Urban jungles

Wildlife is right under our noses, all we have to do is look. From kingfishers to peregrine falcons, foxes to striped rosemary beetles. Our cities are wild.

It’s a self-evident comment to make, but nature is all around us, even if at times we are too busy to notice and enjoy it properly.

As the population grows, cities and towns expand. New housing developments spring up at the same time as the changing natural environment evolves, nature is ever-increasingly a part of our daily lives, at times adapting brilliantly to new opportunity and at other's struggling in the face of new challenges, and the urban north west is no different to anywhere else.

Arguably much of the landscape which we nowadays think of as natural greenspace has been heavily and historically shaped by the hand of man, be it the old mining landscapes of Wigan and St Helens or the abandoned textile and mill workings of Manchester, Bolton and East Lancashire. But increasingly our ‘newer’ man-made environments of towns, cities, gardens and parks are just as much a home for a surprisingly great variety of wildlife.

Urban wildflower meadow

Everybody will be familiar – perhaps tiresomely so – with the feral pigeons which have been bustling residents of town centre squares for many years. Equally so the grey squirrels which vie on the garden bird feeders alongside more welcome guests such as house sparrow, starling, blue tit, robin and blackbird, whilst woodpigeons are one of the more recent species to make the transition from rural to urban habitats in ever-increasing numbers.

Some parts of our region are home to ring-necked parakeets, vividly-bright but noisy colonists around areas of Manchester and beyond, whilst late night encounters with red foxes on the streets of our cities are always a thrill.

Fox (c) Jamie Hall

(c) Jamie Hall

But how many people are aware of the rarer wildlife, the more recent adapters to urban life, which we can be privileged to see as we go about our daily and working lives? Many town and city centres across the country – and the north west is prominent amongst these – is home to a breeding pair of peregrine falcons.

Once persecuted and pressured almost to extinction, these majestic hunters have adapted perfectly to our urban habitats with church towers and skyscraping office blocks an ideal alternative to their usual cliff-face nesting site and the swarms of pigeons a ready source of food.

Manchester has been home to peregrines for a number of years whilst most other major towns across the region will also be graced by their presence. Likewise ravens, with the same nesting requirements as the falcons, which have spread rapidly in recent times and their deep croaking call is now a familiar sound above our busy streets.

An urban peregrine falcon flying over a figure walking down the street

Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

Of particular importance are those green corridors which connect our cities with the countryside, allowing wildlife which might not make the city their permanent home the opportunity to move between the two environments.

Town centre canals are enlivened by the flash of electric blue and the high-pitched whistle which announces the kingfisher, whilst railway lines allow roe deer to visit parks and cemeteries.

It isn’t just large animals and birds though, as a summer stroll along the waterways of Wigan reveals triffid bur-marigold and arrow leaf flourishing in the Leeds-Liverpool canal whilst the towpath of the Bridgewater canal in Manchester city centre is brightened by a fine display of marsh orchids. One of my most recent and colourful wildlife sightings was spotted in a flowerbed outside the Wigan town centre shopping arcade, where the last stalks of lavender were home to some fantastically-striped rosemary beetles – proof that there is wildlife under our noses if we just take the time to look for it.

Striped Rosemary Beetle (c) Jeff Gorse