Saturday 23 February 2019

Wildlife Walk Through Barbican and Spitalfields

20th February 2019
Yet again, my London enthusiasm took me to another one of my favourite parts of London, and on the way there, I visited the Barbican Wildlife Garden. Despite its small size and its location off  the busy Aldersgate Street, this secluded garden is a paradise for urban wildlife. When I reached the BWG, I was graciously welcomed by Jo, and some of the rest of the team. Jo showed me around the meadows, and told me the history of the garden, from it starting as a residential garden, Fann Street Wildlife Garden, in 2006, to it becoming a haven for wildlife, and birds, such as Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and even Great Spotted Woodpeckers! However, there was one species which really stood out for me: House Sparrows. They have declined by 68% in urban areas since the 1970s, and to me, it was a miracle to see them thriving in the City. 

Another member of the team, Nick, showed me the vegetable patches, and explained how the population of Frogs has changed over the years at the BWG, and I was blown away by the nine clumps of frogspawn in the ponds! There was also a wonderful little bird hide, which the BWG had acquired through funds from The Conservation Volunteers in 2016. This is a great place to sit down, and take in the huge contrast of the Barbican Estate which surrounds the BWG: this is where I realised what a peaceful oasis the Garden was, watching Goldfinches and Blue Tits eat from the many feeders hanging from the trees opposite. 

When I looked around, I did not see volunteers in a garden, but heroes, taking the time to keep this indispensable open space the paradise that it is, for our wellbeing, and for the future of the City's biodiversity. This made me think: can't all green spaces be nurtured in this way?. We owe a lot to them. 

With some of the team at the BWG

Clumps of frogspawn

House Sparrow nestbox

Record shot of a Great Tit

Flowers growing on the edge of the Garden

The contrasting Brutalist Barbican Estate

Even people on the Estate are doing their bit!

Blackbird's nest

I then took a train to Liverpool Street, and after lunch, set off on my journey through Spitalfields. This is a vibrant, atmospheric area on the edge of Tower Hamlets, and home to the famous Brick Lane. It has been shaped and characterised by the Bangladeshi community, leading to one part of the area being known as Banglatown. Many of the street signs in Banglatown even have Bengali scriptures underneath them! After crossing from Hanbury Street onto Spital Street, I walked to my first stop, Allen Gardens. This is a large, open space which may seem to be absent of biodiversity, but if you look carefully in the hedges, surprisingly, there is a population of 20-25 Sparrows and a few Dunnocks! There are great views of the City there too. 

Allen Gardens, with the Old Truman Brewery and the City behind it


Why are there shoes hanging from the trees???

Street sign with Bengali scripture

Finally, I visited the Gardens' adjacent site on Buxton Street, Spitalfields City Farm. This was my second visit to a City Farm, the first being Mudchute in January. There weren't many visitors at the time, so it seemed a lot more peaceful then it would be usually. I was surprised at the fact that this tiny farm had made space for a wildlife garden, with House Sparrows, Blue Tits, an insect hotel, bird feeders and even a beehive! In the main section of the farm, there were chickens walking freely everywhere (so many that there were more chickens using the 'pig crossing' than pigs), a few goats and donkeys in the stables, rescued ferrets and some very unusual breeds of guinea pigs. 

Near the entrance, I strolled through fields of crops: radishes, garlic, you name it. If you've had a bad day, you can just visit the farm, and be cheered up by the many rare breeds it's home to, and just sit down and listen to birdsong, and watch the world go by. 

Domestic duck

Goats in the stable

An interesting breed of guinea pig...



Male House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

Patches of garlic

Bug hotel

Sunset over the farm and central London

Saturday 16 February 2019

Anti-Whaling March

26th January 2019
My mum, brother and I headed to Cavendish Square in central London for an Anti-Whaling Protest, led by Dominic Dyer, Carrie Symonds and Peter Hall, from the London Committee for the Abolition of Whaling. This march was taking place because of Japan's horrendous decision to pull out of the International Whaling Commission, a group of countries which have a pact to ensure whaling is an abolished practise. This is a practise which has no benefit to the Japanese people or indeed the world, as the demand for consumption has fallen sharply since 1962. Whaling has no place in the 21st Century, and this is why about five hundred of us had gathered in a secluded garden behind Oxford Street.

It was wonderful to meet Dominic Dyer and Bella Lack, and hear them, along with Carrie Symonds, Stanley Johnson, Will Travers and others make powerful and emotional speeches, which in my opinion is a step in itself to wake up the world about this cruel and barbaric practise, and make an example for cities around the world, which will hopefully hold similar protests. Afterwards, we all marched along Oxford Street, onto Regent Street and finally onto Piccadilly, with our heads held high and oblivious to the pouring rain. Passers-by looked at us, some in bewilderment, others in solidarity with us, and cars and buses honked their horns in agreement. We chanted slogans such as 'stop the slaughter in the water' and 'There's no excuse for animal abuse', and finally reached the Japanese Embassy, opposite Green Park. There, the speakers delivered a letter for Japan to reconsider their decision. 

I think this protest will be the start of many around the world, and I hope these will get the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, thinking about if whaling really has a place in our 21st Century society. 

