Combatting the ‘Urban Misconception’

I have just returned from a school-run Geography trip to East London, examining urbanisation & regeneration in the area, particularly focusing on Stratford, Canary Wharf & Woolwich. Whilst I was there, I managed to squeeze in some birding. Although London isn’t a particularly birdy area, I accumulated a fair species total.

Having made an early start, the bus arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in good time on the 15th, and we set to work carrying out quality of life surveys & answering questions about redevelopment. Whilst there, I was pleasantly surprised to hear both Sedge & Reed Warblers singing from clumps of reeds amongst the park’s rivers & channels. Having left my binoculars at home for fear of them being stolen by my school ‘friends’, a distant thrush had to go unidentified.


I then had what my Geography teacher terms a ‘PAGM’, or Phenomenally Awesome Geographical Moment, except in my case it was in ornithological terms (or you could call it a PAOM).

My good friend Elliot Montieth up on the Wirral Peninsula patches Birkenhead Docks right in the middle of the city (you can find his blog here). When talking about first starting at his patch, he talked about the ‘Urban Misconception’ in that people don’t think that many birds turn up in cities. Well, the reason it’s a Misconception is because on his patch, a derelict dockland site in the middle of Birkenhead, he finds not one but two Great Northern Divers! He also sees Red Kite & Scaup, which are both on the Red List in the UK.

I think this can also be applied to East London. For example, on the way to the hostel we were staying in we stopped several times at Canada Water, a disused dock with several canals leading up & down it. On there, there were at least three pairs of breeding Great Crested Grebes.


This was wonderful as I have only seen them in the Norfolk Broads, at Titchwell RSPB & in Belgium (again along a canal, this time in Ypres). There were also many Tufted Ducks, a few Sedge Warblers and even a flyover Common Tern, again birds you wouldn’t normally associate with urban areas. The nearby Surrey Water held similar birds, as did the body of water immediately east of London City Airport & West India Quay.


The Thames Barrier Park was also filled with birds, especially three types of hirundine (Swallow, House Martin & Swift), several Curlews & a hovering Kestrel over the Thames.



While there I met a birder who has seen Common Scoter and even Firecrest in the confines of London.

The regeneration in East London has been enormous, first with the LDDC developing Canary Wharf & the Isle of Dogs, then the constructors of the Olympic Park in Stratford & Hackney Wick. Unfortunately, the former did not consider the environment overly in its plans & the latter had to destroy a park & an area of marshland during its construction. This is what the politicians call ‘development’. Fortunately enough, the Olympic Park conserved the canals in the River Lee (or Lea) & planted several extensive reedbeds amongst them. Lots of trees were also planted, and it was from these that the unidentified thrush flew from (probably Mistle owing to size & season).




In order to combat the ‘urban misconception’, I think it needs to be emphasised that we must make our cities more green & perhaps create more wildlife areas. In London, there is one WWT reserve (at Barnes, near Chelsea) & one RSPB reserve (at Rainham Marshes) and another 142 ‘local’ nature reserves & SSSIs. Unfortunately, Stratford Marsh was destroyed by the Olympic Developement, but the canal system was spared. Studies show that Nairobi has (apparently) the most greenspace within its city boundaries, including a protected area of rainforest, several heritage parks & a memorial park. London, however, does not perform quite as well (roughly two-thirds of the city is greenspace) despite the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park being much more environmentally friendly than what was at Stratford.


So, how much of the Stratford & Canary Wharf development is environmentally beneficial? The answer, probably not much as previously thought. Most of the birds of interest were seen in existing canal systems such as those in the Olympic Park & in Canada Water, etc. Though these were spared, which was in part down to the LDDC and other organisations, not enough was done, in my opinion, to combat the urban ‘misconception’ and environmental issues facing urban areas, save for planting a few trees which held next to nothing.

I hope you enjoyed this slightly different blog post: my regular series will return very soon.



Canada Water

Luke Nash


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