Habitats – welcome to the Urban Jungle – it’s closer than you think…

by Vicky Woodgate

When was the last time you came across a wild animal in a city centre? When we think of wildlife we usually think of creatures living in the countryside, up hills and mountains, in streams, deep in forests and fields, in rivers and by the sea. But wildlife also thrives in the urban environment, in the towns and cities where we go to school, where we work, shop, eat and play.

As the world’s wild habitats shrink and our towns and cities grow, it’s not surprising that animals are adapting to live among us. Working on the ‘Urban Jungle’ my new city map book, has taught me numerous facts about them. I especially like foxes. There are now over 150,000 urban foxes in the U.K. These night-time patrollers hunt the streets for mice and rats and the occasional discarded burger! Bournemouth has possibly the most foxes per square kilometre in the UK, maybe helped by the green suburban gardens, followed by London, Bristol, Brighton and Newcastle. They’re territorial and their numbers are self-regulating, which means there will never be too many foxes in one area – other foxes will drive them away and many cubs never make it to adulthood.

So what else can we expect to see in British urban environments? In our capital London, there’s a surprising amount of animals, from huge red deer in Richmond Park to harbour porpoises and seals in the Thames. There are peregrine falcons nesting right in the city centre among the high-rises and famous buildings such as the Tate Modern and the Shard. These falcons are doing very well across the world in cities right now. They use the tall buildings like cliff faces, diving at high speeds of over 300 km per hour to catch their favourite meal – the pigeon. With so many pigeons they will never go hungry. You can see why they have moved in with us! Why not look up at the tall buildings in your town and see if you can spot this bird of prey, or maybe even a kestrel? Hint: There’s a pair that lives on the Manchester Clock Tower!

Otters have also made a comeback after almost disappearing, thanks to new laws of protection and cleaner rivers and streams. Bristol has some urban otters making frequent appearances in the River Frome.

My studio is in the centre of Brighton, a city by the sea. There is a tiny area of green opposite my building. Last winter l put birdfeeders out when it got cold. Soon enough blackbirds, blue tits, robins and sparrows were visiting and eating LOTS! Imagine my surprise when I looked out the window one day and saw a sparrowhawk sitting on a branch, eyeing up the sparrows… The tiny birds swiftly fled and the hawk stayed a while to pick at his mighty talons. Then he flew off in a majestic sweep in search of dinner.

Nature really is wonderful. And with a little help from us, our urban environment could be even richer with diverse creatures we can enjoy and share our life with.

I’d love my readers to get inspired when visiting cities and towns around the world, or use my book as an eye-opener at home. What wildlife can you spot in your neighbourhood?

2 responses to “Habitats – welcome to the Urban Jungle – it’s closer than you think…”

  1. I live in Golders Green North West London. Although we are a dense urban environment there is a brook running between the houses and gardens opposite. At night I often hear the hooting of an owl. Our streets and gardens team with foxes, all kinds of birds, squirrels and once a family of hedgehogs…they sound like pigs sniffling for food!

  2. Åsa says:

    And what a wonderful contribution you’ve made by creatibg your book! It’ll help people spot the wildlife on their urban doorsteps.