Unexpected urban wildlife of the UK

Publication: Cult.is - 8 articles

In the human-engineered environments of our modern towns and cities, the unexpected appearance of a wild animal makes you stop in your tracks. Emerging from the shuddering bass and flickering lights of a club into the silent nighttime streets of central London to suddenly find yourself observed by the wide sparkling eyes of a fox brings a whole new dimension of magic to your walk home. The sky may often be a monotone grey, but the random sighting of a green exotic bird brings a new light to the day.

The risk of trying to cater to our every convenience as we develop our civilisation is that we lose touch with nature, and with the unexpected. Here is some of the UK urban wildlife that is bringing it back to us, and inspiring some great photography by people like UK urban wildlife photographer Sam Hobson.


Fox at Downing Street

The fox is the cheeky little rascal of British urban wildlife. One Fantastic Mister Fox has been spotted trotting past our Prime Minister’s house in broad daylight (above); another, known locally as Romeo, was found living on the 17th floor of London’s tallest building, the Shard. Such audacity often brings foxes into conflict with their human co-habitants, as reported in BBC documentary, Fox Wars. But despite the problems they cause for some residents, it’s hard to feel too angry at such a small animal trying to find its way around the big city…

Fox in snow, London
Photo by Luca Neve, courtesy of Sony World Photography Awards 2011


A deer on an urban street
Photo by Sam Hobson – http://www.samhobson.co.uk/

Although deer are native to the British countryside, encountering them in quiet woodland is still a special experience. But when they stray onto residential streets, things take a turn for the fantastical…

London’s Richmond park is a particularly good place for deer sightings, being home to a herd of 630 deer. They were originally brought there for hunting in the year 1529, but now are more famous for appearing in viral videos being chased by a dog called Fenton and chasing a man up a tree.

Peregrine Falcons

London Falcon

The peregrine falcon is the fastest creature on earth, reaching speeds of up to 240mph when it dives to catch its prey. These amazing birds are increasingly seen hovering like drones in the skies above British cities, preying on pigeons, and returning to eat them on top of skyscrapers and cathedrals. There are thought to be 30 nesting pairs in the city of London, including a pair on the famous chimney stack of the Tate Modern art gallery. Several couples have also made their home on mobile phone masts, which causes problems for installation of the new 4G network because it’s illegal to interfere with the nest of a falcon in the UK.


Rose-necked parakeets fly at a cemetery
Photo by Sam Hobson – http://www.samhobson.co.uk/

Rose-ringed parakeets are normally found in the Himalayas or Africa, but for some unknown reason have been breeding in England since the 1960s. There are several interesting theories as to how these tropical birds ended up here:

  1. They escaped from a film studio during the making of a film called The African Queen in 1951
  2. They escaped from an aviary during a hurricane in 1987
  3. They were released by Jimi Hendrix when he was in London in the 1960s

I hope it’s the last one. Anyway, in the 1990s there was an explosion in numbers and there are estimated to be around 30,000 in the UK. The largest flock is to be found at London’s Esher Rugby club, where they have named the youth team The Parakeets.

If you read my previous article on Banksy, you might have noticed one of his street art pieces contrasts these exotic immigrants with our disgruntled local pigeons…

An ironic comment on some people's attitudes to immigration in Britain
An ironic comment on some people’s attitudes to immigration in Britain

What is the urban wildlife like where you are from?