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Going wild in a concrete jungle

PUBLISHED: 08:00 22 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:04 22 October 2010

IAN COLLINS

Forget safari parks in Kenya or Kerala. Let me take you on a beastly tour of the Barbican, in the wild heart of the City of London. On the tiny terrace of my 11th floor nature reserve, bluetits have laid their second egg clutch of the season - having occupied the nestbox on the very day I looped it over a drainpipe.

Forget safari parks in Kenya or Kerala. Let me take you on a beastly tour of the Barbican, in the wild heart of the City of London.

On the tiny terrace of my 11th floor nature reserve, bluetits have laid their second egg clutch of the season - having occupied the nestbox on the very day I looped it over a drainpipe.

Greenfinches and (hurrah, hurrah) house sparrows have established a rough and ready pecking order in the feeding tray stuck to my window.

And, ready for next year, I must set up two nestboxes for the male wren singing with a sweet and deafening din on the balcony wall. His demanding spouse requires a choice of dwelling.

Two years ago, before my arrival alas, a mallard nested in one of my windowboxes and ultimately fledged a dozen ducklings. At least two flats on lower floors of this block now have similar nests with their second batch of eggs this season - though, across the Barbican, the survival rate from the first hatching was precisely nil.

Blame for this slaughter of infants had been placed on Canada geese and also on lesser black backed gulls. We now have devastating evidence against both.

An especially aggressive gander has been more subdued since its mate successfully landed six goslings from a nest in one of my block's windowboxes - an incubation unit into which she herself could barely fit. Now there are five, for a fox took one a few nights ago.

On my balcony I have been dive-bombed by lesser black backs, and very early yesterday the shrieking gulls were circling over my barrel-vaulted ceiling like vultures. It turned out that a mobbed heron had taken refuge just above my bed.

On a recent morning stroll around the Barbican's high walkways the corner of my eye registered the falling form of a kamikaze duckling plunging forty feet from a balcony nest into the lake. I heard the plop, and then the whirr and squawk of a mother unsure whether to join the escapee now swimming frantically far below or to stay put with the rest in the nest.

And now the saga takes a turn to shock the squeamish. For the first of another plummeting brood were seen to be killed on landing by Canada geese - before have-a-go Barbican residents waded in (literally) to rescue the survivors.

Alas, the respite (like each duckling) was short-lived.

Some of this gory story looks set for your telly screens, because a film crew from the BBC Natural History Unit has lately been in residence.

In this corner of the concrete jungle there has even been a distressing sighting of the lesser, spotted, warbling Alan Titchmarsh.

Now I claim the power of a conjuror. For my bedtime reading of late has been a mesmerising book called The Peregrine - J.A. Baker's record of a passionate pursuit of this majestic raptor in remotest Essex. Well…

I'd heard in the spring that a pair of peregrines had taken a shine to Tate Modern, after successfully breeding on a Dartford power station last year. There's progress for you.

But this male and female (tiercel and falcon) had their sights on even higher things because, I've just discovered, they subsequently switched to the top of a Barbican tower.

Here they have fledged young. Even writing that last sentence has left me all aquiver.

Tight security on the Barbican estate has helped a hush-hush operation. Fireworks planned to accompany a Mozart concert were scrapped in deference to our new lodgers, and after very proper pressure from the RSPB.

There are eight green acres within this concrete complex, and in the largest garden I have just laid flat out on the grass, with binoculars trained to a railing above a skyscraper's top (44th) floor. And there I spied the barred-grey tiercel surveying a hunting ground across and beyond the Square Mile.

At rest and in the distance the predator looked as docile as a budgie. But he and his mate can stoop at speeds of up to 180 miles an hour, breaking pigeon necks with their talons on impact.

In the reign of James II a sportsman paid £1,000 for a pair of peregrines but our treasured birds should help to reduce our service charges. Because for an hour each week in recent years a hired falconer has been releasing a harris hawk to deal with a feral pigeon problem.

Oh the ecstasy, and economy, of letting nature take its course.


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