By Helen Jeffries – FFON’s London Correspondent.
Since people have been allowed out for as much exercise as they want, and have been gradually returning to work, London feels more like itself. When I go out to work I see a lot more people about and there is also more noise of traffic. I’m sure it’s nothing like what it was before lockdown yet, but having been used to the silence it seems all the more intrusive for there to be people and noise. I’m sure there’s an effect because I went to a takeaway coffee shot to buy a round of drinks for colleagues and was almost knocked over by the unaccustomed lights and sounds two months after I’d last been in there!
Because the main examples of life I’ve seen in the last week have been Homo sapiens i.e. people, I thought I’d write about the life in London that’s most closely related to humanity. For example, while walking back from collecting my prescriptions today, I saw two horses in Vincent Square. Yes, they were being ridden by police officers, but they are still the largest living animal I’ve seen in London for several months. In normal times it’s surprisingly common to see the mounted police out patrolling on horseback. Possibly they do it partly to exercise the horses because I can’t see any other particular need. I asked the police officers if I could photograph the horses and you see the result posted here. There’s something rather special about seeing a horse proceeding down the road.
The most common human-influenced bird on show in the city is, of course, the pigeon. Although Ken Livingstone made major efforts in the 90s to stop people feeding them in Trafalgar Square, it’s definitely still a London tradition to “feed the birds” even if not “tuppence a bag”. Sliced bread is more common. The photo here is of some common feral pigeons (or rock doves if you want to be polite about it) eating the remains of bread left by a pigeon-feeding person. Almost any bench will show evidence of pigeon feeding while sat upon it at times.
My favourite, though controversial, human-influenced mammal running wild in London is the grey squirrel. Of course, they out-competed the reds, and are an invasive non-native species, but they’re also remarkably cute! I see them scampering up and down the tree trunks on my walks to work and they really have dear little faces. In normal times the tourists manage to feed them by hand in St James’ Park.
But I must finish my round-up of “man-made nature” with the most widespread natural/human partnership in my neighbourhood which is, of course, the garden. The photo illustrates a pelargonium in a pot outside my door which attracts lots of bumblebees. Or possibly one continual bumble bee – it’s hard to recognise individuals! Even now there’s more traffic on the roads, the scents from the gardens remain strong and delightfully intrusive on my walks home at night. There’s a good crop of jasmine this season and the wisteria is also in full bloom and I can never resist a lilac flower. People may be becoming more visible and audible in London, and it’s probably a good thing, but the scents of nature remain strong and long may it continue!