Initially published on the Ramblers Association's website
The parks, gardens and other recreational spaces around our towns and cities don't just provide us humans with a glimpse of ‘green' in an otherwise monotone landscape, they also provide wildlife with an opportunity to enjoy some of the benefits of urban living. This may seem at odds with the idea of living in a genuinely open space, but the urban environment can provide advantages.
For some our towns and cities can provide additional security, although the occasional pigeon that falls prey to city dwelling peregrine falcons might dispute this. Built-up areas also provide warmth on cold nights, part of the reason you see so many birds roosting in bushes and trees in cities during the winter. And then there is available food. Sadly all too often we humans not only waste vast amounts of food but when we do we don't care how we dispose of it. This waste provides an easy source of nutrition (although the nutritional benefits of a half-eaten kebab are debatable). Sadly and all too often it's the wildlife that is blamed when they are seen taking advantage of this opportunity.
Urban foxes take up residence in gardens with territories that can stretch over many streets. They set up homes under sheds and, as just mentioned, make full use of the food on offer in bins and in gutters. Bat's, roosting in lofts and increasingly scarce old buildings, can often be seen at dusk on a summers evening flitting over gardens trying to feed on the ever decreasing numbers of insects. Sadly for them, the opportunity to scavenge cold chips isn't available to them.
At lower levels many rodents are only too happy to live close to people, something they seemed to cotton-on to many generations ago when we began storing and milling grain. There's a fine line between having a few interesting mice scurrying around your garden to them becoming a nuisance when they decide they want to live even closer and happily chew their way through parts of your home. But these provide vital food for owls, the foxes and peregrines we mentioned earlier.
Sadly hedgehogs, which used to be a common sight in many gardens or scurrying around urban areas at night, is all too rare. The ‘gardeners friend' due to its love of slugs and other pests, is now a rarely seen. Habitat loss and the use of pesticides are part of the reason for the reduction in numbers. Our changing climate too is causing problems for this hibernating animal as is the decline in insect numbers and our desire for more managed gardens making is sometimes impossible for hedgehogs to move from garden to garden to find food.
It's not just gardens that offer a home to a wide range of species, parks and other green spaces such as allotments, canal towpaths, riverbanks and even verges alongside roads and rail lines all play a part in providing a home in the city. Roadside verges (which all too often are mown to within an inch of their lives), towpaths and even the scrubby areas alongside rail tracks also provide a route between areas that allow animals to move, often without being noticed.
But what all life needs is water, and so any area that offers access to this vital resource is going to be popular with the wildlife of the area. Ponds and small watercourses will be a haven for amphibians and insects such as dragonflies. Swallows, house martins and swifts also make use of the mud on offer close to ponds and rivers. This is the main material used to build their nests, and given the ponds ability to attract insects (the bird's main food) it illustrates how important this type of habitat is.
So when you add to this mix grey squirrels in our parks and gardens, rabbits often in open spaces and even the likes of moles popping up, often unwelcome, urban areas provide many different opportunities to see wildlife. Sometimes more than you might initially expect. When you take into account the bird life that also calls these same areas ‘home' you will not be at a loss for something to look at if you decide to explore these sometimes built up areas.
So while you are walking in your neighbourhood try to remember what naturalist, David Lindo - the Urban Birder says, "look up”.
© Phil Pickin.