It's been a while since I checked into the Urban Life Blog, and there have been some noteworthy developments in the densely built-up area of Fratton in Portsmouth. Some are hopeful, in the sense of wildlife sightings; but conversely some human actions - specifically around tree felling and poorly-timed 'cutting back' - could end up being pretty catastrophic if carried on indefinitely.
On a positive note, our rescue crow ('Mortimer') appears to be thriving. We feed her/him and his parents regularly and Mortimer has learned to feed occasionally from the larger bird table in my garden. He's just over a year old now, and will be able to breed next year. Mortimer's carrying on the great crow tradition of acting as an additional street-cleaner, scavenging for left-over food on pavements.
We've also been somewhat adopted ourselves by a beautiful juvenile blackbird that probably hatched and fledged between late March - late April. It likes my garden with its unkempt grass, apple tree leaves, grubs, insects and berries, and the seeds and meal worms that I put out for it. I've started to cover the mealworms with a few leaves so that this little bird practices its foraging behaviour even when being given an easy meal.
We've also sighted this year in our garden: sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, chiffchaffs, wood pigeons, magpies, and starlings. We've also spotted swifts locally, as well as bats. (More on the Fratton bats in my next piece.) Increased numbers of sparrows are now nesting and successfully breeding in around the roofline of a local Victorian school building.
On the negative side, over the past year, and just in my road alone, we've observed a significant loss of habitat - specifically the felling of one big, established tree; and a fair bit of carnage carried out on another during the nesting season. The reasons for the felling and the 'cutting back' were pretty simple - neighbour complaints about loss of light and mess. However, in the latter case, the timing was, shall we say, especially unfortunate.
I know from my time as a city councillor that tall trees in urban gardens can be an extremely contentious issue, and the source of many complaints. It can be extremely demoralising for a household in these tightly-packed terraced dwellings to lose significant daylight from their back gardens (there are no front gardens), to be unable to hang washing out to dry, and to have leaves and other tree parts drop regularly onto their property.
But good tree management can be accomplished, with a bit of bird knowledge, planning and care. It's essential because trees don't only provide nesting and roosting sites, they also attract the insects on which many birds species and bats depend.
The absolute debacle that is the Network Rail decision to fell possibly millions of trees, and Sheffield City Council's equally awful decision to fell 17,500 trees (including many healthy, mature trees), will have massive knock-on effects on already fragile urban ecosystems. It's going to be up to individual city councillors to take a stand and do the right thing, as in Bromley - and not, as in Sheffield, do the wrong thing. These are, sadly, worrying times. Be careful who and what you vote for.