September, 2007

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  • Interpreting London's wild life

    "Whatchalookinat!" In my part of London that string of words usually means it's best to give a kind smile and a sensible response as you beat as hasty a retreat as you can manage, without looking too much like a potential victim.

    So, it was with some caution that I turned round to see who had made this quizzical noise. Sure enough there was the usual spotty teenager in a hoodie with a gaggle of friends clustered round, all wearing challenging expressions.

    "Watchalookinat! He said once more, slightly louder just in case I was hard of hearing. "It's a rare bird of prey, a peregrine falcon that lives wild in London. It's the world's fastest creature and you can see it, right there on the raised brickwork of the Tate Modern's chimney, just down from the top". I figured a fact-packed immediate response was probably the best response.

    What happened next is a delight. It shatters all those preconceived impressions of teenagers held by anyone over the age of...cough; cough - OK, so I'm no longer the sprightly side of 30. The popular image of young people is one of mob driven, anti-social loudmouths that use aggression to mask inadequacies and to cope with unfamiliar circumstances. I know this is a gross generalisation but it is a popular image given life and reinforced by the diet of teen-vandalism and violence we're fed by our news providers. Just when I came to collude with this view, I can't recall, but I'm now appalled by my initial response.

    The conversation continued in tongues. I made out "Letsavalook". The alpha male of the gang edged closer to the telescope and peered through, screwing up his face with one eye closed to see through the eyepiece. Next came a "Wow! It's amazin'. Ere, lookatdis". One by one, the gang ambled up to the telescope to look, delivering a barrage of questions. "Where did they come from? How big are they? What are they doing there? Are they a couple? Do they have children? What do they eat? Where do they live? How big are they?" My favourites were, "did you put them up there." And, "are they real"?

     The next fifteen to twenty minutes was spent chatting about the peregrines, life in Essex, how busy London is and how cute birds are. Our chat went on to include climate change and what the RSPB is doing to address some of the issues that will undoubtedly become the problems that these teenagers will have to manage in a decade or two.

    At the end of this exchange, we parted company wiser and, I believe, each having learned something new. Making sense of the world around us is a universal goal and being outdoors is a good place to pursue it.

  • One spectacle after another - put yourself in the frame!

    As we wave a fond farewell to the Tate Modern peregrines for another year, work now starts on our next Aren't birds brilliant! [Abb!] project; Ducking and diving on Hampstead Heath.

    We'll be setting up our gear near pond 15 on the Heath in October to showcase the wonderful wildlife that lives there. There are ducks, geese, swans, kestrels, moorhens and coots plus cormorants and much, much more. If you manage to get any good photos of wildlife, please do send them in to so we can share them. For more information on the Hampstead Heath Abb! please call us on 020 7808 1260. 

    BBC London is running a photo gallery of birds of prey and you can send your images there. We have a growing number of these birds in London with an impressive list of visitors too, like Michael Croft's red kite spotted in a Hackney garden. Sadly this youngster didn't stay and was mobbed by crows and other birds until it fled back to the country. We believe it was seeking a territory of its own and had probably come from the Chilterns, where red kites are plentiful. Maybe 2008 will be the year they settle in the Capital? The RSPB reintroduced these rare birds of prey to the Chilterns, they've successfully bred, but stubbornly refuse to leave this small area.

    I've another good link for you this week. We've produced some posters with the local Guardian series of papers covering north-east London (Woodford, Wanstead and Waltham Forest Guardians) featuring Garden Birds. If you can't get hold of a copy of the paper, visit their website where they will be offerring free downloads for you to print-off. The online poster will be in two A4 sized sheets rather than the single newspaper sized one in the Guardian. It's the first in a mini-series with wetland birds and wildlife gardening posters to follow.

