Published by New Holland ISBN 978-1-84773-520-1
“Everyone has an opinion of London, whether they live there, work there, visit there or avoid it as much as possible. One thing most people don’t usually associate with the capital is wildlife.
It’s difficult to imagine a more modified environment than the streets of London, whether you’re among the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf, struggling past the throngs of shoppers along Oxford Street or negotiating the raucous warren of side-streets in Soho. With greenery limited to rows of trees sprouting out of neat holes in the pavement and everywhere constantly seething with human life, wildlife watching seems potentially extremely limited.”
However, as Watching Wildlife in London by Marianne Taylor demonstrates, there is far more to London wildlife than first meets the eye. With a little patience, know-how and a bit of luck (and perhaps this guide), we can all enjoy some of the best wildlife spectacles Britain has to offer without going beyond zone 6.
The Peregrine Falcon is one such example cited by Marianne. On the rise again after decades of persecution, Britain’s burgeoning Peregrine population includes many city-centre pairs. The most famous of London’s 20 or so pairs have set up home near the Tate Modern where adults and juveniles regularly perch - whilst another pair hold territory on the Houses of Parliament.
Watching Wildlife in London describes the opportunities available to birdwatchers, naturalists and those with perhaps only a passing interest, to come face-face with London’s wildlife. This well-crafted guide covers more than 50 key sites, from the centre of town to the suburbs, describing each site with a history of its development, notable events as well as information on what species you can expect to see. From rutting deer in Richmond Park to Britain’s most popular Tawny Owls in Kensington Gardens, this guide will help you experience the best of London’s wildlife.
The first half of the book consists of a cluster of chapters covering the streets of London, the Royal Parks of Central London, The Thames, the Parks of the South-west, marshlands and reservoirs, in and around Lee Valley and ‘hidden gems’ (the isolated and somewhat neglected sites that don’t feature in the other chapters), followed by a detailed chapter on accessing the key London sites by public transport – something all London birders have long known is far more effective than trying to use the car.
Each chapter is littered with fascinating case studies, anecdotes from Londoners and interesting fact boxes. Learn how the Bottlenose Whale ended up in the Thames in 2006, understand the decline of the London sparrow, relive the wreck of October 1987 or the Honey Buzzard passage of September 2000; snigger at the tales of fare-evading pigeons on the tube, or how and why the London Plane has established itself so well in London.
Most London birders will have struggled with the duck dilemma. Marianne recounts for all the problems of the captive, recent escape, feral or wild birds that intermingle in the London parks. One suspects Marianne has experienced first-hand many of the events and challenges of watching wildlife in London.
And what of London’s most famous street and arguably most famous resident. Could the ‘iron lady’ really have heard a Nightingale from No.10 in February? If we believe the reference to a bird that sang in Berkeley Square then perhaps anything is possible.
The second half of the book is a fully illustrated colour identification guide to 500 of the most common or remarkable species to be found in the capital. The identification guide includes animals, birds, invertebrates and plants. Whilst it is difficult to criticise this section of the guide, it is difficult to complement it either. There is little here that can’t be found elsewhere. I would have preferred such space given over to detailed maps of each of the sites, with suggested walks and likely spots and timings to find the key species.
Finally, whilst I can’t dispute Marianne’s view that South-east London is probably the most impoverished corner of the capital for wildlife, with no sizeable reservoirs and a patchwork of small green spaces, it was at least pleasing to read that Beckenham Place Park (my local patch although I can hardly call it mine given how infrequently I visit) is given an encouraging write-up. I suspect if Blue-crowned Parakeet makes it onto the British list one-day, many a birder will make the pilgrimage to this ‘impoverished’ corner of London for this particular life or annual tick.
You can buy this book at the discounted price of £5.99 through Amazon here