We are in the dog days of December and until recently the weather has been very mild. Now each morning we wake to a hard frost covering every surface with a fuzzy coat and freezing the water in the bird bath to a solid lump. The geraniums are tucked up safe in their frost proof shelter but the winter violas have taken a hit.
I started to write about my urban wildlife garden exactly two years ago and to be honest little has changed since that time. The dwarf apple tree still has a couple of stubborn leaves which refuse to fall and the rose bush, confused by the early December warmth has thrown out a tentative bud or two. The snails and slugs are in hibernation and the shed mice only emerge every few days, sleeping through the colder patches. Only the birds remain seriously active as they visit the feeder station each morning, queuing in the branches of the bare apple tree.
In the last two years I have seen an explosion in the starling population, who visit on mass, squabble, feed and depart, leaving peace and quiet to return to the garden. The pigeons are healthy and very few of them have crooked toes. I was appalled feeding the pigeons at London Waterloo station to see how many of them had club feet and mangled toes.
I do believe we have the healthiest wildlife out here in the suburbs, away from the pesticides of the country and the indifference of the inner city. Our urban foxes are beautiful because so many of us townies put out scraps to feed them. I know I do and I am rewarded with the sight of them in my garden every evening, with their white faces looking up anxiously at the window to see if it is safe to take the food; always cautious. They have their own social order and when the Alpha fox arrives no-one else gets a look in. The younger foxes cow down in the street and wait their turn. The big Alpha male, looking more like a sleek wolf than a fox, eats uninterrupted but knows when to stop. As he slides out of the garden with a flick of his white-tipped tail I can see that he has left food in both trays for the younger ones to enjoy. They squeeze through the gate together and chase the trays around the garden licking up every morsel. So why would a wild animal not take all the food, is that a sign of compassion? I know that we ridicule any suggestion that animals might have human traits, but that is just so that we can continue to hunt them and treat them appallingly in the false belief that they have no emotional connection.
So two years on and nothing much has changed but it’s all going to be very different soon. Behind our garden wall there will be a new development of high rise flats and houses. I will look out of my window to see the side wall of a block of flats two and a half stories high. Hopefully, the trees to the left hand side will remain but the view into the distance will be a thing of the past. This is how it is for urban dwellers. We are being more densely packed into the space as larger houses are knocked down and an estate of smaller properties is built in its place. More houses, more people, more cars, less grass and fewer trees. Nature, I’m sure will survive. Nature always does as it has the power to adapt. I’m not so sure about myself. As I get older my powers of adaptation have weakened and of course, I have the memories of how it used to be. Any new tenant in this house will never know a view different to a brick wall. They won’t look out wistfully and remember what it was like to see the sun rise on a winter morning spreading a red glow across the frozen horizon. But the one thing you can be certain of is that everything changes and I guess I will have to change as well.
What is clear is that there is even more reason to maintain a safe haven for wildlife in my increasingly crowded urban environment. More people could also mean more bird feeders and more scraps for the foxes if we take a bit of time and trouble. It’s not all bad. I will continue to put out my mealworm, juicy fat balls and high quality seed and it will be interesting to see how the wildlife adapts to the new bricks and mortar when it arrives.
As the old year meets the new year and modern life crowds in around me. I take my leave from this blog. Thank you for joining me in my urban wildlife garden over the last two years. I have enjoyed sharing with you stories of the many creatures who find my tiny, paved garden to be a wildlife oasis. As we all learn to get along together in an increasingly crowded world it is important that we leave some space for diversity and take a bit of time to protect and enjoy the wildlife on our doorstep.