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June 22, 2018

Five species that have quietly adapted to urban living in London

By Charlie Lawrence

There’s a weird assumption that cities and wildlife are two completely incompatible entities. That once humans start living together in large numbers, nothing else can stand a chance. This couldn’t be more wrong.

Cities are, in fact, teeming with wildlife, and I’m not just talking about the rubbish animals nobody likes, like rats and pigeons. In London there are some incredible creatures that have adapted to the urban environment and even thrived. Here are five species that have made their home alongside the capital’s eight million human residents.

Peregrine Falcons

That’s right, London has its own bird of prey – the largest falcons in the UK, no less.

In the last 20 years the population has crept back from the edge of extinction, to the point where the capital now boasts over 30 pairs of the birds, which mate for life. The city’s tall buildings offer a suitable exchange for the mountains and cliffs where they would usually nest and with plenty of pigeons around, food is plentiful.

While you’re unlikely to spot one of the falcons unless you’re actively looking, there are live streams available of their various eyries such as those at Merton Civic Centre and Kingston College.

This amazing bird’s revival in London is still in its early stages and relies on the tireless work of a bunch of volunteer organisations. But the situation is improving, and many are hoping for the birds to become a regular feature of the city’s fauna.

Image: screenshot from Falcon 1 Camera stream at Kingston College.

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By the 1950s it was believed that herons would never again breed in the city, thanks to the poor quality of water. Bad water meant less fish, and the birds had been starved out.

As London’s rivers and canals began to be seen as more than just a convenient dump, we cleaned up our act and fish returned – quickly followed by herons. These days, more than 300 nests are recorded each year, and the spindly-legged fishermen can be found alongside many of London’s waterways patiently awaiting a catch.


Muntjacs are miniature deer, meaning they can slip around London’s green spaces in a way that a massive stag probably couldn’t. Native to China, they arrived in the UK around 150 years ago and have been eating everyone’s shrubs ever since.

As Robert Donaldson-Webster of the British Deer Society (BDS), told the Barnet Times: “The North Circular is heaving with deer.”

Ring-necked parakeets

You’ll be well aware of these squawky birds should you live anywhere near a park – or perhaps even just a tree, they nest just about anywhere – because boy are they loud.

Native to Africa and South Asia, they flew onto the avian scene in the 1970s and have gone from strength to strength since, becoming the UK’s only naturalised parrots.

How they ended up in the capital is subject to debate, as is, more importantly, the extent of their environmental impact. The parakeets may be responsible for driving native species out of their nesting spaces and causing significant damage to plants. In their native India, the birds inflict extensive damage on crops, reducing maize yields by up to 81 per cent.

Still, at their current population they are relatively harmless and undeniably add some colour to the city. The brilliant green of these ‘posh pigeons’ certainly stands out among the otherwise muted urban shades.


There’s something a little magical about meeting an urban fox on a quiet street late at night. I usually encounter one as I’m stumbling home from the pub, causing the fox to just watch me in a slightly judgey way. Still, I love them.

In London, foxes get quite a hard time; they’re seen largely as a pest responsible for messing up bins. Few have entirely forgotten or forgiven foxes for that awful incident in which one bit off a baby’s finger in Bromley in 2013, and, admittedly, their calls do resemble the dying shrieks of someone who’s lost their voice – but on the whole, they’re pretty great.

They quietly prowl the streets hunting rats, which are by far the worst animal thriving in cities. The old adage goes that you’re never more than six feet from a rat. Maybe, but not if the urban foxes have anything to do with it.

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