A study of bird numbers, used to reflect the health of our environment, has revealed a north and south divide; with birds doing better in the north than they are in the south.
It's a huge generalisation, but it does paint a fairly desperate picture, and that's where we are. Politicians and bankers are all performing headless chicken contortions, but they need to know that long-term recovery plans MUST include environmental protection and improvements. What use is a healthy bank balance in a biodiversity bankrupt world.
Back to those Bird Indicator figures. The Capital has bucked national trends for the south, and has seen an average 6% increase in bird numbers compared with 1994. So what's going on?
The study looks at woodland, farmland and a more general list of birds. It started in 1994 and that's our baseline. Here's a handy table to help compare figures, it shows the percentage difference against the 1994 baseline.
Average change (%)
South East England
South West England
North East England
East of England
Yorkshire & Humber
Yorkshire 7 Humber
North West England
Of London's woodland birds, great spotted woodpecker, blackcap, great tit and chaffinch are doing well. Song thrush and blackbird numbers are both down
Farmland birds are having a good time. Goldfinch are increasing more here than anywhere else in England. Greenfinch and wood pigeon are flourishing but starling's well down.
In the All Birds category. Of the 62 species surveyed, 21 are declining with house sparrow showing the biggest falls. 29 of the 62 species are increasing, with collared dove leading the charge.
So London's doing alright? No. It's not. The city's not broken, but as far as wildlife is concerned, it is creaking at the edges. It does have more food around than the countryside and is a degree or two warmer, so it's become a sort of mixed-up non-refuge. Rampant development and under investment in our public green spaces could push things over the edge. London needs a green revolution if the headline "City Breaks" is to refer to holidays and not the loss of its wildlife.
The causes of the changes in bird numbers are complex and vary between species. What we’re looking at is a mix of influences. These include this year’s early drought and climate change; loss of food and habitat, and disease and predation.
The good news is, there's something we can all do. The crucial news is that what's behind these statistics are changes to our environment; and that's why we should all give a damn.
Londoners can help by managing communal and outdoor space in a way that supports wildlife, by putting out additional food and water and by keeping feeders clean.
Individuals can also help by supporting RSPB campaigns to retain and clarify laws protecting our wildlife and the countryside.
Our Government, industry, bankers and commerce can help by investing in job creation that improves our surroundings and encourages good stewardship of our environment.
It's awesome. Standing on Southwark Bridge as I was the other day, looking over the edge in to the river. The sheer volume and movement of water is astounding and mesmerizing. Is the Thames London's greatest but most ignored asset?
It's a muddy emerald of a river that used to be the Capital's main artery. Talk to people wandering along the southbank and you soon learn that many consider it to be the city's alimentary canal. The heavy downpours of last Tuesday led to 50,000 metric tonnes of raw sewage pouring into the London section of the Thames and David Walliams' heroic swim was testament to its toxicity. Yet I still LOVE the Thames. We should all be swimming in it.
Why do we ignore it? Developers along the northbank seem mostly to pretend it isn't there, hiding it from sight. It's the reason London is here. It's why early Britons settled and (concertina-ing history) where Romans laid the foundations for the Tudors to develop and the Victorians to over-engineer. I love the Thames.
It's been semi-domesticated and chanelled in places. Restricted by stone, metal and wood, it is a sexy beast; witness (right) its sinewy curves and coy embarrassment as it slips behind the Gherkin before brushing Canary Wharf and sweeping round the Isle of Dogs.
Sir Joseph Bazalgette is the engineer who designed our London sewerage system to transform the Thames from open sewer to pristine river. London had 2.5 million residents then. Now we're heading for 8M. Bazalgette would no doubt be proud to see his design still very much in use, but I bet he'd be dismayed by the state of the river.
We're heading towards the same issues he grappled with. The mighty Thames is grim, but even now it still supports some 300,000+ migrant birds every year out in its estuary, and its banks and valley are overflowing with acronyms [SSSI, SINCS, NNRs, SPA's, SACs. etc], which all mean it is incredibly important for wildlife.
Here in London. Yes, we have gulls of various description, cormorants, terns, grey herons, waders and dabblers. There are even some fish. Awards have been presented to groups who've cleaned up tributaries like the fabulous Wandle, and for the re-surfacing of the Quaggy. Yet attempts to restock the Thames with salmon have proved near fruitless. It's too polluted to support the full range of wildlife that we could and indeed should have swimming, bobbing, diving and thriving through the city.
