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Urban Tree Festival 2023 – highlights

Anna Taylor
By Anna Taylor
28th June 2023

May’s Urban Tree Festival attracted over 2,000 participants to events throughout the capital.  For details of all the 2023 events see The 2023 Programme — Urban Tree Festival

CPRE London led events included:

  • Inclusive Nature Cycle along the River Ravensbourne with cycling botanist Leif Bersweden
  • Great North Wood Walk – introducing newly arrived refugees London’s woodlands with assistance from Sam from the London Wildlife Trust and translation support to make the event accessible to recent refugees from Fences and Frontiers
  • Chris Schuler who has conducted extensive research into the history of the Great North Wood also gave a talk on ‘The Wood that Built London’ in The Gallery in Farringdon.
  • The following day we had a talk on ‘Can Books Save Trees’ with the panellists discussing how books have inspired them to notice, value and protect trees, and how urban trees figure in their own work.
  • We also had a highly enjoyable session on ‘Tree Art for Wellbeing’ during which participants engaged in mindful drawing of a magnificent oak tree in Crystal Palace Park.

Highlight of the week – the inclusive nature cycle

A real highlight was the inclusive nature cycle.  A glorious day set the scene for a wonderful three hour explore along the Ravensbourne river learning more about the trees and plants along the route.  The walk was led by Leif Bersweden, the cycling botanist who is best known for his book ‘Where the Wild Flowers Grow’ – the tale of his cycle journey though Britain and Ireland learning about the nation’s flora.

Leif did a fantastic job of making sure everyone felt fully included – picking common wildflowers where they are plentiful so group members could take a close look.  Most of the group needed adapted three wheel bikes, some with powerpacks, provided by Wheels for Wellbeing.  Allowing people to get close up to nature without getting off was therefore critical to the event’s success.

Leif helped the group really appreciate the beauty of daisies – each one made up of a multitude of smaller flowers, each bump in the central yellow whorl a five petaled flower in its own right, and each white petal really its own individual 1 petalled flower.  And as a bonus each mini bouquet of is edible.

We also looked at buttercups and the amazingly shiny surface of their flowers related to the unique structure of their surface membrane creating an almost mirrored surface.

We looked at pineapple weed, an introduced plant that has become widespread on disturbed groups such as paths and pavements.  Leif showed how if you squeeze its composite flowers, they smell distinctly of pineapple.

Leif explained how the word dandelion comes from the French ‘dent de lion’ – or lion’s tooth based on the jagged leaves– and how in many languages a word with the same meaning is now used.  In French, however, it is now called pissenlit – basically ‘wet the bed’ because of its diuretic qualities.

Leif showed how the leaves of a holly tree at grazing height are more prickly than those above grazing height – as a targeted deterrent against potential nibbling.

The area visited also has a large number of English oak trees – one of Leif’s favourites! Oaks support an incredible 2300 species (not including microorganisms!), of which more than 300 are completely dependent on oak trees for survival. Jays are one of the most prolific oak-planters and many of our ancient oak woods were originally planted by these birds.

The event was enthusiastically received by all attendees – none of who had been on a nature cycle before.  There was clear enthusiasm for future events so this is something CPRE London will now explore.

What attendees said about the inclusive nature cycle

Well what can I say apart from our Nature Cycle with CPRE London Ladywell 16 May 2023 was fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t stop telling people about what I learnt. Leif really knows his stuff!   

I certainly would not have been able to have taken part if it was not for the cycle element of the nature trail. I was riding the electric assist Tomcat with Wheels for Wellbeing

I would love to take part in future Nature Cycle if this one was anything to go by

Kind regards


“I wanted to follow up on your email asking for feedback.   I absolutely loved the accessible cycling tour from The Ladywell Centre with a botanical angle.  It allowed me to see and learn from nature – as nature is always around us but we need to take the time to learn about it so that we can focus and see what is always there. 

I learnt so much in such a short time and now see and look out for many more growing things around me.  

As I have mobility issues, it is easier for me to cycle than it is to walk so combining the cycling with a nature route is the best of both and I am so happy that I signed up to the event organised by CPRE London.

Thank you or organising the ride and please do it again – perhaps at a different time of year when the landscape will take on another season and look.

Kind regards,




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