Park Life – some of our favourite things about the park

Mark Evison is Ally Pally’s Park Manager. Here he talks about some of his favourite things about the Park…

I’ve been working here for 12 years and there’s been lots of changes to the park in that time. It’s always been loved, but now more and more people are discovering it. The biggest change in this time is the activation of the Park.  This includes the Parkrun (celebrating their 8th anniversary on 7 December), the outdoor cinemas, Soap Box Race, brass bands (organised by the Friends of the Park), Go Ape and the Great Fete.

My role means working with all the teams who help to keep the park open and in good condition. A typical day could mean responding to enquiries, working on tree management (that’s planting or strategically felling trees), speaking to tenants or working on the major events that happen in the park.

Spring is probably my favourite time of year. Everything is coming back to life and waking up after winter. The trees, shrubs and plants green up and animal species like bats come out of hibernation. Hopefully our population of hedgehogs will bounce back, too.

Some stats about trees for you! The park has 7,500 trees. The tree canopy currently covers around 45 per cent of the site, it was less than 10 per cent when the area was a dairy farm in the mid-19th Century. 80 per cent of the trees have been established since 1965.

Given Ally Pally’s history interesting things are always coming up. Only recently we discovered some old documents that told us that the Leo the Lion statue by the boating lake was created by Sir Charles Wheeler. He worked on many public buildings, including the Bank of England and the fountain in Trafalgar Square.  The statue was intended to mark the entrance to a children’s zoo that was never built!

My favourite wildlife in the park is the Nuthatch (it’s a bird!) which you can see sometimes in The Grove. They look a bit like a highway man with the sash of black across its eye. Long tailed tits are cool too, they travel in a flock and move like a peloton taking turns moving to the front. They always look like they’re having great fun.

Redwings are a beautiful bird that travels pretty far to be here. They migrate from as far as Russia and Scandinavia. We’ve had a peregrine here from time to time, which is pretty rare. They eat pigeons, although not the legs or wings. The peregrine falcon first arrived in 2013 and was the offspring of the nesting pair at the Tate Modern. He was named Bradley (after Bradley Wiggins).

Apart from Ally Pally, my favourite park is probably my local one. It’s the most important to me. It’s where I took my children to play. I run there and play rounders with friends there. I walk through it to get to the station on my way to work, it’s great to see egrets, herons and even a kingfisher first thing in the morning.

We get a lot of help from volunteers, numbers have grown in the last few years especially as the Friends of the Park have adopted the butterfly meadow and carry out work parties every month to protect the grassland habitat and rare yellow meadow ants. The Friends of Alexandra Park are great as they organise walks and talks covering everything from bats and birds to fungi and mini beasts.

There is such a variety of things you can do in the park here at Ally Pally: you can relax, walk, run, enjoy the views, go to the garden centre, feed the ducks, have a coffee, go on a pedalo, Go Ape, play cricket…I’m going on!

If I could go back in time to any day in the history of the park I’d go to…the opening day, 23rd July 1863 which included archery, guards bands, a horticultural fete and “special arrangements for refreshments”! (Source: Carrington)