Category Archives: urban nature in Britain

Urban fox on the 72nd floor

The construction company currently finishing off the Shard building in London, which will be the UK’s tallest skyscraper, recently had to call the council to remove a squatter from the 72nd floor: a young fox.  He was surviving on scraps left by builders.  After a check-up at the Riverside Animal Centre, the fox has been released on the streets of Bermondsey, having shown the type of curiosity we associate with cats.

GDT wildlife photography award for Leeds photo

Among this year’s GDT wildlife photography awards, winner of the “Man and Nature” category is this photograph of Leeds city centre, taken by Paul Hodson.  So where’s the nature, you might ask.  If you look at the traffic light, a small silhouette is visible against the amber: it’s a Mistle Thrush sitting on a nest.

Are foxes dangerous to cats?

On a recent BBC wildlife podcast, fox expert Professor Steve Harris, Bristol University stated that the average urban fox will kill a cat every 6 years, and that some 500 cats live in every fox territory. So the risk is tiny.

A Bristol City Council leaflet writen by Professor Harris gives the follwoing advice:

This is very rare; a survey in northwest Bristol, where foxes were particularly common, showed that they killed 0.7% of the cats each year and these were predominantly young kittens. This means your cat is far more likely to be run over, stray or die from a variety of other causes.

Foxes are only a little bit bigger than a cat (males average about 5.5 kilograms) and are equipped with a set of sharp teeth. Cats have an equally sharp set of teeth, plus some pretty unpleasant sharp claws. If a fox tackles a cat, it risks severe injuries and that is the last thing it wants. Every night a single fox will meet many, perhaps dozens of cats and most encounters are either indifferent or amicable.

Cats and foxes will usually ignore each other. However, some cats are aggressive animals and will go for a fox, sometimes to drive it away from their garden or food bowl. Usually a fox will flee but if this is not practical and particularly if it is cornered, it may defend itself against the cat. Then both animals may be injured.

Finally, although foxes live in family groups and meet up periodically to play or socialise, they hunt alone. So stories of “packs of foxes” roaming the streets killing pet cats are totally fictitious.

Above photo from Wiki Commons of fox and pet rabbit by Oosoom.

Foxes on the doorstep

An alleged fox attack on twin baby girls, while they slept upstairs in their east London home, has made front page news and provoked considerable debate.  As people swap their fox experiences, an interesting picture emerges of fox behaviour in an urban setting.

The comments posted in the Guardian suggest that the fox density in certain areas of London is very high, with not enough food to go round, in some cases resulting in a population of unhealthy, short-lived animals.  These city and suburban foxes have lost their fear of people and see them as a potential source of food, with some extraordinary encounters taking place: Continue reading Foxes on the doorstep

Urban bee project

The Co-op is further expanding its Plan Bee campaign by providing aspiring urban bee-keepers with free training and equipment. Life in the city can be better for bees than in the countryside, points out Chris Shearlock, the Co-op’s Environment Manager:

They can find flowers in city parks and gardens, and they are away from some of the pesticides that are threatening them on farmland. It’s a misconception to think that they won’t thrive in cities and towns. I’ve heard of honey being sold from apiaries around King’s Cross station in London.

In the end, what’s going to save the British honeybee, whose population has dropped sharply in the last 25 years, is its value to the economy: as fruit-tree pollinators and annual producers of 5,000 tonnes of honey, they’re worth 165m a year. Independent

Peregrine falcon filmed hunting at night


It has long been known that peregrines hunt at night, but film evidence has been lacking. Now, webcameras installed at the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project have captured them doing it in the dark.

Aided by city lights, at 10.45pm on a freezing winters night, an adult peregrine brings a freshly caught Woodcock back to its feeding place on the tower of Derby Cathedral. We see the bird struggling in the firm grip of the peregrine’s talons. But one swift bite to the neck of its prey swiftly dispatches it. But then the peregrine takes off into the night again, settling first on a projecting lead gutter, then flying off to take yet another prey item. Peregrines are known to cache food items for later consumption, and cold weather may well prompt them to stock up even more. At this time of year we see species like woodcock, golden plover, snipe, redwing and lapwing as favourite prey items, and evidence of prey items help us monitor what species are moving through our towns.

Peregrine Falcons first nested on Derby Cathedral in 2006. Four chicks fledged in mid-June 2009, but one died in a flying accident and another injured its wing and must remain in care. More here from the project.

