March, 2013

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South East

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  • Making Room for Wildlife in the Centre of London - Guest blog

    Dr. Michael Short is a Southwark resident, living within a few minutes walk of Mayor Boris Johnson's City Hall HQ, in the shadow of Tower Bridge.

    Like many Londoners, he cares about his community and the changes being done to it. Changes which all too often, forget what's there already, especially the wildlife and the greenspaces where people and nature mingle, relax and play; crucial for healthy communitties. Dr Short is one of the many Londoners passionate about their local spaces:  

    London started around London Bridge about 3,000 years ago. Its renaissance is happening right now with The Shard and all the developments on the south bank between Tower and London Bridges. Associated with it has been an explosion of office space and residential units climbing ever skyward. Every plot of land, no matter how small, is up for grabs as house prices rise. But, it is not so much where have all the people gone? As where do all the people go?

    Tower Bridge from Southwark, where development is in full-swing

    Whilst first Ken Livingstone and then Boris Johnson have written strategic plans to prevent the [development of] concrete jungles with damaged families, in this rush to build more badly needed housing, there has been little thought of green space for the people who will live and work in these new developments, especially in which our children can relax and meet socially in a welcoming environment.

    So, my concern is for a small plot of land with a basketball court and adjoining children’s play area. It's just waiting for some grass and a few trees. It had a warehouse empty for eight years and has been cleared for five. It is in Long Lane in Southwark. An area that has received more than its share of high rise apartment blocks recently. In fact there is, or will be, almost a continuous line on the north side. A park here could break up the development on the south side. There is an enclave of terrace houses with small front and back gardens, which attract goldfinches, greenfinches, blue and great tits, robins, wrens, dunnock, blackbirds and wood pigeon facing the site. The whole area then becomes quite big and sustainable. What a little gem!

    Dr Short's vision is under threat. It's not an isolated case. All over London there are similar struggles between development and communities. The truth is, both sides of the debate would benefit if nature were included in development proposals from the very start. Green space adds value, improves appearances, reduces hot air temperatures, prevents flash flooding and much, mich more. Green spaces can incorporate community growing spaces or allotments and have been proven to boost mental and physical health of the people that enjoy being in them. Another added benefit is often an improvement in public behaviour.

    If you dream of spaces like that in Dr Short's vision, share your thoughts with us [images welcome too], and the following councillors and inviduals involved in the Southwark Long Lane site:;;;;;;;;;

  • Mighty oaks from tiny acorns and all that

    A dwarf daff is not a mighty oak.

    The one I'm talking about has bright yellow petals, which stand out proudly against the hard grey landscaping of our street. Best of all, the sight of some of these tiny flowers makes me smile. I helped do that.

    Some of my neighbours organised the planting last year and provided the bulbs. Together we planted them in the tree pits lining our street and this little bit of effort has been rewarded this month as the flowers burst through the compacted soil, exploded into colour and helped shine some light through the gloom and darkness of the extended winter. It was a job of minutes to push the bulbs into the ground. It required one devoted person to organise it, but it's made a tremendous difference. I guess our next step ought to be some summer flowers to keep the colour coming.

    Millfields estate (East London) wildflower garden alongside their communal herb and veg plotsThe idea is simple and has been adopted by many other people, but here's a great organised approach, turning spare pavement spaces into mini-food growing areas along  a London bus route. The Capital is crammed with small spaces that could be turned into spectacular mini-gardens its communities would be proud of. If you can't picture it in your mind, the good folks at the green inbetween have some photos to help.

    Basically, the message is, be positive, have a go and sow some seeds to make life more interesting. Just digging over some compacted soil will help improve London's environment. Nature always helps, with seeds dropped by birds or carried by dogs often succeeding to germinate in the most inhospitable of places. I'm not suggesting a take-over of every pavement, roundabout or tree-pit. There are some practicalities to consider and always ensure what you plant is suitable for the space you're eyeing up. No one wants harmful or destructive plants.

    Get outdoors and be creative around the place where you live. Have fun, but as with all things, be sensible.

  • Animal lover

    My daughters laugh at me. Openly.

    I've checked my flies and they're closed; there's no spinach stuck between my teeth and no one drew a  moustache on me whilst I dozed in my chair. So, I was forced to ask, 'what's so funny?'

    It's when I start to talk about nature and caring for wildlife apparently. They tell me they laugh because they all think I hate animals. OK. I get a tad heated when squirrels raid my nuts and seed feeders. I leap into action when stray cats or dogs squat in my garden. I refuse to have chickens or rabbits because there are too many local foxes, and I don't want a pet; not even a stick insect. I like seeing animals and birds living as they were intended; roaming as free and wild as a dust mote over a warm grassy hill on a sunny, summer's evening.

    It might sound romantic, but it's a solid and grounded point of view, unfettered by the desire to control and master. I like my animals, like people, to be free. I grew-up on a farm so cattle, sheep, pigs and hens are wonderful to see in the fields and on the commons or marshes dotting and surrounding London, but there's nothing sentimental about their future propects. Farmed animals deserve the same rights as all living things; to feel the sun, rain or wind on their faces and glorious mud and grass under their feet. It's all about respect.

    There's a new ITV show coming up, hosted by Paul O'Grady. His knowledge of herbs and natural therapies far outstrips my scant knowledge on that subject and he knows far more about sequins and mascara than me too. We do share an important link. We both have huge respect for nature. This show is called ‘The British Animal Honours 2013’ and will showcase not stupid things that animals do, but the clever, important stuff. I've helped judge three of the categories and was inspired by the depth and knowledge of the other jurors and their passion for the subject. No doubt the show will be criticised by some who will label it exploitative. The prodicers are going to great lengths to protect the star animals of the awards and to ensure the making of the programme conforms to the highest environmental and well-being standards. No cattle prods were evident when I cast my votes and the fodder they provided (fruit) was definately healthy.

    Daniel Allen (author, naturalist), Me, Robbie Marsland (IFAW), Anthea Turner (tv presenter), Marc Abraham (vet), Rosamund Kidman Cox (editor and author), Maggie Roberts (Cats Protection), Danny Penman (journalist), Caterina Termine (equine vet) & Peter Egan (actor)

    Living in London, the majority of people are remote from nature. Parks and shared green spaces are coveted, but under enormous pressure. Wildlife is often seen as dangerous or unwelcome.It all deserves greater respect. Get outdoors and see what you can find. Most birds are starting their breeding season so have their best, most colourful plumage on show right now. Giant grey herons are teetering comically on slender branches at the tops of trees in Battersea and Regent's Parks, and alongside the Thames near Kew Bridge. Soon caterpillars will be out in glorious hairy technicolour and both toad and frog spawn has started to magically appear in many ponds and canals.

    Life is starting to buzz in the Thames too. We've had recent sightings of otters, dolphins and seals. Fish migration and spawning is underway. The great nature renewal is evident everywhere.

    Nature is amazing and gives us so much. It deserves respect, and an awful lot of [paternal/maternal or platonic] love. Laugh out loud. Smile at a stranger and hug a tree. It's so good to be alive!