With Dominic Dyer at Cavendish Square

Protesters marching through Regent Street- stop the slaughter in the water! Credit: Dominic Dyer

Sunday 10 February 2019

Wildlife Walk through Docklands

19th January 2019
I'd been planning a route that covered the nature reserves of Docklands in East London, and eventually, my London enthusiasm and my passion for nature combined. This is one of my favourite parts of the capital, because it is a fine example of how an area with modern architecture and a growing population and wildlife can coexist. I got off the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf, and got on the DLR to Crossharbour. From there, I walked through an Asda car park to a relatively concealed entrance to Mudchute Park and Farm Local Nature Reserve, a city farm which is making efforts to preserve what it calls the 'East London Countryside'. The area is famous for Monk Parakeets, of which there were none seen that day. However, there were some very tame Squirrels, which many people fed! The farm itself is a brilliant place to visit, with a wide range of domesticated animals. The surrounding allotments had many Crows, Goldcrests, Goldfinches, Song Thrushes, Dunnocks and Blue Tits. 

The Mudchute Honeybees


A ram sitting peacefully. It looks like he's contemplating something

A very tame Squirrel

A Starling singing over the donkey enclosure


A rooster trying to be a Pigeon

Another tame Squirrel

I then headed to East India DLR station, where I walked across a bridge to a wildlife site called Saffron Avenue Pond, home to the scarce Rudd fish. I didn't see any, but there were a few Cormorants, Herring Gulls and Coots. I then headed along Blackwall Way to East India Dock Basin, one of the best places in London to see migrant Teal- there were about 300 of them! As well as Teal, there were a few Herons, Shelduck and Black-headed Gulls, and a nice viewpoint facing the O2 and Greenwich. 

Coot at Saffron Avenue Pond

A view of East India Dock Basin

Some of the many Teal at the reserve

The view across the river

Shelduck with Teal

After admiring a few old factories which used to make ships and extract iron, I walked through Leamouth, which gets its name from it being the confluence of the Lea and the Thames. This settlement is situated on a small peninsula, and many companies are redeveloping it, and building rooftop open spaces. I crossed red bridge over Bow Creek, and managed to hear one or two Redshanks below, calling from the mudflats. On the other side was Bow Creek Ecology Park, another peninsula which is a nature reserve, dedicated to the wildlife of Leamouth and Bow Creek, and managed by the Lee Valley Authority (as is East India Dock Basin). In summer, this place is usually alive with birdsong, but this time, it was a calm quiet evening, the only species being Robins, Mallards Moorhens, Coots and a few Squirrels. It's a place with a surprisingly varied habitat, such as reedbed, mudflat, woodland and wetland, complete with the DLR running through it. I'd recommend it as a place where you can go for a nice walk, and take in the unseen side of the East End. After exploring the reserve, I headed along the bustling Newham Way to Canning Town Station, back home. This has been an eye-widening experience, visiting sites that are unexpectedly teeming with wildlife, and I hope they can be protected for future generations to enjoy. 

An derelict factory

Bow Creek

Bow Creek

The reserve is surprisingly close to Canary Wharf

The beautifully varied habitat of Bow Creek Ecology Park. I think this should be an example that cities around the should follow- to create an oasis for nature in unexpected places

Saturday 9 February 2019

Young Birders at Rainham Marshes

4th January 2019

A late Happy New Year to everyone!

At around 10am, Arjun, Calum, Alex, Samuel, Dante and I met up at Rainham Marshes, in the visitor centre. From there, we walked along the path next to the river, and in front of us were Stonechats and Meadow Pipits. By the riverbank, there were many Shelducks, Redshank, Dunlin and Avocet. There was also a Rock Pipit briefly sitting in roughly the same area, but when I reviewed my photos later, I was just taking photos of a rock!


Waders and Shelduck on the riverbank

We then walked beside a large mound, which was a rubbish tip, home to many gulls! On its steep sides were Skylarks, Goldfinches and Linnets, and to the left, a Marsh Harrier soared low over the reedbeds. Eventually, we reached a more industrial area, filled with factories and cargo. However, there was a small wildlife haven there, in the form of concrete barges. This is where Caspian Gulls, a species which has become increasingly common in Britain, can sometimes be found, and thanks to Dante, we managed to see one!

A Kestrel flying over the mound

There's a Caspian in there somewhere...

...There it is!

We then walked along a canal path and up a hill, from where we saw a Sparrowhawk and another Marsh Harrier, over a field of Canada Geese and Stock Doves. Along the path back to the visitor centre, we spent much time following some Rock and Meadow Pipits around. We then went back to the visitor centre for lunch. 

Marsh Harrier

Record shot of a Meadow Pipit

After lunch, we walked through an area where in summer, we'd seen Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Emeralds. Here, there was a very friendly Robin, who seemed to like Alex's croutons. Around the corner was the owl nestbox, where Ben met us. Lucky for us, there was a Barn Owl, hidden in the branches. At the Ken Barrett hide, a huge flock of gulls were seen taking off from the tip, and along the boardwalk, there were Reed Buntings, and we had a very brief glimpse of a Water Rail. At the Shooting Butts Hide, we were all very confused if there was a Snipe on one of the islands, or if it was just a patch of grass! There was also a large number of Shoveler, and a few Pintails. 

The friendly Robin

The hidden Barn Owl

A huge flock of gulls from the tip!

Reed Bunting

It was coming onto dusk, and we decided to look for Short-eared Owls, a key species at the reserve. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful, but we were greeted by a beautiful sunset. 

The Thames at sunset

Central London and Canary Wharf in the distance