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Opinion

How to connect to nature in towns and cities

Living in an urban environment doesn’t separate you from the natural world. Fifteen-year-old Kabir Kaul mapped 1,300 wildlife sites in London alone and says there was more life in his city than he ever imagined

London is a busy, bustling capital city, home to over eight million people. Yet wildlife such as badgers, peregrine falcons and grass snakes thrive here too. For the past few years I have been raising awareness of the capital’s urban wildlife, and how each of us can make a difference.

When I was seven, I looked out into my garden and saw many bird species, including house sparrows, goldfinches and blue tits. Seeing them flourishing on my doorstep evoked my curiosity for the natural world, encouraging me to obtain a field guide and binoculars. In the surrounding area, I stumbled upon a number of fascinating green spaces – to think they were in a vast urban area like London was mind-boggling to imagine at first.

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Thinking of visiting more parks and nature reserves in the capital, I searched online for a map of them, but to no avail, and wondered how many other people may be in the same situation. In 2016, I began creating my own map of these nature reserves and wildlife sites.

This took three years to complete. Working on the map regularly both improved my geography of London, and gave me a broad perspective of the capital’s varied and diverse habitats, further increasing my interest in London’s unique biodiversity. It also introduced me to the fact that London was not just a sprawling metropolis, but a city that was 47 per cent green!

After completing the map, Nature Reserves of London, curiosity took me to many of the 1,300 wildlife sites displayed on it.

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Visiting these sites taught me that there were so many habitats in the capital, besides the famous parkland and the Thames; flooded meadows, ancient woodland, acid grassland, lakes, reservoirs and much more.

Eventually, I realised that each site was different for another reason: this was because of the work of volunteers who managed the sites so that people and wildlife could thrive together. As a result, I was encouraged to write about these dedicated individuals in my blog Kaul of the Wild, and how, most importantly, they have maintained each green space in their own way to make them unique.

Examples I have seen around the capital include wildlife corridors and forests beside railway lines and main roads; a wetland nature reserve in a bustling inner-city canal; and a spectacular wildflower meadow in the historic City of London.

Even the smallest of these actions can make the greatest difference for wildlife

It is our individual responsibility to contribute to the patchwork of green and blue spaces that are found in cities like London.

In my garden, there are a variety of bird feeding stations, nest boxes and two ponds. Blue tits, a family of starlings, foxes, frogs and smooth newts have all visited the garden!

There are many ways you can help wildlife on your doorstep. Fill a washing up bowl with rainwater and add plants to it to make a pond, plant wildflowers, or hang bird feeders and nestboxes: I have seen the smallest of balconies teeming with these, and you will be surprised by the birds and insects that may arrive. You could join a volunteer group near you, and help to manage one of your local green spaces.

If you are at school, create a nature club or society to engage fellow pupils, and although this may seem challenging, teaching your friends about the flora and fauna around them brings out their curiosity. Connect with other like-minded people on social media, which is an excellent platform to share how you protect and campaign for the biodiversity around you.

Even the smallest of these actions can make the greatest difference for wildlife. If more of us were to make a home for the mammals, birds, amphibians and invertebrates in our urban jungles, then the future of our local ecosystems will surely be a positive one.

Kabir Kaul is a conservationist and wildlife writer 

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