Wildlife in the City

By Martin Sepion

Terrapin – Wanstead Park

I have lived in London all my life but was always drawn to the countryside and nature. In my teenage years my family lived in a small flat above a shop on Lea Bridge Road. It was claustrophobic, cold and damp in winter, infused with car fumes (there was lead in petrol in those days and vehicles had no catalytic converters) the thunder of traffic went on all night. Home life became very stressful as our small business slowly became untenable due to the closure of the local factories during the recession of the late 1970s early 1980s. My family were sinking in debt and my parents did not know how to get out of it. Arguments ensued. My escape from this was to roam over Hackney marshes with my dog.

As soon as we escaped the noise of the road we both felt a sense of relief and the stress lifted, we were free, at least for a while. We would walk for miles and miles. Often coming home four hours later. We were at home in the fields and marshes, we didn’t mind the rain, the wind or the cold. We needed the air and the trees. Most of all we needed the quiet and to be away from the mighty road.

Migrant Hawker – Wanstead Park

In my later teenage years I started going camping and on school trips to Scotland, Snowdonia and the Lake District. I jumped at every opportunity to get out of London and breathe fresh air and listen, in wonder, to the silence. I even experienced something wonderful I had never known, the dark.

I was now becoming addicted. So I climbed Cross Fell, Kinder Scout, Snowden, Pen y Fan, Ben Macdui, Tryfan, Blaven, Ben Nevis, Braeriach, Scafell Pike, Skiddaw, Great Gable, Helvellyn and many others. I climbed these mountains many times each. In groups and organised parties, then with friends and finally, alone and in winter. As an adult it went on and I went to the Alps, first Austria and then France and Switzerland. What was I looking for at the end of the rainbow or in this case at the top of the mountain? The freedom of my student days was coming to an end and so, dutifully, I went to work in centrally heated offices. Here I discovered the battle lines were not wrestling your internal vertiginous demons or the murderous icy wind or plotting with map and compass a safe descent route in a whiteout from a steep mountain. No here the struggle was defending your stapler from people with loose papers and surveilling your personal milk bottle in the office fridge. The stress returned as, packed sardine like in carriages, ears pained each time the central line train entered the bend on Bank Station. After thirty years of this I never got used to pushing and shoving, a deficiency in my personality no doubt. Where possible I began to cycle to work and enjoyed some freedom in the morning and evening. However, three muggings within a couple of years put me off the idea for quite some time. A colleague at work asked me about my route home and suggested that it was no wonder I got attacked going down dark canals and alleyways to get home, I realised I still wanted to avoid the roads.

As an antidote to office politics and being inside all day tied to a computer I took up birding at the weekends. I soon was able to recognise the common British birds. I developed an understanding of different habitats and how they each support particular species. I went all over the country visiting reserves. I saw eagles on Arran and Osprey at Loch Garten. I saw Griffon Vultures in Crete and Short Toed Eagles in Italy. It was great. I had a garden by now and was learning about native trees and plants. I decided to garden for wildlife. Biodiversity begins at home. Pesticide use was slowly becoming more responsible and the marshes I roamed as a child were now being transformed into nature reserves. Wildlife was returning. To my utter amazement you could now watch wildlife in London.

You no longer have to travel for three hours to see a buzzard or a peregrine. London is becoming a park city. Each year that goes by sees more chemicals being banned and this results in better environmental health which leads to more fish and insects which in turn results in more birds and mammals.

So if like me, you would like to get away from it all why not explore what is in your local patch. You may be surprised by what you find and you will not have to burn any fossil fuel to get there.

Below are a few photographs of some of what I have seen in my local patch over the past few months. To see higher resolution images visit my Unsplash page

Cormorant – Wanstead Park
Little Egret – Hollow Ponds
Buzzard over my garden in Leytonstone
Rose-Ringed Parakeet – Hollow Ponds, Leytonstone

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