WildHomes - Blog

Edith Sparrow has her eye on the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Edith came into our Wimbledon office earlier this week keen to help us understand her hopes and wishes for a new London home. -- Jeff, Wimbledon branch

homes wanted top tips no regrette riens

Hello, my name is Edith Sparrow. Some say that’s an odd name for a sparrow? But what can I say, my parents were Francophiles. I think of them a lot at this time of year, with this weekend's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, because I can’t help thinking they rather saw ‘La Vie en Rose’ believing that house sparrows would always thrive in London.

Sparrow by Anne Keenan

Sadly, realists have known for some time that our dear city has been losing its sparrows at a bewildering rate. But nobody really seems to know why. Interestingly, there’s a handsome reward of £5000 still waiting to be claimed , offered by the Independent newspaper over a decade ago to anyone able to scientifically prove why we’re in so much trouble.

Of course theories abound, but the key ones are remarkably similar to the ones many human Londoners face: Food shortages for us are caused by a lack of bug life, making it impossible to feed our young families nutritious meals in spring; air pollution is affecting our health, and tiny particulates (classified as PM2.5) from diesel car fumes are literally killing us; then finally we have a housing crisis brought on by a dwindling supply of sheltered nooks and crannies in new builds and office blocks, making it hard to find somewhere to make a home.

What is intriguing to note is that while sparrows are in decline in London, they still abound in more densely populated cities like Paris and New York. This tells us that it can’t be about human numbers, it must be about something they’re doing.

Impressively, in last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, house sparrows came out on top as the most commonly sighted bird across the UK. Just like the previous year, and the year before that. But this snapshot doesn’t quite tell the whole story - the RSPB estimates that there are 20 million fewer house sparrows in the UK now than in the 1960s.

So could this weekend’s Birdwatch see us lose our national lead?

If London’s figures from last year are anything to go by, we certainly can’t assume we’ll always be the UK’s Number 1. Here in the city we barely made it into the top 10 - with us sparrows scraping 7th place in Outer London boroughs, and 8th in Inner London ones. Scratching a little further below the surface (as we sparrows like to do) i discovered that in Westminster we’re the 11th mostly likely bird you’ll see, while in Kensington & Chelsea we could even be considered rare at number 14★. Shocking!

The numbers are pretty damning, but we shouldn’t despair. I guess the first thing to do is recognise how awesome the RSPB is for getting people up and down the land to keep an eye on bird numbers, and for tracking them for the best part of 4 decades! And the second thing to do is to join in this year’s event and set about trying to change the story.

Ok, so this probably won’t happen overnight, and it will certainly involve some major steps to tackle things like air pollution, but maybe Londoners can all individually do their bit to improve conditions in their local area. Last year the Big Garden Birdwatch revealed that in parts of Central London, counters saw just one sparrow for every two gardens, while in the rest of the UK humans saw more than 4 sparrows per garden. So, what if all Londoners made it their goal to attract the same number?

Scratching a little further below the surface.

Even small steps can bring big results so please do what you can to welcome more of us to your gardens, and join the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Go on, give it a try - I promise you won’t ‘regrette rien’....

Edith’s Top Tips

Edith's top tips for welcoming more sparrows to London’s gardens:

1. Be a lazy gardener No, don’t go covering your garden with concrete! Just leave some corners wild and untended. Bushes, old branches and wilder grassy patches are great for sheltering in, and can harbour nourishing seeds and grubs beneath them.

2. Bring on the bugs Sow for wildlife, with native wildflowers and grasses to attract insects. And if supplies are low, put out feed that’s rich in grubs and other high protein creepy crawlies - we just can’t get enough of them when we’re trying to feed our young at the end of Spring.

3. Build or grow us a home Or better still a whole family of homes! We like a bit of company, particularly up by the eaves where we can borrow warmth from human houses and tuck ourselves safely away from predators. Or if you’d rather grow a home for us, large bushy climbing plants can offer the perfect natural habitat for a colony to build their own nests in.

4. Give us a bath Somewhere we can grab some fresh water to drink and preen in. You’d be surprised how hard this can be in a city sprawl of office blocks, shops and roads.

5. Take a deep breath and do what you can to tackle air pollution in the city. Minimise your own footprint by making eco-friendly choices, and raise the issue in your ward or with local, national and global campaigners.

★ Can it be any coincidence that these are also among the quietest wards voicing support for London to become a National Park City?!

Foodie Trip! Gary is coming to the UK.

We spoke by Tweeting Twitter to Gary, the waxwing, from Scandinavia who is considering coming on a foodie trip to the UK very soon. -- Jeff, Wimbledon branch

 lifestyle travel foodie

Hi, I'm Gary and I'm considering a trip to the UK with about 10,000 of my friends in the next few months.

