It’s high summer, peak time for butterfly spotting. Lazier than birding, butterfly spotting can be done with an ice-cream in one hand, sitting on a rug in the park. Which sounds kind of blissful to us. Butterfly Conservation run the Big Butterfly Count, which runs through the summer, until the end of August, where budding lepidopterists can download identification charts, and log their spottings. All you need to do is sit in your garden, or head to a park, and note down every butterfly you spot over a 15 minute period. It’s worth remembering you can submit different spots on different days, so take your notebook with you if you go to a different park, playground or open space any time in July and August. Get out there, and get spotting. bigbutterflycount.org Free July-August
It’s a hot and sticky time in London right now, and the heat might start to feel oppressive. Time to dig out your swimsuits and towels, and find somewhere to cool off. Here are our favourite places to get wet in the summer.
*Jeppe Hein’s fantastic aquatic sculpture Appearing Rooms has appeared yearly at the Southbank Centre since 2007, and is an absolute must-do each summer. Take towels and a spare change of clothes (or swimming costumes) and combine your free sploshing with an event at the venue. There’s also usually a festival involving lots of things to do and look at across the Centre each summer.
*Brixton’s huuuuge Brockwell Lido pool (50m long!) is a gorgeous, art deco wonder. It’s been totally made-over, so the changing facilities are slick, and the restaurant is absolutely lovely. Go on a sticky summer evening for fewer queues and lower prices. Peak prices adults £5.75, under-16s £3.40, under-5s free.
*The elegant Edmond J Safra court at Somerset House springs to life when its water jets are switched on each morning. It’s a great place to cool off in the centre of London. If you’re going to one of the venue’s staggeringly good art workshops, and it’s a hot day, be sure to pack a change of clothes! From spring to autumn 10am-11pm.
*The Diana Memorial Fountain, in Kensington Gardens is a modern, slick water feature that kids adore dipping their toes into. Teething problems with children, water and slippery granite have now been ironed out, and this is a great place to chill on a blazing hot afternoon. Be sure to take a stroll across the park to the Memorial Playground afterwards.
*However, if it’s really, really hot, you might want to immerse your sweaty kids in cold water. In which case, forget the Memorial Fountain, and head south across the park to the Serpentine Lido. It’s a bargain £4 for adults, £1 for kids, and under-3s go free. There’s a paddling pool for small sardines.
*Right in the heart of the West End, surrounded by towers and concrete, there’s an outdoor pool. The aptly-named Oasis Sports Centre is a council-run haven right next to Covent Garden (it’s a great place to swim after you’ve been for a heavy-duty shop). Thanks to nearby office workers, it gets really crowded at lunchtimes and in the early evenings in the summer, so try to hit it early or on a Sunday. Kids swim for £1 at all general sessions.
You might not think that London would be a hotspot for any form of wildlife apart from those of the four-legged-and-whiskered kinds. But peer into a pile of dead wood, and you might spot a globally endangered species; the stag beetle.
This is the high season for these strange-looking little beasts (named after their antler-shaped mandibles, and the London Wildlife Trust has launched a survey to find out just how plentiful they are in our city. Why not go on a beetle drive this weekend, and see how many you can find? Look under logs and in tree stumps as well as in heaps of old sticks and branches. Don’t worry, the beasts may look fearsome, but their jaws aren’t strong enough to bite you. If you’re lucky, you may even spot one flying around (more likely at dusk).
There’s lots more stag beetle information here, including some stunning videos.
London is truly one of the most quirky, odd cities in the world. One of the best pieces of advice that visitors to the city get is ‘look up’, and those of us who live here could also take note of those words of wisdom.
Author Valerie Colin-Russ has published London Pride, a guide to London’s 10,000 lions. Once you know that there are that many roaring beasts lurking in the stonework of our buildings, perched on roofs, and decorating our walls, you won’t be able to stop spotting them (or to stop your kids spotting them). We all know the enormous cats in Trafalgar Square, but what about the lions in the iron-work of Marble Arch, and the 414 clawed creatures on the front of the Palace of Westminster? Lions also lurk on the gateposts and in the front gardens of much smaller houses across the city.
Why not go on a safari, and see how many you can spot? Make a lion-spotting notebook, and write down the locations of as many as you can find. Lion-spotting has also been known to make traffic jams move faster and boring waits at bus-stops vanish in the blink of an eye.
Along with the sun, bugs are also coming out to say hello. Is it just Hopscotch Towers or is everyone overrun with urban ladybirds? Check out this great website for some brilliant printable nature spotting sheets, perfect for your little nature detectives. There’s a whole sheet just for ladybirds and lots of other sheets for bugs, birds and plants!
With the Jubilee and Olympics approaching, it’s time to smarten up and show a bit of city pride. Litter doesn’t just look awful; it’s also a wildlife hazard. Get your kids on the case – but watch out, once they get going they can get a big militant, so mind they don’t start confronting scary-looking litter bugs on the street, but it certainly puts a stop to their own litter-dropping..
You can’t miss these superb fliers (they’re so good, they even sleep on the wing) because they’re so common in London. As their name suggests, they’re mega-fast, and on a summer night you can see groups of them flitting madly round the rooftops. These summer visitors hang around the London skies from April until August, when they fly all the way back to Africa for some winter sun – lucky them!