A pair of mating blue-tailed damselflies just flew in to my house through the open backdoor. Which is a bit of a surprise, given that I live in East London with no known ponds, streams, canals or water bodies of any sort within 100 metres. I always thought damselflies stayed pretty close to water. I guess I was wrong once again.
It's a reminder that we rarely know what's around us, which is precisely why this week's Make Your Nature Count survey is so important. Conserving wildlife is hard if you don't know what's out there.
Gardens and London's hidden green spaces are full of mystery and that's why we need Londoners to help us record the wildlife they see. Armed with this info we can look at large areas of the capital to see how, together, we can better link the different spaces; for people and wildlife.
If you're in any doubt about the rich diversity of London's non-human residents, then come along to the Springwatch Wild Day Out at Alexandra Palace Park on Saturday 5. I'm secretly hoping we will record more wildlife in this urban setting than can be found in a rural National Park. We'll soon know the truth.
This past week we took a huge leap forward in being able to understand how one species gets by in the city. We put coloured plastic tags,or rings, on the legs of four peregrine chicks that hatched on a building ledge in Lambeth. Thanks to the rings, we'll now be able to keep track of them as they grow-up and move away from their parents' territory. Their nest is a bit messy at the moment as the chicks can't yet fly. It's littered with the remains of meals and their own moulting fluff. The camera lens is a bit smeared too!
People are always interested in wildlife when confronted by it, but some remain baffled as to its relevance or worth in their lives. Part of our Letter to the Future campaign is about explaining those links. Nature is our life support system and neglecting or abusing it will cost us more than tackling the US oil spill or the world banking crisis.
What price would you put on nature?
Leaving Hackney Town Hall after talking about improving protection for the borough's special places and species I happened to look-up as I cycled towards the traffic lights.
In the sky, visible between the bulk of the Hackney Empire and an old bank building on the other side of the street, were two grey herons being hassled by a crow; right there over Mare Street.
For those of you who don't know Mare Street, it's a busy four lane road in Central Hackney. Not the sort of spot you'd head to, to go bird watching. Yet here above the heads of people heading home or going to the shops was an epic battle. A crow chasing off two far bigger birds with dagger-like beaks. OK, so a crow has a pretty fierce beak too so let's not "big-up" the street imagery. What I'm stumbling to get across is the fact that urban wildlife is all around us, all the time.
This was tragically obvious this past week, following the shocking story of the Koupparis twins, Lola and Isabella, bitten and scratched by a fox as they slept in their beds. This is an extremely rare incident and my heart goes out to the girl's parents. I wish the girls a speedy recovery. Foxes are common in London and I'd urge people to continue to enjoy our wildlife, but please remember that it is wild. This experience will change their whole families views about wildlife. I hope one day I can welcome Lola and Isabella to one of our Date with Nature events where we can celebrate and marvel at the spectacles of nature safely.
I can't wait for the results of our Make Your Nature Count survey. The more people that take part, the more we'll find out about London's gardens and what lives or moves through them.
Last weekend at the Wild Day Out at Alexandra Palace Park I spoke to people who've got moles, hedgehogs and even deer in their gardens.. in London. That's fantastic! Last year, cats and squirrels were the most common non-bird visitors to those spaces beyond our back doors.
A quick analysis of some of the data that's already been submitted shows the UK's house martin population is down on previous years. This may be due to the weather delaying their arrival or it could be the start of a decline. The final results may be different and even then it may be just a blip. We'll have to wait a few years to get a more accurate impression of what's really happening.
Maybe the house martin population can't wait that long? There's plenty we can all do to support wildlife immediately. Here are three suggested options:
A new report out this week says water voles are making a comeback after their population slumped 90%.
Just this last Wednesday I saw one - photo on the right - chewing on a fresh green leaf at our Rye Meads nature reserve in the Lee Valley. It was right by the path and didn't seem at all worried about the cooing crowd of a dozen of us straining against the handrail for a closer look.
I'd gone there expecting to see a kingfisher, so the watervole was an unexpected sight. Rye Meads has a pair of kingfishers nesting in a specially built bank and they're on their second brood so far this year. Sadly I didn't get to see one. Give it a week or two and the parents will be out and about seeking food for their chicks.. right now they're sitting on eggs so are less active.
Our peregrine falcon webcam has been mistaken by the four chicks as a toilet, so views are a little smeared right now. They've developed their flight feathers and will soon be evicted by their Mum and Dad; sent packing to find their own territory. If you've enjoyed watching the pere-cam, let us know so we can decide whether to repeat it next year.
