Love your scruffy edges

When I came to London my plan was to set up an enterprise enthralling Londoners with their local wildlife, and I hoped it would work. Having lived in London previously as a student, although not always paying much attention, I suspected that there was a lot more wildlife here than was often assumed. Walking down the street that was to become my new home I was greeted by a charm of Goldfinches merrily chirping whilst feeding on the seed balls of the London Plane street trees.

London has not failed to fascinate and delight me with its natural history since I began Wild Capital four years ago. Our capital city contains an impressive diversity of wildlife, and the actions that we take can enhance or diminish the opportunities which are available to the city’s plants and animals.

My flat had no garden, but did have a tiny balcony. Covered in asphalt it was not an appealing prospect for either me or London’s wild residents. One trip to the garden centre, a couple of window boxes and a bird bath later, it became much more desirable for insects and birds as well as being enjoyable for me too.

Sometimes, however, the best thing we can do is very little at all. London is home to thousands of species of plant which seed, germinate and flower here under their own devices. Many of these are the native species which our bees, butterflies and other insects are adapted to live alongside through eons of evolution. Butterflies may enjoy exotic garden flowers for nectar, but many species rely on native plants on which to lay their eggs and for their caterpillars to eat as they develop. Simply by allowing the space for these plants to thrive is one of the best things we can do for the city’s wildlife.

After my window box was complete with its array of bright and nectar rich flowers from the garden centre, I left a row of empty plants pots underneath it filled with an assortment of soil and rock. I have been fascinated to watch as tiny seedlings have started to sprout in these unpromising looking pots. I sit on my balcony and think about how the seeds travelled here; maybe in the wind, maybe carried here by a bird. I enjoy trying to work out what species they are as they develop. The plants themselves and the nooks and crannies between the pots have been colonised by an array of insects.

In a city like London where change and development is a daily occurrence, many of our native annual plant species thrive from having a space which exists just long enough for them to grow, flower and seed. Brown field sites can be some of the most diverse places for wildflowers in London. Neglected, scruffy spaces offer a chance for these plants to complete their lifecycle in a place where they don’t have to compete with grasses or planted species.

If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity and space to garden in a city, by all means install plants that delight you and flowers which will offer nectar and pollen to our insects, but don’t forget that there is a community of wild plants out there looking for a home; a scruffy little patch where a seed can land and a wild plant can grow. And when you walk past an abandoned patch of land or an untidy area of park, glance at the base of a wall or the bottom of a street tree, remember that these ‘weeds’ are in fact an inherent part of our wildlife.


Brenna is a zoologist, wildlife guide and environmental teacher. She runs Wild Capital.