August, 2011

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South East

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  • The rise of the new

    If you believe the national chatter in the media and social networks, we're all living in fear of what we now term "young people"; the ones being blamed for the lawless rioting witnessed across the country and dubbed a lost generation of "no-hopers".

    It's not true of the children, teenagers and young adults that I know from my community in Hackney or from the friends and class mates of my children in primary and secondary schools in the borough. I'm sure my experiences are not unique and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the majority of these "young people" deserve a better image.

    As part of her citizenship coursework, my daughter and her classmates are campaigning for the voting age to be lowered. They argue that they're taught about politics and are encouraged to get involved in society, yet are denied the right to vote. They feel they have no voice when it comes to shaping their own futures or the neighbourhoods where they live. This was a hot topic for them before the school holidays and before the riots. It was exciting to see them debate the pros and cons of the argument. They all felt that playing a part in society and looking after the environment are important.

    Lowering the voting age may be one way forward. These are school students who want to help improve society and have lots of energy, ideas and enthusiasm to offer. Each, in their own way, are discovering ways to contribute. A fifteen year old Islington boy's been quietly doing his bit for the world over the past four years and has now raised more than fifteen thousand pounds for charities. Robin Johnson's story is unlikely to make the front pages of national newspapers, yet we should all celebrate his drive, initiative and passion.

    The RSPB, in partnership with the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, is doing what it can to provide opportunities for this much maligned generation. Our Wild Place Your Space team recently took a group camping, something none of the participants had experienced before. The group of boys and girls aged 14 to 17 (Pictured) all found the hands on style of the camping trip inspired them to discover more about nature and the world. That's a great outcome for a group of people who've repeatedly been given the message that they pose a problem and who were then in danger of being excluded from society.

    For my parents' generation, Teddy Boys and Mods were demonised. My generation had punk. Today we've moved beyond hoodies and have sadly almost categorised all young people (12 to 24) as trouble.

    Walking along the canal to the Olympic site on Sunday, I passed various estates, like MillfieldsMabley Green and Leabank Square. They each have thriving communities driven by the energy of young people. Alongside these are the Films on Fridges and the Folly for a Flyover projects. Brilliant outdoor spaces conceived by young minds that benefit and improve local places for people and indirectly, for wildlife too.

    There are so many good things going on that have a bedrock of sustainability, yet the people behind these initiatives are not as universally celebrated as they should be. It should be their accomplishments that we all aspire to copy.

    I'm sure you've got examples of your own, why not share your nature champions by commenting on them here? Better still, step-up for nature yourself, click here for some ideas on how.

  • Hostile times

    Riots, financial crisis and global droughts. The world can be a hostile place.

    Cycling back home to Hackney from work was an unsettling experience. I didn't know what I'd find or encounter after passing the lines of parked-up buses  in Balls Pond Road, which marked the exclusion zone. Neighbours businesses were lost and my community was left fragile and uncertain. Thankfully nothing like the losses felt elsewhere in London or Birmingham for example.

    Imagine that you're running out of food, the neighbourhood's changing around you and everything that you need to survive is being replaced. Even the neighbours have changed and you no longer have anything in common.

     This is what's happening to a colony of very special birds in south London. Tree sparrows are far less common that their bigger cousins, the house sparrow. They are also woodland birds, not city dwellers, yet this amazing population of tree sparrows at Beddington Farmlands in Sutton is the single largest in all of south east England.

    The problem is, there are no nearby sites that can offer the tree sparrows the same or at least a similar neighbourhood. Not yet anyway.

    What we do know is that some 500 chicks hatch at Beddington Farmlands each year. What we don't know, surprisingly, is where they go. They are usually mistaken for house sparrows and ignored. To help make identification easier, we've fitted red rings to one leg of every chick hatched this year.

    so if you see a brown-capped sparrow with black cheeks and a red ring on its leg, please let us know by sending details to

    The project is a partnership involving the Beddington Farm Bird Group, Croydon RSPB Local Group, MKA Ecology, the RSPB, Sutton Council and Viridor. If we can identify where they're going, we can explore ways to provide what they need, so that this important colony isn't lost forever. Together we will rebuild our communities and together, we can improve them for people and wildlife.

    Illustration by Roy Weller.


  • Blackberry love

    I've almost filled the freezer with this year's blackberries. Big juicy ones plucked from brambly hedges in Ye Olde Hackney town.

    Now I know what you're thinking. How dare I deprive the poor birds of all that deep velvety berry goodness. Well, I'll make sure I make up for it by inviting said birds and other wildlife to come dine with me. The menu includes seed cake and suet pastry rubbings followed by a fruit platter of apple and pear, all washed down with clear, cool fresh water. I may even chuck in some breakfast cereal the next morning.  



    Birds are close to the top of nature's food cycle, feasting on a range of things from seeds to bugs with nuts, snails, seeds, fish, frogs, worms and ants inbetween. This is their equivalent of haute cuisine, but birds also love fast food, like cake crumbs, mild cheese, suet or cooked plain rice. What they don't like are greasy or salty sauces or condiments. Paffy bread is a contentious issue. Birds will gobble it up, but it simply swells in their stomachs and has little to no nutritional value.

    London's wildlife is no different to that elsewhere in the UK or indeed in the rainforests of Sumatra. It's all struggling and if we don't step-up and act now, we'll lose lots of it.

    Wildlife and nature add so much to our lives and are one of the few free, almost untaxed, "commons" that we can all enjoy. Nature provides clean air for us to breathe and water to drink. Wildlife pollinates our plants and distributes seeds so that brambles can scramble and provide purply-black berries to stain our fingers and stimulate our saliva glands. It richly rewards us and we must never allow it to be diminished. A small investment from us all supporting wildlife now, will give future generations the continued luxury of jam tomorow.

    Find out more about London's wildlife by visiting our Tate Modern peregrine watchpoint next to the Millennium footbridge, daily from noon until 7 pm through to Sunday, 11 September.