Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Locked down in Leicester - Listening to the Birds

If you have to spend the lockdown in the middle of a city in a flat that has no garden, there are worse places to do it than precisely where I am. There are worse places in Leicester to be than precisely where I am at the moment. Which is something to hold onto whilst I miss the countryside and wish I was somewhere easier to get out for long walks, and where an hour could be harmlessly stretched in landscapes empty of people.

Despite not getting that much time outside I've been much more aware of the birds and butterflies in my local park because I've actually been spending time in there rather than using it as a short cut to other places. It's this park which is making lockdown bearable, it's got a river and a few bits of fairly unkempt green space adjacent to it (a graveyard and the old castle motte) as well as a couple of other more formal gardens (belonging to the university and Newarke houses museum).

Moving towards the city centre there's another churchyard, St Nicholas which backs onto the Jewry wall museum (Roman remains of the old city walls some of which are built into the church), Jubilee square which is mostly patches of fairly sterile grass, but takes you on to the cathedral gardens which has a few older trees amongst the new planting and is home to peregrines.

I've taken this corridor for wildlife through the middle of the city towards the river very much for granted until this year. It's not a lot of space in the scheme of things, but it is very nature friendly. The first indication of this was walking back from my local Tesco through the university's newest green space. It looks good - green grass, young trees, some other formal planting, but as soon as you're a few feet away from the river the bird song is gone. There are pigeons and crows but little else.

The bigger surprise was The New Walk, a tree lined route from the city to Victoria Park which is probably the biggest green space in the city. Victoria park is basically a mown field, very useful for playing football on, having concerts on, festivals, circuses, that kind of thing, but not a wildlife haven. The New Walk (over 200 years old) though has gardens all along it, and a couple of little park like spaces. I thought it to would be full of bird song today, but it was very muted. Which all underlines something discussed on Melissa Harrison's new podcast The Stubborn Light of Things about just how bad we've become at making space for nature.

It could be easy enough even in the middle of a city, the park on my doorstep shows it, but space needs to be made in the right places and planting has to be for wildlife, not people. Having these places in cities is a benefit for everyone and I sincerely hope that councils will think more about it on the back of this (although the reality is that they're going to be so pressed dealing with the social care fall out of Covid and lockdown that on current budgets it seems unlikely).

As it stands perhaps the best we can do is appreciate and protect what we've got. So far the space around where I live is being used reasonably responsibly and is open, although as the weeks go on, and if the weather stays as good as it has been who knows how long that'll last. What I do know is I certainly won't be taking it for granted again.

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