Branding London for Wildlife

Part Four. Attributes & Wildlife Itineraries

17 MARCH 2017,
Red Fox © Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
Red Fox © Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

In the fourth and final part in this series of articles, I would like to outline some ideas on how London can be promoted as a wildlife destination by Tour Operators based in the UK as well as outside the UK. For a destination to be successfully promoted as a wildlife destination, a number of attributes are necessary.

  1. To state the obvious, visitors must have a good prospect of seeing wildlife. As I have brought out in the three previous articles this is certainly the case with London. I spend many week ends photographing wildlife within the recording area of the London Natural History Society defined as being within a 20 mile radius of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

  2. If a target species is being marketed, it must satisfy the Three Es. There should be reliable information on the Encounter Rate, Encounter Time and Encounter Zone. In the context of London this is not relevant as London’s attraction is not a flagship species such as for example Leopards or Blue Whales in Sri Lanka where the concept of the Three Es applies. In London, it is more about the mix of species that can be seen. All year-round, there is a mix of wildlife in London to satisfy wildlife enthusiasts and wildlife photographers.

  3. There needs to be good physical infrastructure for visitors. This is where London is outstanding. There are many places in the world that are outstanding for wildlife but are impossible to promote for wildlife tourism because they lack visitor facilities. With London, a range of accommodation and good transport links exist. Furthermore, there are nature reserves with fabulous infrastructure for visitors. Even ordinary tourists on a casual visit require toilets, a café and a shop. But where London’s nature reserves score is that they have the extras that are essential for the specialist wildlife tourists. This includes wildlife hides and interventionist nature management programmes that maximise species.

  4. Good local guides. Here again, London scores highly, as the capital’s reserves have a huge number of volunteers who are knowledgeable on a wide range of plants and animals. There is a local talent pool that can be quickly harnessed if a commercial wildlife industry were to grow. Furthermore, Britain as a whole probably has one of the highest ratios of skilled nature guides per capita in a country. British tour companies and guides have over the last few decades, played a leading role in the development of international wildlife tourism. A significant number of the largest specialist wildlife tour operators have their home in Britain. The British Bird Watching Fair (the ‘bird fair’) has become an inspiration for similar bird fairs all over the world. British companies are world leaders in developing wildlife tourism, although surprisingly this has not extended to running commercial wildlife itineraries with a focus on London.

Commercial wildlife tourism usually begins with the specialist companies developing itineraries. Larger, mainstream travel companies then borrow elements from those wildlife itineraries. They also leverage the local guides who have ‘developed’ with the specialist tour operators. Because London is so diverse in arts and culture, a seemingly infinite number of itineraries with a wildlife anchor could be developed. For example, itineraries could be developed on themes such as Wildlife & History, Wildlife & Museums, Wildlife & Food, Wildlife & Art, Wildlife & Culture, Wildlife & Kids etc. An itinerary can also combine various elements of what the capital offers with wildlife as its core.

In a tropical country butterflies and reptiles can be seen year-round, although there will be seasons when it is better for certain species. In a temperate country like Britain (and certainly with high latitude countries), in winter, popular insect groups such as butterflies and dragonflies will be absent. So too will vertebrates such as reptiles. Although plants are present year-round, autumn and winter will not be good times for botanical tours. Therefore, in temperate countries, seasons become very important in deciding if a wildlife itinerary is possible for a particular species of groups.

For birds, winter is an exciting time in Britain with many migrants arriving to take the place of summer visitors which have left for warmer countries such as Africa. Thousands of waterfowl and waders arrive from Northern Europe and occupy coasts and estuaries. A number of wintering passerine birds are also of interest, including thrushes. With some species, a quarter of all Northern Europe’s thrushes may winter in Britain. In the case of birds, London can be promoted a year-round destination. As there are mammals and plant life to be observed in winter, it is possible for wildlife photographers to have productive days in winter.

To illustrate how wildlife-centric commercial tourism itineraries can be developed, I have outlined below an example which takes in a few elements of London without focussing on a particular theme such as architecture or music.

Day 1: Arrive in London. Visit Museums. Dinner in Covent Garden.
Day 2: Full day at London Wetland Centre. Dinner followed by drinks at The Shard.
Day 3: Morning at Hampstead Heath. Lunch in village. Evening, West End Theatre.
Day 4. Full day at RSPB Rainham Marshes. Riverside dinner at St Catherine’s Docks or Shad Thames.
Day 5: Morning at Richmond Park. Lunch in village. Evening, West End for musical or Opera.
Day 6. Full day at RSPB Rye Meads. Evening, Classical concert at South Bank Centre.
Day 7. Morning, London Wetland. Afternoon, museums in South Kensington. Depart for flight.

The ideas I share here have been tested in the marked when I helped to brand Sri Lanka as a wildlife destination and developed many commercial wildlife tourism products. I hope this series of articles will inspire people in international wildlife tourism or conservation to take advantage of London’s potential as a wildlife destination.

My thanks to the many Londoners in the organisations mentioned who have over many years introduced me to the wealth of the wildlife in one of the world's greatest capital cities. My thanks to Tara Wikramanayaka for her on-going help with copy editing.

Read also Part One, Part Two and Part Three