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Wildlife In An Urban Jungle

Image By Connor Williams

Culture Editor Connor Williams explores the London wildlife hiding in plain sight.

The idea for this article began on my morning commute to campus across Waterloo Bridge towards Somerset House. As usual, I was taking in the London skyline and glancing across the Thames when to my surprise I thought I saw an alligator (it was some distance away), then, after a swift realisation, I noticed this bobbing mass to be a grey seal. After taking a picture that did not turn out well, I started thinking about all the wildlife around London that lives right under our noses. 

From porpoises to pelicans, London is awash with all kinds of creatures. My investigations have taken me all over the city and I have discovered far more unusual animals than I would have ever expected. The list below is a small guide to the wildlife that can be seen around the city without having to buy a ticket. 

Here are the Top 10 animals to look out for as you travel around the urban jungle:

1 – Beavers

Until last week I thought the only beaver in town was the LSE mascot but apparently in 2022 Enfield council began reintroducing Eurasian beavers into London. And just last week on 1 October it was recorded that for the first time in 400 years, a baby beaver was born in the local area. 

Roar reached out to Enfield Councillor Thomas Fawns for a comment on this exciting wildlife news. He stated “I am delighted to see our first baby beaver born in Enfield, which is a first for London for hundreds of years. With guidance provided by the Beaver Trust, Capel Manor College intends to capture the new beaver to give it a thorough on-site health check. We look forward to seeing our beaver community and rewilding programme thrive for our London Borough”.

Image by GlacierNPS 

2 – Seals

According to ZSL (The Zoological Society of London), seals have been commonly spotted all along the Thames and are carefully monitored year-round. Some key places to go and spot these marine mammals include Canary Wharf and along the Thames estuary, although I must add from my own experience that Waterloo Bridge seems to be a hotspot too. 

Creative Commons BY-SA

3 – Porpoises

Porpoises are native to the UK and have been swimming in the Thames since the 1800s. Similarly to seals, harbour porpoises have been spotted in thriving pods all along the Thames. However, they are most commonly found towards the estuaries and harbours of West London. It is important to note that for any marine mammals spotted, the ZSL asks members of the public to report their sightings here.

Image by Picasa 

4 – Parakeets

The origin story of the ring-necked parakeet is tied to a multitude of conspiracies gilded with glamour, but the truth is there is no conclusive evidence as to how they ended up all over London’s parks. Some say it was Jimmy Hendrix who released the first two birds in the late sixties in the middle of Carnaby Street, others think they arrived with Hollywood star Katherine Hepburn. Still others claim they escaped from Henry VII’s private menagerie. 

As a child, I heard stories about how they escaped from the zoo and spread around London like wildfire which is the version I hope to be true. Regardless of their history, they can be spotted in many parks in London including Hyde ParkRegents Park, and Kensington Gardens.

Image by mihir_joshi

5 – Pelicans

Between the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace lies St James’ Park where a small group of pelicans have inhabited the pond since their arrival in 1664. Originally a gift from the Russian ambassador, the pelicans of St James’ Park can often be seen near Duck Island Cottage, waiting to be fed in the afternoons.

The pelicans are free to come and go as they please but are unlikely to stray beyond their territory. Aside from these birds, the pond is also home to many other species such as moorhens, mallards and even pipistrelles (but usually they are only seen at dusk).

Image by Feggy Art 

6 – Peregrine Falcons

These birds of prey are the fastest birds in the world – they can reach speeds of up to 200mph on a dive down from the skies and they also live in Zone 1! At first, I almost did not believe that these extraordinary birds are often spotted all around central London but it is estimated that around 30 breeding pairs are in London, making it the second largest urban population of peregrines in the world (after New York).

Image by Hari K Patibanda 

7 – Red and Fallow Deer

This will not come as a surprise to all those who have visited Richmond Park as it is home to 630 red and fallow deer. Since 1637, deer have roamed the park and are seen as vital to the maintenance of its ecosystem. They are very commonly spotted and are well worth a look – especially around May to July time when all of the fawns are being born. However, if you are taking a dog to the park, please ensure that it is kept on a lead and if you spot a deer, keep a safe 50m distance from it. 

Wikimedia Commons 

8 – Peacocks

Peacocks are a symbol of prosperity and glamour and hold residency in some of the most beautiful parks in London. Both Kew Gardens and the Kyoto Garden of Holland Park are home to these famously magnificent birds. The first recordings of peacocks in the UK date back to the 14th century but many have been brought over from their native countries such as India and Sri Lanka over the last few centuries to be introduced into many private estates across the country.

Image by rawpixel.com

9 – Badgers

Badgers are nocturnal and are rarely spotted, but they can be found in some London suburbs. They have had an interesting history, dating back thousands of years from Celtic mythology to becoming a protected species in the 1990s.  They are important to local ecosystems. However, they have created controversies in agriculture over the years pertaining to them being carriers of bovine tuberculosis. Maybe steer clear from a cuddle with these ones.

Image by hehaden 

10 – Hedgehogs

Last but not least – the mighty hedgehog. Not only has this beloved creature got a viral internet presence, but it is also one of the nation’s favourite British animals. In 2016 HogWatch was set up to “identify the locations of the main hedgehog populations in Greater London” according to the ZSL. In terms of hedgehog spotting, these animals, like badgers, are also nocturnal but they have a stronghold in Regent’s Park for the devoted HogWatcher to go and discover.

Image by Charlie Marshall 

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