Urban Spaces Can Be Wildlife Friendly
I think that it is now safe to say that urban areas are finally being recognised as viable places to observe nature. Although your local high street will never rival some the natural delights to be encountered out of town, it certainly will have its own merits. By switching on your urban ‘wildlife radar’ you are certain to discover species that you just did not expect.
As you may know, my interest in birds was ignited at a young age by watching the birds in my garden. They have always been a major source of enjoyment for me especially as you just never know what is around the corner. Gardens are a great place to start watching birds. And, by supplying good food and fresh water plus, by providing nesting places and planting insect attracting flora you should be onto a winner. But, in truth, it is not always that way. Success in attracting birds to your garden often depends on location and the type of back door space that you have inherited. Also, with space at a premium, not everyone has the luxury of owning a garden in our urban centres.
I have watched the goings on in my mum’s garden for all my life. This garden became my first patch that I watched avidly especially before school. It threw up many surprises over the years including a migrant Common Redstart that I discovered hopping up the garden path and was indeed, a new species for my growing list. Fast forward to adulthood when I lived with my best friend in his townhouse in Notting Hill, West London. On paper, his back garden is everything that I denounced in a British garden: the complete opposite of my childhood memories. Although small - which is not a problem - it was completely paved wall-to-wall, encased by high brick walls backing onto other similarly sized barren gardens. To crown it all, all the gardens are bordered by tall terraced housing: a veritable urban concrete canyon. At least the garden didn’t have any astroturf!
I remember peering at the garden through the back window for the first time thinking that I would be lucky to see a Feral Pigeon there. I did not even consider seeing a House Sparrow because unfortunately, they were all but extinct in that neighbourhood. Then a messenger from the avian gods arrived to give me a massive ray of hope. A few days into my tenancy I got a surprise as I watched a Grey Wagtail busily picking off insects from slabs – miles from the nearest lick of water. That was all the inspiration I needed. With my friend’s blessing, I appointed myself as the garden’s warden. Due to the lack of trees, I installed a freestanding Brooklyn Bird Table that had two separate layers for placing food. I also employed a Conqueror 12 Port Seed Feeder that was immediately patronised by the half of West London’s tits. Not forgetting the ground loving birds, I installed a Deluxe Combi Ground Feeding Table. Finally, I put up a Hanging Water Bowl so that the birds could enjoy a bath out of the reach of marauding cats.
I then got someone in to put up a trellis on one of the walls and had ivy planted to provide both cover from predators, but it is also very beneficial to insects. The raised concrete beds at each end of the garden were quickly populated with thistles and I generally left the rest to nature. It seemed only to take a few minutes before the garden was colonised by Common Orb Weavers whose webs proliferated the vegetation by the autumn.
The local small birds like Robins, Dunnocks, Blue and Great Tits were not slow to discover the new food source. Swiftly following them were Blackbirds, Starlings and the occasional Wren although strangely and perhaps thankfully, no Feral Pigeons. The latter’s absence I put down to providing a quality seed without cheap bulking cereal - of which Hi-Energy No Mess rates highly.
Well, over the 10 years that I lived there I recorded an impressive 55 species both in and over my concrete patch. It seems that by implementing the simplest measures to attract birds and other nature to your garden can pay dividends. Don’t think that your garden is barren ground because if I can get birds to visit my concrete paradise then you could too.
23 January 2020
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