This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
Six bodies lie in the gloom in a darkened one-way mews behind a busy north London street .
This sort of gruesome find is usually the opening scene of a brutal murder mystery that only a maverick detective can solve. There is no maverick detective. There are six bodies.
This dark mews is typical of the narrow lanes behind High Street shops and flats. It's all steel security grills and garage doors. Air conditioning units hang off the walls and can be seen on the low flat roofs of the store room extensions. And there's one security camera too. This is Wolsey Mews behind the Kentish Town Road in Camden, London. The victims were all shot and left to rot. The crime has been reported to the Police, who''re short-staffed, and this crime comes well down their list of priorities, after all, the victims were just pigeons.
Feral pigeons are not a species of conservation concern. Many consider them pests. They are still birds protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, albeit subject to general licence controls. Regardless of your thoughts and feelings on feral pigeons, aren't you alarmed by the fact that someone, armed with a rifle in Camden is taking pot shots at moving targets just metres from a Primary School and a busy high street with its chemists, bank and supermarket? The weapon was an airgun and was powerful enough to kill six times.
This past week has seen the publication of some groundbreaking science showing a baseline for people's connection to nature. We fear it's below what it should be. For someone to kill wildlife six times in a single session is yet another indication that the science is right. We are, as a society, no longer connected to nature. There is little respect for it. No understanding. Without respect or understanding, there will be no nature in future. This is a desperate time for wildlife and for the very future of society.
Debate rages on the future of energy, where to put a new Thames crossing or the pros and cons of developing Crystal Palace and its Park, but if the very basics of our connection with nature has been eroded, what hope is there for a better tomorrow?
The responses I've heard to the launch of our report on the benefits that lie ahead when we embrace nature are encouraging. The indifference shown to those six pigeons is indicative of the apathy and ignorance that spawns repression and prejudice. It has no place in a modern forward looking society and should be taken very seriously.
One of my earliest memories is of sucking-in mouthfuls of cold, crystal clear, fresh water as it bubbled from a natural spring in the stony bank of the country lane near where we lived. On a hot day no drink has ever tasted so sweet and refreshing.
A second happy memory is of the summer after O-Levels, camping in a field alongside the River Wye with various friends. No responsibilities, endless freedom, good company and the river to jump and play in. Here in London, a calming stroll along the canalised River Lee restores energy and my optimism.
The water that concerns me most these days is the mighty trout brown Thames. It seems none of us tire of playing in and around water. Boris's mud-pie of an airport island is fast melting away in the swirling currents created by Sir Howard Davies' recent announcement. He was clear that no environmentally damaging proposal would make it to his interim report in December. By that reckoning, none of the proposals would be successful, but he's already stated he bends to the pressure of arguments in favour of expansion. As the various plans put forward for airports in the Thames Estuary are THE most environmentally damaging, I'm taking Sir Howard at his word and am not expecting to see diggers moving onto the Hoo Peninsular anytime soon.
The poor old Thames is also at the centre of other development plans too. The Department for Transport is consulting on three options for a new crossing. The GLA (Mayor Boris again) is also considering a new crossing at Silvertown and the future of the Woolwich Ferry. Finally Thames Water is planning a giant tunnel under the river to carry away millions of tonnes of raw sewage.
Where once, everyone played in the rivers, it seems today most people want to tame the rivers and view with disdain those who admire and respect the swirling waters. Like a lot of things in nature, water can be dangerous, but don't let this freeze you with fear; GET OUTDOORS. Nature's NOT nasty. You won't be spiked by grass, savaged by a caterpillar nor gored by a hedgehog. Wildlife is wild but gaining experience of it through play is crucial.
Our new President, Miranda, has championed eating roadkill, and that will probably be the stick the media will beat her with forever more. Chris Packham this week came over all emotional talking about his illegal adoption of a young kestrel. What these examples show is that people who now care passionately about the world around them, learn about it through experimentation and play.
Messing about is good for your physical and mental health, which is why we're opening Rainham Marshes International Avian Airport over half-term and up to Christmas, where you can visit to watch the incoming flights of travellers from Africa and northern climes as the mass migration of species gets underway. We'll have news on departures too as other birds take flight for warmer climes. Lets call it migration tourism and soon certain national daily papers will be running stories on "them migrant waders, coming over here, taking advantage of our mudflats".
The biggest threat to our UK wildlife is mostly believed to be climate change, but of equal danger is a growing disconnect from nature.
The RSPB is aware of the issues and is fighting multiple battles. We're challenging bad development, trying to make coping with climate change easier, attempting to fill gaps in environmental delivery and protection where budgets have been cut and we're inspiring people to get outdoors, discover and embrace nature. After all, how will the next generation care for wildlife and our landscapes if they have no emotional connection, love for, nor understanding of, it?
Edwina Pitcher is a volunteer working with communities and schools at our Wild about Hampstead Heath project in London, helping them discover and enjoy the world on the City of London Corporation owned Heath. She's taking time out to walk some 600 kilometres from Lisbon in Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. It's one of the many pilgrim routes leading to the Galician Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is her update:
"This is an ancient pilgrim route following Roman roads, farmers´tracks and some stretches of asphalt road, but occasionally the route changes course to follow older now dry ´ghost´ rivers. Crossing over the caminho are sheep-tracks, springs running down from the granite hills and ant paths beavering their toilsome way through the dust.
The caminho is not just made of footsteps (human or cloven) it is also formed by the wildlife which crosses the path. There is an oak tree with fruit peculiar to the Portuguese, I was told by a lady called Diana in a place called Machinata, that inside would be a small creature. Sure enough, inside the soft interior is a little egg with a white shell. She also told me that if you hold your breath, nettles don´t sting. Try it if you like, but keep some sting relief handy. We're not recommending it.
I have passed pine trees entwined like lovers and great eucalyptus trees, forest after forest of them, sometimes burnt; a testment to the fires and the continued threat of fires this summer.
On one of the summits along the route, you can stretch out and lie across the sun-warmed granite. I had never really appreciated views until now. You read the landscape differently after walking through it and experiencing the nature. Rather than being removed from it, as though dropped there from a great height, you realise your path in the landscape is involved with it and your place now dependant on it."
There will be more from Edwina and much more from the RSPB on this problem of people being afraid of the outdoors. Greater London is predicted to swell to 10 million people by 2020, so developers and planners are facing a tough challenge on how to ensure all those people have access to quality outdoor space and how to incorporate nature in urban settings. We have the expertise to do it. Their challenge is to include it in their visions for a better London.