Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The natural history of Richmond Park

All civilised and humane persons have a love of the natural world, or at least what remains of it. Here is the eminent surgeon Sir Frederick Treves discussing the wildlife of Richmond Park in a letter dated 22 March 1918 to fellow surgeon Sir John Bland-Sutton (Royal College of Surgeons Archives, MS0287/19):

  • 'Weasles are common here and I am sorry to say my gardener killed a polecat in the garden. Hares were fairly common when I came here ten years ago [Treves lived at Thatched House Lodge near Richmond Park] but I have not turned up one for the last three or four years'.
  • 'The birds here are quite magnificent. In spite of the war the nightingale never left us.'
  • 'Few Londoners will believe that I can nearly always show a long-tailed tit on Ham Common.' 

The letter is absolutely charming, although painful to read in some ways - you have absolutely zero chance of seeing/hearing a nightingale in Richmond Park these days, let alone a hare or even a polecat! Absolutely extraordinary to think that Treves saw these things so close to central London back in 1918. That said, I regularly see long-tailed tits in my garden and I live in Stepney Green, so that's good news at least.

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