Exotic birds (ooh err matron)

Richmond Park laid on a feast of introduced bird species yesterday. By far the most visible were the bazillions of ring-necked parakeets screeching from every tree, but there seemed to be Mandarin ducks on every patch of water and I also saw about half-a-dozen pairs of Egyptian geese as well as the usual Canada geese. And my two best birds of the day were red kite, which is a native species but the subject of a reintroduction program using Swedish birds, and little owl, which oddly enough was introduced from Holland in the nineteenth century.

The subject of exotic species seems to provoke an unexpectedly strong reaction in some people. It reminds me a bit of the pro-songbird lobby, whose campaigns are built around a message of ‘let’s kill all the sparrowhawks/squirrels/magpies’ and who complain that the RSPB only seems to be interested in protecting the ‘nasty birds’ and not the ‘nice birds’.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good reason why conservationists worry about the impact of introduced species: there’s a litany of disastrous examples from the past, like rabbits and cane toads in Australia, snakes in Guam, and rats, pigs and goats on oceanic islands all over the world. And the best known British example, grey squirrels replacing the native red squirrel. But there’s something slightly creepy about the hostility which people aim at these animals which, after all, didn’t choose to come here.

There’s an obvious glib comparison to the hostility towards human immigrants, but I don’t know if it’s really very valid… perhaps there’s an emotional similarity, even if there’s not necessarily an overlap of the people involved.

» ‘Not just a pretty face‘ © Keven Law and used under a CC by-sa licence.


Lovely Richmond

I said in my last Thames Path post that, if you wanted to go a for a walk in that part of west London, you’d be better off going to Kew Gardens. Well, I can now add: you’d be better off going to Richmond Park, as well. I can’t quite believe I’ve never been there before.


Not only is it green enough to feel like a bit of a break from the city, it actually feels significantly wilder than most of the actual countryside in the south-east of England. Having been enclosed as a royal deer park in the mid 17th century, it has just been grazed by deer for 350 years and has the distinctive feel of a really well-established ecosystem that hasn’t been messed around with too much. There are loads of mature trees — apparently including 1200 ancient trees, mainly gnarly pollard oaks — and some fenced-off areas to allow patches of woodland with more undergrowth, ponds, bits of gorse. On a sunny day it was absolutely lovely. And in the Isabella Plantation, which is an area of ornamental garden, the rhododendrons and azaleas were looking amazing, and the bluebells were just opening — they’re going to look spectacular in about a week — and it was a pleasure to be there.


Plus whitethroat, blackcap, willow warbler, chiffchaff, skylark, stock dove, jackdaw, kestrel and so on. And two Egyptian geese with goslings, so that’s another exotic species to go with the parakeets that are all over the place. Apparently they have reed buntings, which I didn’t see, and lesser-spotted woodpecker, which I haven’t seen for years, so that’s two more reasons to go back some time.


Oh, and slightly outside the park, the view from the top of Richmond Hill across the Thames is fabulous.