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European red fox in the U.K.

photographed by Peter Trimming

A Barbican resident

squirrel photographed next to Seddon House. Photo by Håkan Brewitz

found a new lease of life in urban surroundings, and the Barbican must be a bit of a paradise for some which breed in the area. They seem to be less and less afraid of people and we get reports of them totally ignoring the odd human being sitting in the gardens. Indeed recently one curious specimen was observed by a former Chairman of the Barbican Association sitting in the stairwell in Seddon House. The foxes are often seen in the evenings and one couple I know reckons they are often visible on the girls’ school playing field from the windows of Mountjoy House or Thomas More House. They are of course, far quieter visitors to the playing fields than the girls. Michael Barrett, in a special newsletter circulated around the Barbican a few years back, noted

that foxes have lived on the burial mound near Barber Surgeons’ Hall (round the corner from Wallside and the circular bit of ruined wall). And that they probably now live in the Wild Garden in Fann Street. Indeed European red foxes thrive particularly well in urban environments. The species is first thought to have colonised British cities during the 1930s, entering London during the 1940s. Urban foxes are most common in residential suburbs consisting of privately owned, low-density housing, but are rare in areas where council rented houses predominate. They must have realized that the Barbican Estate flats are now largely privately owned!

Back in 2006 it was estimated that there were 10,000 foxes in London. According to Wikipedia, city- dwelling foxes may have the potential to consistently grow larger than their rural counterparts, as a result of abundant scraps and a relative dearth of predators. While foxes will scavenge successfully in the city (and the foxes tend to eat anything that the humans eat) some urban residents will deliberately leave food out for the animals, finding them endearing. Some researchers speculate that the urban fox is evolving into a different species from its countryside cousin, as it has a different diet of mainly man-made food, different survival skills (for example, the ability to cross roads), different places to live (under buildings rather than trees), a lack of their natural fear of humans, and a larger size.]

Squirrels are also often seen in the Barbican, undertaking feats of derring-do leaping from trees to Barbican balconies and, according to some residents, occasionally wreaking havoc in some window boxes. (From a recent posting on Barbican Talk: “Early th

£$%^&*@% squirrels destroyed my 12-year orch put th

id collection th

is morning th e first day I


em outside”) The posting was actually on a thread suggesting squirrel traps should be brought in as in some parts of the estate squirrels are becoming quite a menace. Squirrels can be aggressive and pretty fearless and it is not unknown


for them to venture inside a flat when balcony doors have been left open. Indeed one former resident once claimed to have fed a friendly squirrel with shortbread inside her flat. Probably shouldn’t be encouraged. As also pointed out from time to time, although squirrels look cute they are actually vermin – and the variety we have here has largely been responsible for the native red squirrel almost being drive to extinction.

Squirrels are omnivores – not only do they eat nuts, but fungi, eggs, bulbs, shortbread biscuits and sometimes young birds – perhaps yet another duckling predator. In terms of squirrel residences they usually either build a nest in the upper branches of a tree or create a den in a hollow tree. They are also known to have nested in the bushy undergrowth on the old burial mound near Barber Surgeons’ Hall, there are also a good number in Bunhill Fields.

Doubtless there are numerous other small furry animals around the Barbican, some living within the buildings, some in the network of tunnels under the complex and others in the gardens. There are also bats to be seen, or sensed, at dusk – reportedly nesting in the church tower at St Giles and possibly other spots here.

So there is a pretty broad diversity of animal wildlife visible within the confines of the Barbican – perhaps remarkable for a complex located in the heart of one of the world’s major cities. Yes, some of it causes the occasional nuisance, but then maybe some of your human neighbours may do too! As one resident k writing on barbicantalk put it a year or so ago – “I think showing the sheer diversity and prosperity of wildlife in the Barbican would be of both surprise and interest to many others in London and the rest of the UK. If I was asked to do a gushy pitch then it would focus on peoples perception of the city as the centre for financial services, trading across the world, a place of hustle and bustle and yet, here in the mayhem is this oasis of peace and quiet where birds and mammals prosper”

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