St James’s Park: History, Features and Trees

St James’s Park spans 23 hectares (57 acres) and is located at the southern tip of an area of the same name in central London. The area itself was named after a hospital that dealt with leprosy and was dedicated to St James the Less.

To the west of St James’s Park lies Buckingham Palace, to the north is the Mall, to the east is Horse Guards and to the south is Birdcage Walk. St James’s Park is often linked with Green Park as the two meet at Queen’s Gardens. St James’s Park is a Grade I listed park.

You will often see the park’s flowerbeds as a backdrop of Trooping the Colour and other important ceremonies and occasions.


Features in St James’s Park

Duck Island Cottage

There is a small lake, which has two islands. These are Duck Island and West Island. The former is aptly named because of the large number of waterfowl that occupy the lake.

Across the lake is the Blue Bridge, which gives a wonderful view westward to Buckingham Palace.

St James’s Park has a good children’s playground that has a big sandpit.


St James’s Park History

Memorial Gardens

The park hasn’t always been dry land! In fact, in the 16th century, it was marshland! Henry VIII bought the land in 1932, in order to make York Palace, which lies to the east of the park, fit for purpose. In 1603, when James I ascended to the throne, he requested drainage and landscaping of the area. With dry land, he kept exotic animals. These included aviaries of exotic birds, crocodiles, camels and even an elephant.

Charles II’s ascension meant another renovation for the park. Inspired by the gardens of the French royal palaces he’d seen whilst in exile, he redesigned the park to be more formal. The park was opened to the public.

The 17th and 18th century saw cows graze on the park and their milk was available for purchase. Further changes occurred throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.


The Lake

St James's Park Lake

Nowadays, the lake in St James’s Park is a particularly prominent feature. However, in 1916, the lake was drained for six years. This was to allow for the construction of temporary buildings to be built during World War I.


St James’s Park’s famous pelicans

Pelicans on Pelican Rock

The most well-known residents of St James’s Park are its pelicans. The original pelicans were donated by a Russian ambassador during a visit to see King Charles II in 1664. The pelicans that exist today are their direct descendants!

There have been new additions along the way too. Recently, 3 Great White pelicans have made the park their home. They were a gift from Prague Zoo and go by the names Sun, Moon and Star.

These have joined Gargi, Tiffany and Isla, the three resident pelicans. Sun and Moon are brothers; Star is a female.

The pelicans eat fresh fish, which is usually whiting or roach and are fed each day at 2:30 pm by a wildlife officer.


Trees in St James’s Park

Avenue of autumn trees

There are around 1250 individual trees in St James’s Park from around 35 species. The park used to have a lot more trees but during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, many local people were short on fuel and cut down trees in St James’s Park instead.

There is a large number of London plane trees through St James’s Park. In fact, the vast majority of trees here belong to the species. A large number of these trees were planted in the 1820s when John Nash, a landscaper and architect gave the park a makeover. One of the plane trees in St James’s Park, however, was planted by Nelson Mandela in 1996.

Near to Storey’s Gate, there are lots of fig trees and Tibetan cherry trees. In fact, it is believed that one of the fig trees here is the biggest in Britain.

Near to the Blue Bridge are some black mulberry trees. In 1609-1610, James I planted some 10,000 mulberry trees. The idea was to start a silk industry in England, with the mulberry trees feeding silkworms, although this project failed.

If you love cherry blossom, you will find one or two dotted around St James’s Park, which some believe are the most central cherry blossom trees in London.


Tree Conservation and Tree Maintenance in St James’s Park

Snow in St James's Park

The aim of tree maintenance in this park is to maintain the trees here to healthy and safe, especially given how many of the trees are mature.

The tree maintenance teams also endeavour to retain dead wood in places that are not accessible to the general public. This encompasses all trees that are standing dead, decaying wood on the ground and tree stumps.

This is because this deadwood is the perfect habitat and food source for invertebrates like the Stag beetle. Trees with hollows or rot holes also make perfect nest and roost locations for bats and birds.


Tree Conservation on West Island

Swire Fountain

West Island is a habitat that is undisturbed and has no access to the public. This means it is a great place for nesting waterfowl and wildlife.

This also means that it can become overgrown. In 2016, tree surgeons in St James’s Park used a floating pontoon to access the island.

This meant that the tree surgeons were able to carry out tree pollarding, tree pruning, tree coppicing and they also cleared some overgrown scrub and trees.


Flora and fauna in St James’s Park

The Tiffany Fountain


The lake in St James’s Park covers about 20% of the park’s area is home 41 species of waterfowl. Its two islands with their secluded woodlands and shrubberies serve as nesting sites and refuges for these birds. Some of the birds you will see in St James’s Park include tawny owls, great spotted woodpeckers, wrens, blackbird, robin, great tits, blue tits and long-tailed tits.



At night, the park is home to a whole host of nocturnal creatures including wood mice, brown rats and foxes. During daylight hours, you are most likely to see many a grey squirrel.

At dusk, the bats start to make their presence known. Twenty minutes after the sun has gone down, Common Pipistrelle bats start to feed looking for insects around the edge of the lake.

Each of one these bats is capable of consuming 3000 mosquitos or other insects each night. Back in 2005, there was a sighting of a Nathusius Pipistrelle in the park, which is a rare sight in central London. During the winter months, you won’t see bats as this is when they hibernate.


Lakeside Flowers

The banks of the lake often suffer because of the sheer number of geese and ducks, as well as general debris and leaves. This often results in muddy patches of earth. To combat this, there has been recently planting of wildflower turf mats.

The mats have netting which means that along with the roots of the flowers, the ground can resist damage from the ducks and geese. It will take around 3 years for this netting to biodegrade so it is not harmful to the environment.

In the spring and summer months, these wildflowers transform the look of the lakeside and also help provide food for butterflies and bees.


Article was written by Louise W.

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One comment on “St James’s Park: History, Features and Trees”

  1. Great post! However, there is something that cannot leave my mind after my visit to St James’ Park in June 2019, which is the bended tree near Horse Guard’s Road. Here is it in street view:,-0.1295441,3a,66.4y,104.94h,75.99t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s0m3-mQAqPIYHj3UWzZM3nQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    It appeared to be in a not so great condition in 2019 and I really wonder how it is nowadays.

    Also is there a story behind this tree? Why is it how it is? There was no sign or history near the tree, but apparently some effort was put in it so keep it alive (some metal support rod etc). Hope you can answer this…

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