So what's to be done. Individuals can help by softening any outdoor hard surfaces they can, such as car parking in front gardens or concrete patios. It reduces run-off into the drains. Avoid putting dodgy stuff down drains, such as fats, oils and other dubious liquids. Fix any leaky taps or pipes and almost finally, lobby MP's and MEP's. Then, please do share your views with us on our joint OUR RIVERS campaign webpage. Government, both local and national, should review legislation and work with developers and engineers to improve drainge; and utility companies have a role to play too. Thames Water has a plan on how to improve Bazalgette's sewers. Maybe a reality TV show called Pimp My Sewer would help them win public support?
We should be celebrating it's watery beauty and respecting its majestic power. Almost all of the peregrine falcons living wild in London (and there are now more than twenty pairs compared with zilch a decade ago) are along the banks of the Thames. The fact that fishing fans are miffed by the presence of grey herons and comorants living on the river around Kew and elsewhere proves there is life in them there waters.
Tell me you share my love. Whisper J'Thames in my ear. Let warm feelings for it trickle into your physche. Leap into its embrace and explore its life affirming beauty. Maybe venture beyond the M25 and explore its wider reaches at Rainham, North Kent Marshes or Canvey Island. Hey, throw caution to the wind, go for a chilly paddle at Southend or suck on a cockle at Margate.
Whatever you do, please enjoy and help the Thames.
Sunday 11 September is our last day at the Tate Modern, where we've been pointing out a pair of peregrine falcons perched on the gallery's iconic chimney to passers-by.
These birds can reach jaw-dropping speeds in excess of 200 miles an hour when diving on prey. That makes them the fastest living creatures on the planet! If you want to see them through our telescopes, be there before we pack-up on Sunday evening. Peregrines were once extinct in London. We now have more than twenty breeding pairs living wild in the capital. They feed primarily on pigeons but also eat other birds, some small mammals and even insects.
They are nature's work of art and, Tate Modern and the birds permitting, we'll be back on site again next July to put them back in the frame.
They're not the only birds of prey living wild in London. We have owls, kestrels, hawks and kites. In fact, the capital is a great place for spotting a whole range of birds .. and that range is about to get even bigger. As Autumn descends, winter migrants will start to arrive, settling down on reservoirs, lakes and waterways in our parks, gardens and public spaces.
"Who cares?" I hear you cry. Well. some people are passionate about birds, others just like to watch the different signs that mark the changing seasons. Whatever your views on nature's cycles we all have to bear in mind that we're not separate from nature; we're part of it. Even if you hate the outdoors and all the birds, bugs and other critters it contains you can't escape nature. One way or another, what happens in the real world eventually seeps through to the virtual one too. So switch off your Xbox, take a break from your social media page and go feel a tree trunk or rub some soil between your fingers or toes. Get really interactive. You can always Tweet details later.
Having "experienced" nature. You could consider going further and here are four options for you to consider:
Join us in challenging the Government's proposals to either: a. scrap environmental protection or b. alter the National Planning Policy Framework
Sow or lay a lawn - preferably containing wildliflowers - ready to enjoy next spring and summer
Volunteer with one of our many local groups
Make a donation to our young RSPB supporters' Marine appeal
Three of these actions can be done from the comfort of your armchair and two are more active. All of them are designed to make your life, as part of nature, better.
I'm sure a couple of days ago I was too hot out in the sun. I remember my beans and tomatoes gasping for moisture. Today, I'm trying to save them from drowning, as wave after wave of freak torrential rain lashes London.
If it were a degree or two warmer, I could be forgiven for thinking I was in India or some tropcal rainforest. The dry spring and then mild summer are said to have been great for spiders, but they must be one of the few species to be celebrating. Trees are dropping their leaves early, the garden was generally parched and now these heavy downpours. This can not be good for UK agriculture, or wildlife that will be looking for food to gorge upon ahead of the cold winter ahead.
The RSPB has been pushing hard to encourage people to grow food in gardens for wildlife, rather than rely on seeds or nuts in feeders. But right now, I can't help but worry that there won't be enough natural food, like seeds and berries, to give wildlife a big enough margin of error to come through any freezing spells without losses.
Hopefully the downpours haven't resulted in any flooding or hardship for people, but we have plenty of protection against the elements compared with birds and other wildlife.
Weather permitting, this is the final week of our Tate peregrine Date with Nature. The season culminates with the Thames Festival on Sunday, so don't miss the opportunity to see these regal birds through our FREE telescopes.