November, 2012

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  • Cockney Sparrow Count success

    Dig out the bunting and buy the ingredients for a celebratory cake, it may soon be time to party.

    Thank you to everyone who contributed to our 2012 house sparrow survey, updating one completed in 2002.

    2002 survey results showing no sparrows in Central London

    2012 survey results suggesting a slight increase particularly to the east

    We asked you to tell us where sparrows live in London so we could compare the findings of the two surveys, revealing change over the ten year gap. There's been no dramatic change, in fact the 2012 results reinforce what we found in 2002. Sparrows are more scarce in central London and increase in number as you head towards the suburbs. Interestingly, there was a very slight bias towards the east. but you'd expect that for a bird dubbed the 'Cockney' sparrow.

    For a couple of years we've had Londoners telling us they are seeing more sparrows in their gardens and this survey is the first to hint at a sparrow comeback. From a scientific point of view it is far from rigorous and much too early to say there is a sustained sparrow recovery.

    They still need our help, and our research has pointed at one way we can all help. Download our advisory note on supporting sparrows: 2117.House Sparrow Advisory Sheet (223-088).pdf

    Sparrows need protein from insects, spiders and grubs when they're young; and carbohydrate from seeds when they're older. An easy way to increase both insect availability and seed is to grow it in our parks, along our road verges and in our gardens or even windowboxes. We grew different seed mixes in some London Parks and found all of them increased the number of insects and seed when not mown short.

    We then hosted a conference on the practicalities, costs, benefits and funding of developing meadows and have high hopes many parks will blossom next year. Our challenge now is to convince Londoners to grow mini-meadows in their gardens or on their balconies and windowledges. Give it a go. They look great and could help sparrows too.

  • The arks in our parks

    London is lucky in having lots of public green spaces, compared with other similar world cities that is.

    One of our trial seed mixes looking stunning during reasearchVarious Kings and Queens maintained parks for pleasure and sport, then came the Victorians who created new open spaces. Canals, roads and train-lines added corridors through the maze of buildings and London took shape. That's the whirlwind guide. In a similarly speedy way let me take you to a time after the Second World War. A new enthusiasm exploded for imports so food growing fell out of favour and, right up until the early nineties, front gardens gave way to parking. All this meant that our green spaces looked green, but were increasingly bereft of life beyond pampas grass and gladioli. It was as if someone decreed we must ban wildlife and replace it with the exotic and artificial.

    We're older and wiser now. It's taken a while for us to cotton on to the fact that our drains can't cope, wildlife has dwindled and we no longer grow enough food to meet our needs. In short, we are unsustainable.

    Parks won't cure all our ills nor immediately solve the global economic crisis, but managing them properly will help moderate humidity, lessen the impact of sudden heavy rainfall, increase wildlife and provide space for us all to exercise, play and extend the number of years we remain fit and active. Our parks can become arks for wildlife. Supporting a broad range of critters and plants that help balance and maintain the natural systems that provide us with clean air, flood protection and yes, even some food.

    RSPB research into declining house sparrows has proved that different management styles can increase biodiversity. There are three basic options we investigated:

    1. Managing grass of varying lengths 4024.ManagingGrass (223-033).pdf
    2. Flower-rich grass plots, 1348.Managing urban - flower-rich grassland (223-086).pdf and...
    3. Wildlife seed mixes 8360.Wildlife Seed Mixes (223-087).pdf

    There are other types such as chalk soils, acid grassland and scrub. All are present in London and are increasingly seen as assets rather than wasteland. We need all these spaces to provide a healthy and sustainable city. I'm certain there is greater diversity in London than you'll find in many parts of the countryside, but don't take my word for it. Get outdoors and discover it yourself.



  • Sowing seeds for a greener London

    Have you ever stared at the side profile of City Hall? For years now I've wanted to stick a sparrow's head on it's teardrop shape, as it it would make a wonderful giant sparrow.

    Can you tell the difference

    A monumental nod to the cockney sparra's brave and chirpy character and its similarity to the London spirit which makes our capital city such a great place to live and work.

    With this in mind, what better place to meet and share details of research that could reverse, maybe even halt, the decline of this cheeky small brown bird. The latest research suggests nationally we've lost fifty sparrows every hour for the past 46 years! Earlier this year we ran the Cockney Sparrow Count. Londoners helped us map sparrows and added to the knowledge we continue to gather on this vanishing species. The findings were shared with some 200 or so people at City Hall along with ideas on how we could collectively improve London's parks and better support wildlife.

    First up was the RSPB's Jacqueline Weir, reporting on her project exploring the impact different seed mixes have on wildlife.8030.Jacqui Weir, RSPB.pdf

    Next was Martin Rodman from the City of London on what they're doing in the parks and green spaces they manage. 7357.Martin Rodman, City of London.pdf

    Dr Richard Smith of Buglife then talked about the importance of mixed habitats for insects and other pollinators. 8078.Dr. Richard Smith, Buglife.pdf

    After a bite to eat the facts kept coming.

    Michael Murray of the Heritage Lottery Fund tempted people to apply for funding to create new meadows. 4540.Michael Murray, Heritage Lottery Fund.pdf

    What conference on wildflower meadows would be complete without input from one of the people behind the spectacular displays at the Olympic Park? Dr Phil Askew of the London Legacy Development Corporation reminded us of those golden moments. 2337.Dr. Phil Askew, London Legacy Development Corporation.pdf

    The practicalities and complexities of sourcing and sowing native wild flower seeds was explored by Howard Wood of the seed suppliers Rigby Taylor. 6327.Howard Wood, Grass Engineering.pdf

    Finally Richard Scott of Landlife showcased some of the community benefits. 2806.Richard Scott, Landlife.pdf

    For anyone considering brightening their lives with wildflowers, whether in a windowbox, a road verge, hospital grounds or public parks, this event offered expert guidance on how to gain maximum benefit for communities, wildlife and bank balances. Please do share this page and let us know if your plans for a meadow are blooming.