Unusual birds in the garden

Birds are struggling to survive in the harsh winter conditions but it’s a good opportunity to watch them without having to move from the warmth of a living room.  Those keeping bird tables well stocked and maintaining a supply of unfrozen water have been recompensed by unusual sightings: the RSPB have received several calls about woodcock and snipe visiting gardens.  People who have long dreamt of attracting fieldfares and redwings are  finally being rewarded, as these species lose their habitual shyness.

Competition among birds is fierce, as comments on Birdforum.net reflect.  One poster heard loud screeching in the garden and saw a house sparrow had been plucked from the bird table.   By a sparrowhawk perhaps?  In fact, it was dangling from the bill of a collared dove, who had grabbed it by the wing as they fought over food.  The sparrow managed to struggle free.

Photo of woodcock posted on Flickr by Ian Taylor

Fox in the London Underground

This fox was photographed in Walthamstow Central underground station late on a Saturday night.  After running down the escalators, it was shooed back up again by workers and apparently left the station quite calmly in front of surprised onlookers.  The image captures what an urban animal the fox has become.  Full story in Daily Telegraph

Foxes move to the city

Foxes are now more common in urban areas than the countryside, according to an RSPB survey about wildlife in Britain’s gardens: 38% of urban nature-watchers had seen one compared to 23% in rural areas. Large zones of the countryside have become inhospitable to wildlife, with intensive mono-crops and no hedgerows or woods to provide cover. So it’s no wonder that urban areas, full of potential hiding places and easy pickings in rubbish bins, are becoming increasingly attractive habitats for foxes.

The rise in the urban fox population is giving more business to pest controllers, who are called to trap the animals and have them put down. But this is a flawed strategy, as the RSPB point out:

Fox culling is unlikely to have any effect on the urban fox population. If a fox is removed from a food rich area, its territories will simply be seized by another. The most humane and long-term solution to deterring foxes is to remove or prevent access to things that are attracting them to the area, like food and shelter. Foxes can also be deterred by barriers such as fencing or prickly plants and chemical repellents.

Daily Telegraph

Where to watch Red Deer rutting

Red deer – Britain’s largest land mammals – are at their most impressive during the autumn rut, when they advertise their power by prolonged roaring. There are many places to watch and listen to this natural spectacle, but perhaps the most accessible is Richmond Park in southwest London. Continue reading Where to watch Red Deer rutting

Help for Cockney sparrows

The London Wildlife Trust and the Peabody Housing Association have got together to ensure housing estates in London are more sparrow-friendly.  Planned activities include “planting grasses and flowers to attract the protein-rich aphids, caterpillars and weevils that nestlings love to feed on” and building nest boxes, not only for sparrows but other urban flying species, like bats, swifts and house martins.  More information

Gardens on London’s barges

Garden Barge Square

One of the most unusual corners of London is the remarkable Garden Barge Square (Photo: Drew Bennellick) where a community of barge owners live right by next to Tower Bridge. These historic moorings date back 200 years or more. Gardens have been created on the decks of many of the barges to form a kind of floating garden square. But be warned barge living is not as romantic it first might seem. The Thames is cold, damp and grey in winter and the cabins are cramped. See more on Tree Hugger.

See also: Anatomy of a garden: Barge gardens (The Guardian) “Floating on the Thames just downstream from Tower Bridge are the most extraordinary gardens, yet thanks to their illustrious neighbour they’re largely unnoticed.”

Urban beehives

The Beehaus

Urban beekeeping is becoming all the rage in Britain. Omlet offers rather attractive hives as pictured above, perfect for installation in a garden or rooftop. They claim the hive, the beehaus, is inspired by the way bees live in the wild and built on the classic principles of beekeeping. They also provide service and support to keep bees in your garden. They also say the beehaus is specially designed for keeping bees in your garden or rooftop. See also New plastic hive promises affordable beekeeping (Guardian)

Green roofs

When a million-strong swarm of ladybirds landed on Blackdown Horticultural farm recently, every time the staff ventured outside they were coated in insects. But the red cloud brought good publicity for their enterprise:  green roof installation.

The swarm had arrived to feast on aphids living on pesticide-free sedum plants, a staple of green roofs since these succulents are drought-resistant and thrive in well-drained conditions. Continue reading Green roofs

Chirpy cockney sparrows

As elsewhere in the country house sparrows have dramatically declined in London, losing almost two thirds of their numbers between 1994 and 2007. An exception to this sorry state of afffairs is The Tower of London with its thriving colony. The RSPB has seen a great opportunity to remind local residents, tourists and city workers what lovely birds they are by organising a sparrow-special Date with Nature event for four long weekends each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from today (July 31st) to Sunday 23rd August. Birdwatch