Most of the time, we enjoy the woods of Scandinavia but at this time of the year the berries can be few and far between, so we start to think about moving to warmer climes for the tasty and abundant food. And believe it or not, the UK is a warmer clime!

Waxwing - geograph.org.uk - 1528567

We tend to stay on the East coast, but don't mind coming inland in search of a tasty treat. We love hawthorn berries but also enjoy rowan, cotoneaster and rose.

We're not too fussy about where we nest, as long as we have easy access to water, and loads and loads of berries!

I know how the English gardens are famous for their roses and miles of hedges, so I'm hoping that there will be plenty of berries left for my friends and I to enjoy.


Martin is leaving the UK

We managed to grab Martin, a house martin, for a few words just as he dashed off a few weeks ago. His wandering life style may not suit everyone, but we look forward to serving him and his pals again in 2017! -- Jeff, Wimbledon branch

homes wanted lifestyle travel

Hi, I'm Martin!

My family and I have been visiting England for the past few years now. I was originally born in Africa, but every spring we make the long haul flight to the UK and hope to make it here just in time for the emergence of the Mayflies.

We used to normally stop in the countryside, roosting in barns or chimneys but for the past few years we have been stopping off in the suburbs. This summer we spent most of our days by the stream eating flies, but we are hoping to be able to see more of the sights of the city once the kids get older.

A mother flying back to housemartin nest

We are making our way back to Africa for the next few months, but I'm already thinking about coming back in May for the peak season. I'm hoping there will be plenty of places available for us to nest and WildHomes will be able to help find suitable locations for me and my young family to settle for the summer months.

We are looking for a one-bedroom, mud-built place. If it is near a river that would be perfect but we are willing to commute a few miles.

Right, gotta fly now. So long, and see you in 2017!

Martin was speaking to Jeff in early Oct 2016. Image credit: By Michael Palmer via Wikimedia Commons.

A Customer Plea - Colin Damselfly

This week we hear from Colin, one of our many Damselfly customers looking to find the ideal pond where he can start a family -- Jeff, Wimbledon branch

testimonialhomesdating

Hi there Jeff:

I'm Colin and, as you may have noticed, I'm a damselfly.

I first hatched back in May and I'm really loving life as an adult. It's great to have a chance to spread my wings. I have to say it felt like an eternity waiting to get them. But it was well worth the wait. They are beautiful wings, if I say so myself.

I spent most of last year living at the bottom of the pond so it's fantastic to be able to get out into the open air and really see the world.

Until the last couple of days, it hasn't been a brilliant summer, but whenever the weather is nice I hanging out by the pond catching flies.

Me and the other lads love to show off our flying skills to the ladies, and I'm hoping to meet up with a like-minded female so we can settle down and start a family of our own.

We don't want much, just a small pond would be ideal you know?

The trouble is this neighbourhood is so crowded. It's great to be part of the community here, but we would love to be able to move a bit further away from home.

The thing is there are so few places available round here. We don't want much, just a small pond would be ideal you know? Somewhere we could leave our nymphs and know they could grow up safely.

Thanks for listening.

Jeff Writes...

Could you provide a home for Colin and his family?

Let our wild agents know about your pond and we'll help the wildlife to find it.

If you don't have a pond then they are real easy to build, like this really simple mini pond from the RSPB

A Customer Testimonial - Piers Small White

testimonialhomesmarket

Hi I'm Piers, and as you might have noticed I'm a Small White butterfly. I left home just a few weeks ago. It felt like an age growing up, so it was great when I could finally get out of my chrysalis and spread my wings.

Me and a few of my mates are all on the lookout for somewhere to live at the moment so we are really glad WildHomes are here to help us find a suitable place.

At the moment I'm really into hanging out around the long grass, but I'm hoping to find a nice allotment plot with plenty of cabbages to settle down on to raise a family. My mate Anthony is an Orange Tip (he thinks it looks 'cool') and he reckons the best place to eat at the moment is the cuckoo flowers but these places don't hang around for long, so he's been spending more time in the hedgerows looking for garlic mustard. I reckon it won't be long before he finds a patch of honesty where he can raise a family.

Me and my mates are really glad WildHomes are here to help us find a suitable place.

There's this really exotic looking Comma called Polly who hangs out around the edge of the woods, but I think she's just intonettles, and theodd willow. I used to like hanging out with Gene, he's a Brimstone. He quite likes thelong grass in the verge and the hedgerows, but he's really fussy and insists that he will only set up home nearbuckthorn, which is a bit of a pain, because they're not as common as they used to be, but I'm sure the agents atWildHomes.co.uk will be able to find us all our ideal homes.

