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Top 5: Wildlife Spotting in London

6 September 2018 Suzanne Frost

You’d be forgiven for thinking that wildlife in London is mostly rats, grey squirrels (rats in cuter costumes, as Carrie Bradshaw once noted) and unpleasant creepy-crawlies. But as any other urban jungle, London offers food and shelter to animals that are incredibly adaptable to an urban environment. For animal lovers, there are cuter things to find than pigeons and seagulls, so keep your eyes peeled!

Foxes down the street


Urban foxes are a bit like rats or Coca Cola – you are never really more 6 feet away from one. Research estimates that there are 18 foxes per km2 in the capital, with even more density in North than South London. They might be as common as muck but still, there is something a little magical about meeting an urban fox on a quiet street late at night. Easily combining the very best attributes of dogs and cats, they are elegant, clever and roam around with a nonchalance that is simply charming – that is if they are not busy scattering the content of you bins all over your front step or make disturbing shrieking sounds all through the night. They keep the city rats under control though, which is pretty great, and they look damn cute doing it. You can spot an urban fox on pretty much any night and any borough, and locking eyes with a fox after a long night out or when you have an early train to catch you may recognise in his judgmental look a fellow Londoner, going about his business at stupid o'clock, super adapted to the urban jungle and not in the mood to chat.
 
 
Deer in Richmond Park


The largest animal you’re likely to find in the wild in London is the herds of deer in Richmond Park. Deer are early risers and you are most likely to catch them at dawn before the dogwalkers and runners make them skittish. The larger red deer are a little more courageous than fallow deer. In the summer months the undergrowth is high but now with autumn around the corner, they will be easier to spot.  But deer are not confined to Richmond Park. Small muntjac deer in particular are on the increase, and have been seen in woods in Waltham Forest, Tooting and Sydenham Hill Wood. They feed on plants and are discreet, unassuming animals, however some conservationists have expressed concern that they may pose a threat in the future if they start foraging in people’s gardens. It seems like a long way off till that happens however. 
 
 
Peregrine Falcons at Tate Modern


These powerful birds of prey only really started moving into the urban sprawl in the 90s, possibly due to their penchant for London’s tasty pigeons. They easily make themselves at home at the top of tall buildings like Battersea Power Station, the Tate Modern, and occasionally tower blocks, however peregrine falcons are among the UK’s rarest predatory birds. Peregrine falcons are protected by law as they have traditionally been a prized catch for hunters, but in London the biggest threat is disturbance to their nests (also, during the Second World War they were actively culled to protect carrier pigeons, used by the RAF to transport messages). These super-fast birds dive in on their prey and then either strike them dead immediately or grab them with their claws while still in flight. With a wingspan of up to a metre, they are both majestic and intimidating. 
 
 
Otters in Haggerston


In 2006, a young Otter was found dead within a mile of Tower Bridge. It was the first wild otter to be found in Central London in 100 years. Although otter numbers in the rivers surrounding London are still low compared to the rest of the country, this is clear evidence that the population around the river Lea is breeding and spreading. A group of nature enthusiasts are now hoping to raise £10,000 to transform the Regent’s Canal into a “living waterway” to entice the voles and otters from the Lea Valley to broaden out their territory. Money will be used by the Wildlife Gardeners of Haggerston to plant shallow areas with yellow flag iris and other native aquatic plants between the Kingsland and Whitmore Road bridges. The idea is to filter the water from excess nutrients and reduce algae and duckweed, to create a pleasant natural environment for the animals to enjoy. Members are also working with the Woodland Trust to replicate woodland edge habitat by planting native hedging, all to tempt the River Thames’ most mysterious inhabitant to move back to the city – literally the opposite of all other Londoners who are usually pushed out to the suburbs!
 

 
Seals in Canary Wharf


Hearing the name Canary Wharf generally conjures up images of the capital's business district but the area is also especially popular with seals. The marine mammals have been seen swimming in the Thames Estuary along with other underwater friends, including porpoises and dolphins. In 2016, one cheeky seal was spotted behind Billingsgate Market, London's most famous fish market, and had perhaps paid a visit in the hope of picking up a tasty treat. The presence of marine mammals in London is a good sign that the Thames which was declared biologically extinct just 50 years ago, is getting cleaner. Hot spots for seals – both common and grey seals – show clusters around Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs – partly because tall office blocks and flats on the riverside have given people a better viewing point. They’re particularly attracted to anglers, for obvious reasons, saving themselves the trouble of finding fish by letting humans do it for them. The ZSL encourages Londoners who spot seals in the Thames to report the sighting so they can collect data for a better understanding and cohabitation with the wondrous marine Londoners.
 
 
 
 
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