    This coming weekend you can come and talk to us at the Landmark Eco-Fair in Teddington's Ferry Road, TW1 9NN. It runs Saturday and Sunday, We'll have a stand near the main stage with a display about our work on climate change. Some people have asked what the RSPB has got to do with energy use or transport. The answer is that climate change poses a huge threat to all wildlife and yet there are simple actions we can all undertake that will better equip birds and other wildlife to cope with this problem. We've just produced a new document posing twenty tough questions and giving twenty rough answers. You can donload it by following the link above.

    Always keen to demonstrate how words translate in to action we've been working with the Cleveland Square Residents Association in Bayswater to improve their city square for wildlife. Apart from adding feeders and bird boxes we've advised planting schemes and management techniques that help wildlife survive and thrive. It's a private square not open to the public but a valuable space for wildlife.

    If you'd like to see a wildlife garden and some of the ideas in action, you can drop in to our Wild in the Parks garden in Regent's Park, next to the tennis courts. It's free and shows how you can have car parking space, flower borders and space to relax in, while also creating a variety of habitats for insects, amphibians, birds and mammals. The garden is maintained, and was created, by volunteers and community groups with some design input from children at surrounding schools. It's a great place for a picnic in the park, especially with the tennis court cafe nearby.

    If you'd like to find out more about volunteering with the RSPB in London, call Amy Symons on 020 7808 1254 or email:

  • Peak district hits a new low for peregrines but London welcomes them

    "I used to watch you on TV when I was a kid." It gets said and you immediately think, oops, shouldn't have said that, I hope they don't think I'm being rude about their age. This time the phrase went through my mind but thankfully the words didn't come out of my mouth.
    I was being interviewed by John Craven for BBC TV's Countryfile, being broadcast this Sunday. He launched Newsround when I was... best stop there. Countryfile is featuring urban wildlife and will be looking at the deer in Richmond Park, the rebirth of the River Wandle and the peregrines at the Tate Modern.
    Luckily we had good weather and both the male and female peregrines entertained us, occasionally swapping places on the art gallery's chimney; their favourite daytime perch. We'd found the grisly remains of one of their meals on the ground at the foot of the chimney.
    It's a sobering thought but we now have more breeding peregrines in Greater London than you'll find on the NE Moors of the Peak District. If you're not shocked by that you should be. Peregrines have effectively been lost in some areas due to suspected persecution by unknown sources. This week saw the 25th anniversary of the Wildlife and Countryside Act gaining Royal Assent and we're calling on landowners to help us by reporting suspicious incidents to the Police. Seeing the delight, excitement and pleasure that people express when they see the Tate peregrines makes the ignorant actions of those responsible even more inexplicable.

    The statistics for the statement made above came from our Birdcrime 2006 report, which does contain some good news too. Certainly, the creation of the National Wildlife Crime Unit last year helped tackle the problem of wildlife persecution. We work well with the Metropolitan Police's Wildlife Crime Unit and have had successes prosecuting egg collectors and illegal bird traders.
    Of course little of the work I write about here would be possible without public support, our volunteers, members and fundraisers. So, it's always nice when the unexpected arrives in the post. A cheque for just over £1,000 has been given to us by Yerbury Primary School in Islington. The money was raised by children having a sleepover at the school as a way to support our Save the Albatross campaign. Huge thanks to the children and to the school's deputy, Anthony Mirams, whose concern for this threatened species has infected his pupils too. Teachers are inspiring people who make a huge difference to society.
    Now, this weekend is your last chance to join us at the Tate Modern to see the peregrines and support our petition calling on Gordon Brown to introduce a Marine Bill. We're right by the Millennium Bridge and the Thames Festival means Saturday and Sunday will be great fun to be had by all along the southbank, with free entertainment and music and a wealth of food, craft and information stalls. Come and join us and revel in London's wild side.
    Finally, news reaches me that a rare and very shy bittern has arrived at our Rye Meads reserve in the Lee Valley. We'll be setting up an Aren't birds brilliant! Bittern watch early in the New Year, which is scarily closer than you think!