Kabir Kaul, Member of the RSPB Youth Council

It’s summer in Ruislip Woods. The groves of dappled sunlight are packed with marbled white butterflies, while sparrowhawks search for prey. Purple emperors tumble from the tree tops, soon the redstarts and spotted flycatchers will pass by on migration. Out on the lido swallows and house martins skim for insects, returning to the same nests each year, and migratory hobby’s swoop down from the trees to snatch the occasional dragonfly. Common terns search for fish to eat, goldfinches perch in the trees and, a great clamouring call, London’s famous ring-necked parakeets announce their presence.

Kabir at Ruislip Woods

Kabir at Ruislip Woods

My patch is Ruislip Woods, a large area of woodland, wetland and grassland in Ruislip, Northwest London. It is London’s first National Nature Reserve, a Site of Specific Scientific Interest and the largest area of continuous woodland in the capital. Straddling urban and rural areas, this place holds many surprises throughout the year; in particular, a vast array of bird species.

Ruislip Woods actually consists of four woodlands: Park Wood, a huge ancient woodland; Copse Wood; Mad Bess Wood (named after a fierce landowner!); and Bayhurst Wood Country Park, separated from the rest of the reserve by a main road. The trees making up these woodlands hornbeam, beech, wild service and oak, and these woods actually originated as wildwood – woodlands that formed after the last ice age.

Ruislip Woods

Ruislip Woods, Kabir Kaul

In the heart of the area lies Ruislip Lido, a large lake that used to feed the nearby Grand Junction Canal in the 19th Century. For a number of decades the lake has been left for nature to reclaim, though on hot days the Ruislip Lido Beach attracts hundreds of people from all over London.

In recent years, the Woods have had its fair share of local rarities. Hawfinches congregated in Park and Bayhurst Woods during a nationwide influx in 2018, and a few short-eared owls spent the beginning of 2019 hunting on the edge of the woodland. Near Mad Bess Wood, a grasshopper warbler was heard reeling in April 2021. The Lido has had multiple visits from Arctic terns, and great white egrets, which are becoming increasingly common in the UK because of warmer temperatures. I’ve even seen the odd wader when the water is low – common sandpiper, little-ringed plover and even jack snipe have briefly paid a visit.

Little ringed plover

Little ringed plover, Kabir Kaul

Ruislip Woods and its habitats are a magical place, and I feel very lucky to have a place with such stunning birdlife on my doorstep. I hope to visit my patch more in the future, and am excited to discover more of the surprises that each season brings!