Hope that's enough Jeff? Writing it made me realise that me and my mates are all quite different from one another, but also the same, and I really need to eat after that.

Our client Mr Pieris Rapae was speaking to our agent, Jeff, earlier this week. They met and shared a salad at the Mustard Cress Arms in SW London, a beautiful linear cafe alongside the wooded sections of Thames opposite Hammersmith (no bookings needed, just turn up). Jeff has been helping Piers and his friends find homes and is committed to expanding the accessibility and affordability of homes within commuting distance of food and water, as the London human population grows.

Mind the GAPS - Kwesi Gorilla

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opinionhomeshealthy homes

The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health is a think tank that looks at how to build happier, healthier and more sustainable cities.

In their recently published policy document, the good people at UD/MH point out that city dwellers have a 40% higher risk of depression, 20% more anxiety, and a greater susceptibility to loneliness, isolation and stress than people living in rural areas. Crucially, urban planners, managers, designers and developers - the city-makers - have it in their power to change these sorry statistics.

What's really interesting is that when it comes to Wild Homes, we can all be city-makers. And with some targeted consideration, we too can make a huge difference to Wild Londoners' lives.

The guidance suggested by UD/MH is to "Mind the GAPS" (...how London is that?!) and although it was devised with humans in mind, it's a pretty handy reference for Wild Planners too...

Green spaces
Provide a natural setting to create an inviting environment that feels familiar and can easily be incorporated into daily routines. This is especially important for human-made structures: bird houses made out of old teapots require a huge (and unjustified) leap of faith, so just stick to simple, untreated wood constructions. And find a dark quiet spot for a hedgehog's hibernaculum...without a road in sight.
Active places
for wildlife, this centres around an abundant source of food & water. Or indeed just a glimpse of nature on the way to somewhere else. This will give creatures a reason to visit your garden every day, socialise, and maybe even find a mate.
Pro-social places
create an engaging space that promotes a sense of community. Think about how both Wild Londoners and Human Londoners can live in harmony, and you're sure to come up with a home that you can both enjoy and explore, either close-up or at a discreet distance.
Safe places
a safe environment is fundamental to the enjoyment of a Wild Home, so place bird boxes high off the ground, and front bug hotels with wire meshing, to protect them and their families from harm and any predators.

As you can see, these guidelines are really just common sense, but sometimes busy London life means you can't see the wood for the trees.

I mean, perhaps we should all be giving extra thought to creating and shaping safer green spaces for our city's children? I'm sure they'd benefit hugely from the freedom to play and explore in the wild, and they'd learn so much too.

Our young used to love playing outside, and now they've grown up they enjoy and respect nature all the more. It doesn't seem to happen so much round here...how could we change this? I'd love to get your thoughts!

Our agent Kwesi, an urban gorilla with grownup offspring now left home, typed up this blog entry back at headoffice following a pub lunch with Jeff. Kwesi is surprised everyday by his encounters with the wilder side of London: Small, subtle, but all meaningful.

The London WildHome Market this Spring

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In the first of a regular series in which we share our views and predictions on the current state of the WildHome market, Jeff explains how you can double your money in Wildflower Meadows.

As a WildHome resident myself I know how difficult it can be to find the ideal place, and we tried a few before settling down here in Wimbledon.

Spring is always an active time for the WildHomes market and I predict that over the next few weeks demand will remain high. The migration from Africa will be stepping up a gear and we are likely to see an increasing demand forswift and swallow properties.

Interest in hedgehog hibernation homes has bottomed out recently as they move to their summer residences, but we think this would be a great time to invest as thedemand will definitely pick up again in the Autumn.

As the apple blossom appears we often see a peak in solitary bee activity, so we are predicting there will soon be a very high demand forbee friendly properties, and we are continuing to see the rise in popularity of bug towers.

Now is a great time to invest in hedgehog hibernation homes.

It is an active time of year forponds, both above and below the water, so we expect to see high levels of activity in this watery sector too.

Myhot tip for the next few months iswildflower meadows. These are always in high demand for all types of insects, and you can ‘double your money’ by leaving some uncut over winter as a home for butterfly larvae and caterpillars.

Jeff was born and raised in London, and works in our Wimbledon branch. Over the years he has built up an intense local knowledge, a long nose for the true value of property, and awareness of the needs of Wild Londoners. He always had a passion for Wild property, and is now very active in the Wild construction market. Outside work Jeff spends most of his time in the gym, recently moving to park-based green gyms, due the abundance of fresh air. Jeff and his family are big supporters of the National Park City Initiative.

Bird houses adorn this green wall on the Athenaeum in Mayfair
This fine bug tower block is at Montpelier Gardens, NW5.