Tales from the Urban Jungle: Starting Out

It must be said, I miss living in the countryside. I miss the sight of natural greenery, fields, woodlands, bustling wetlands and bountiful hedgerows. Likewise, the omnipresent wildlife: the constant possibility of an encounter with a Roe Deer or Badger, the sound of migrating geese, the bubbling calls of curlew and the wealth of birdlife that once visited our garden feeders.

Since I moved to the city a few years ago, I haven’t really had a local patch. Arriving here, I wholeheartedly failed to find a place which motivated me sufficiently to visit regularly, record wildlife, observe and explore. The city, its streets, alleyways and scant bits of green space, just didn’t do it for me. Thanks, in the most part, to an excess of the one thing that those who seek wildlife detest most: other people.

Fast forward to 2019, and something began to shift. The need to seek out something, anything wild forcing me to spend an increasing amount of time combing my local area for signs of life, and to dedicate time to making our own urban garden as appealing as possible to wildlife. Initial exploits which left me pleasantly surprised.

In our tiny, paved yard wildlife began to appear – spurred on by some basic planting and the presence of nectar sources. We had six species of bee, Painted Lady butterflies, shieldbugs, 22-Spot Ladybirds and a healthy variety of moths. In our planters, weeds began to appear – nettle, creeping thistle and chickweed, seemingly mundane, everyday plants which in turn, helped to attract more wildlife to our patch. It was all very interesting and I started to record once more.

A stone’s throw from our garden, down a terraced street and past a small expanse of allotments, the local park also started to look more appealing. Little more than a playing field surrounded by a few stands of native (and non-native) trees, it leaves a lot to be desired. Despite this, and despite the constant footfall associated with such places, I started to observe here too. Once again finding myself pleasantly surprised by the apparent diversity: by the presence of damselflies on the small pond, by ferns growing in surrounding walls and by the promising sight of an owl pellet sat atop a scratched and graffitied park bench. There was definitely more to see here.

Now, in early 2020, I have decided to set myself a challenge and revive my former passion for patch-watching. I am intrigued to see just how many wild things share my garden, street and park. That’s why, this year, I will be endeavouring to record as many species possible across one small slither of the city. A patch of urban Newcastle, no bigger than two-three football pitches, that can be walked entirely in fifteen minutes or so and encompasses only my small garden, a very typical street, and the aforementioned small park.

At home, I will aim to make the garden as appealing as possible to what little nature perseveres nearby; while casting an eye over my immediate surrounds to see what else is lurking out there. Plants, birds, fungi, bryophytes; everything counts and I will try to keep a comprehensive list of the species encountered on my doorstep. Both to paint a picture of life here and to self educate.

I’d like to think that I can unearth at least a few hundred species across what is a relatively small area. A task which will no doubt require me to look beyond the birds and botanicals I am comfortable with and look to identify new species and research new groups. All the while (hopefully) keeping the blog updated with the latest discoveries.

Wish me luck!

A cross-section of 2019’s garden visitors

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