for future
generations to enjoy"
I only spotted two trees in the location suggested, so assumed these were my target, but closer inspection confirmed they were both London planes. I now understand the tulip tree was further back, outside the Magpie & Stump, but it appears to have withered since the trail was published in 2013. Another fail.
8) Maidenhair Tree, Sermon Lane
"Ginkgo trees, native to China, can be traced back 270 million years when dinosaurs walked the planet"
These are splendid at present, dropping copious yellow leaves onto the steps above the walkway leading down from St Paul's towards the Millennium Bridge. Indeed, even though I'd been hoping for a splendid autumnal display by making the walk in mid-October, only these ginkgos truly delivered.
9) Elms, Queen Victoria Street
"The New Horizon elm species is significant as it was developed to resist the damaging Dutch Elm disease"
Forget Nine Elms, here are seven, all lined up in a row near Salvation Army HQ. They're also the only trees on the entire trail to have their own plaque, confirming that the Lord Mayor planted them in 2004, so the only trees you can be 100% certain of identifying correctly.
10) Swamp Cypress, Cleary Garden
"A native of North America, and one of the few deciduous conifers to be found in the UK"
It was most likely the big conifer in the centre of the garden... but what a garden. I'd always assumed the Cleary Garden was merely a row of benches but no, another terrace lurks behind and then further steps down to a lower pergola. A delightful mini-space to explore, making the entire Tree Trail worthwhile, thanks.
11) Silver Lime, Festival Garden
"An impressive hedge of pleached lime trees surround the Festival Garden developed on the site of bomb-damaged land"
It's that tall silver-barked tree, I thought, the one that isn't a silver birch. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the road, it seems, and should instead have been looking at a rectangularised hedge. That's a final total of three City trees definitely identified, four probably correct and four complete misses. At least it was a nice walk.