The peregrine season's not wholly over though. From 17 July until 12 September we'll be at the front of the Tate Modern by the Millennium Bridge showcasing the pair that perch on the Tate's chimney. There's no webcam but we will have our telescopes to see the birds up close.. or should that be pere-scopes? We'll be there every day from Noon till 7pm and will have recorded clips from the Vauxhall perecam to share with visitors too.
This coming week marks a new era for us in London. We're launching our first ever swift survey in the Capital. In partnership with the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and London Swifts, we're asking people to record swift sightings. There's an online form with a nifty location finder to pinpoint where swifts are spotted and where they nest.
Swifts are another declining species but data on them is hard to come by. They spend almost their entire lives up in the air. They rarely come down to ground and if, for any reason, they do land, their legs are too weak to launch them back into the sky. That's why they nest in nooks and crannies around the roolines of buildings. All they have to do to fly is fall out the nest.
Swifts will be with us in the UK until August, maybe September. They'll then migrate back to sub-Saharan Africa over our winter. This is when we can all make a difference to help restore their numbers by putting up nestboxes. The problem is that we're removing their nest sites as we all try to save energy by insulating our homes. Filling the gaps where heat escapes is good from an environmental and financial point of view, but it's denying swifts the sorts of places they nest.
Before we start to fully address this, we want to now where swifts are. If you spot a swift,or more likely a little gang of them, please do add the details to our survey form.
This is actually a good example of what our Letter to the Future is all about. This petition is about spending wisely now to benefit biodiversity. If you're doing up your home, ensure the improvements are good for nature, good for your bank balance and for your ecological footprint. Getting this long-term view across to politicians looking for short-term spending cuts is a tough one. That's why we need your signature to show there is strong public support for this sustainable approach.
I was around Old Spitalfields near Brick Lane this week asking people to sign our Letter to the Future. Almost everyone I spoke with was happy to sign. I had a great chat with one man who agreed with the motives behind Leter to the Future, but was reluctant to sign as he felt politicians won't listen. He did sign after we'd talked it all through; as I said to him, if you don't ask, you don't get.
Rural Britain is devoid of colour as traditional hay meadows vanish.
A new report claims 97% of rural Britain's fields of buttercups, sorrel and clover with a variety of grasses have gone... and you know, I'm in full agreement.
Consumer demand and mechanisation of farming gave us the ability to intensify and purify the crops we could get from our green and pleasant pastures. That has helped make the good ship Britannia more self sufficient for food. Hurrah! The downside is the rise of mono-cultures and the loss of hedgerows. Many farmers work damned hard to maintain the wildlife they get on their land, but they're not exactly encouraged. By the way, did you know, there are some 500 farms in Greater London? Some are very small, but they are just about surviving.
I grew up in the countryside and the fields were riots of colourful flowers, alive with butterflies, bees and birds. These days that countryside is instead a quiet patchwork of single colours - yellow for rapeseed, green for silage, purple for lavender and so on. Now, I live in east London and most of the children in the schools I visit have never seen the sort of countryside I took for granted. They don't know what's been lost, so how can we expect them to campaign for it? It's as relevant to their lives as the Sisters of Mercy are to the Catholic Church.
The strange thing is, that just as I migrated to the city, so have hay meadows. There are several parks, gardens and green spaces that remind of the rolling hills of Herefordshire, which from a distance looked like someone had thrown down a collection of Pollock pictures; green backgrounds studded with splashes of colour. Some have been planted up by us (The RSPB), some by local councils and some by enterprising individuals who've reclaimed wasteland for wildlife and people.
Is it any surprise then that you find 700 or so species in a single urban park? Just think about it. Lots of nectar, lots of seed, lots of places in which bugs and beasties can work, rest and play as a well worn chocolate bar catchline has it. With all that carbohydrate (seed) and protein (bugs and beasties), you're sure to get other critters moving in next door to enjoy the bounty.
Sorry, I have chocolate on the brain this week. We're launching [July 20] a LOVE NATURE Chocolate bar produced in a wildlife and rainforest friendly way via fairtrade producers. Any more right on than this and you'd turn into Thom Yorke. Stay tuned for more on the chocolate!
London's gardens, parks and scruffy bits are never going to replace what's been lost from the big open spaces beyond the M25, but it creates sanctuaries for some of the wildlife that we could otherwise lose. Cast your wild seed on the ground, sit back with a Love Nature bar and cast off any guilt.