Peckham Rye is a public green space in South London made up of a 49-acre park and a common area covering a further 64 acres. The Rye has a long and fascinating history – first being recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Several hundred years later, the poet William Blake walked from the City of London to Peckham Rye in 1767 and saw a cloud of angels in a great oak tree on the common. By the early 1860s, there were concerns that the Rye was becoming privately owned and misused. The tipping point was the day the Wombell’s Wild Beast show arrived causing the local community to take action. In 1868 it was purchased for the public by the Camberwell Vestry.
Nowadays the Rye is a green oasis in the centre of Peckham that is used by all aspects of the community for a whole range of uses. Alongside the people, the woods, wildflower meadows, and ponds of Peckham Rye support a surprisingly varied and interesting range of wildlife. With highlights including stag beetles, jays, green and great spotted woodpeckers, herons, and parakeets, as well as rarer visitors such as redwings, cormorants, goldcrest, and little owls. You can find out more on the Friends of Peckham Rye website – a volunteer community group dedicated to preserving and maintaining the Park.
Average rating: 3.1 (good)
Average cost: free!
Best time to visit: you can visit the Park year-round. Our favourite times are cold, bright mornings in Spring and Autumn, or long, lazy summer evenings.
How to get there: it’s easy to get to the Park from one of the many buses that stop nearby, or it’s a 15-20 min walk from Peckham Rye, East Dulwich, Nunhead, or Honor Oak Park train stations. Accessibility is great with lots of paths and benches, as well as a children’s play area, skatepark, cafe, and loads of other amenities. Peckham Rye is part of the Green Chain Walk which links to other green spaces in South London including Sydenham Hill Wood and One Tree Hill.
Typical activities: bird watching, dog walking, jogging, picnics, running, sports
Number of reports: 33
Last update: 2021
WILDLIFE IN Peckham Rye
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Eurasian Jay – 6% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Jays are beautifully coloured members of the crow family. They are easily recognised by the brilliant blue feathers on their wings. You can find them on the Rye year-round, although for much of the year they can be hard to spot. Unlike crows and magpies, they are shy birds. So look out for a flash of white and blue and a screaming call as they fly between the trees. The best time to spot them is Autumn when they move about the trees looking for food. During this time they are easy to spot hunting for acorns which they store in their favourite hiding places to provide a source of food for Winter.
Great Cormorant – 9% of WildSide Users (3/33) reported sightings
Surprisingly for a park in the middle of bustling Peckham, the pond in the centre of the Rye provides a home to great cormorants. They are occasional visitors to the area, with the Friends of Peckham Rye reporting that there used to be up to five cormorants living on the pond a number of years ago. Today you can occasionally catch a glimpse of these unique visitors. Cormorants stand out unmistakably from the other water birds found in the Rye. Look out for a black bird with a slender neck spreading its wings and cleaning its feathers.
Green woodpecker – 15% of WildSide Users (5/33) reported sightings
The European green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breed in Britain. They have a loud call but, unlike other species of woodpecker, they don’t drum to communicate and spend much of their time on the ground feeding. Listen out for their distinctive ‘yaffle’ call and you might spot one. Green woodpeckers roost in the holes of tall, older trees on the Rye. Check out the trees near the cafe and behind the Sexby garden for some good places to look for these fantastic birds. There are some beautiful photos of the woodpeckers of the Rye here.
grey heron – 27% OF WILDSIDE USERS (9/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Grey herons are large, unmistakeably graceful birds with long slender necks and legs. While a wetland bird, they are increasingly found in urban environments and are well adapted to modern city life. They are reasonably regular visitors to the Rye and you can often find them by the main pond in the centre of the Park. Herons are most often seen stood as still as statues in the shallower edges of the pond, patiently waiting for their next meal to swim by. They overwinter in the UK so you can spot them year-round.
Little Owl – 3% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Little owls were introduced into the UK in the 19th Century and are now a naturalised species. Sadly, however, their numbers are in rapid decline. They are rare visitors to the Rye although have been spotted recently. Look out for them in the large conifer trees near the Sexby garden at dusk when they are starting to become more active. You may be able to hear their distinctive ‘kiew kiew’ call. If you do see one make sure to let the UK Little Owl Project know to help protect these beautiful birds.
Stag Beetle – 0% OF WILDSIDE USERS (0/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
While there are reportedly stag beetles in Peckham Rye, no WildSide users have reported seeing one – and we have spent a lot of time looking! They are notoriously rare so we don’t think that should put you off. And do let us know if you see one when you go! Look for them in rotting wood. There’s a specific log left to rot as a habitat for stag beetles in the wildlife area. You can find it by looking at one of the many signs around the paths. On humid, thundery evenings from May to July, males fly out and try to find females to mate with. And it’s the males you want to look out for – they’re the ones with the big stag like horns!
Goldcrest – 3% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The goldcrest is the UK’s smallest bird, being only 6 cm in length and weighing just 6 grams! Being so small, they can be very hard to spot, and always seem to be on the move. Their high-pitched ‘tsee’ call is useful for locating them in the trees. If you can spot one, the main identifying feature is the yellow crown on the top of the head. Goldcrest are widespread across the whole of the UK, but woodlands or parks with large mature trees appear to be the best places to see them. They are rare visitors to Peckham Rye. Look out for them in Winter when the lack of leaves makes them easier to spot.
Great spotted woodpecker – 6% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Great spotted woodpeckers are beautiful black and white birds with a shock of red on their bellies. The males also have bright red necks. They can occasionally be seen on the trunks of large, old trees on the Rye looking for grubs. Despite their striking colours, woodpeckers can be difficult to spot among the leaves. One way to find them is to stand still and listen out for their distinctive call – a loud ‘click’ or ‘tchick’ sound. You can also listen out for the incredible drumming sound which they make as they peck holes in trees.
REDWING – 3% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Redwings are winter migrants to the UK, although there are a handful of pairs that nest here. They arrive from September onwards, leaving again in March and April. Redwings look similar to song thrushes but have a creamy strip above their eyes and red-orange patches on their wings (hence the name!). You can usually see them feeding in fields and hedgerows in open countryside. And they can sometimes be found with flocks of fieldfares or song thrushes. They are occasional winter visitors to the Rye. Look out for them in the hedgerows and trees that line the paths.
Ring Necked Parakeet – 94% OF WILDSIDE USERS (31/33) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
One bird you’re almost guaranteed to see on the Rye is the ring necked parakeet. These are noisy, raucous, squawking creatures. And they aren’t shy! It’s pretty much impossible to visit without seeing or hearing these colourful characters. They are called ‘ring necks’ as the adults have a dark circle around the backs of their necks. Parakeets are perfectly at home on the Rye as there are lots of old trees with holes to nest in. There are various stories about how they ended up in England, but they seem to quite like it here, even though their native range is tropical!
Photo Credit: WildSide team member Lizzie Hyatt