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BARBICAN LIFE


It’s a wildlife in the Barbican


City living seems to suit a number of species of mammal and avian wildlife which make their homes in and around the Barbican


RSPB website adult


peregrine falcon drawing showing its distinctive features


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s well as providing a great living space for the human species,


the Barbican supports a fair amount of wildlife as well, as the gardens and the lakes provide their own residences for some rare and not so rare birds and mammals. There is a great variety of plant life with some extremely


A visiting duck on the Barbican Lake. (Picture by


Lawrence Williams)


interesting trees and shrubs in the Barbican gardens, in the igloos on the upper main lake and alongside it, but in this issue we’ll concentrate on some of the animal life which resides here and visits. The rarest inhabitants are in bird life. Many residents are aware of the peregrine falcons which nest, and produce young each year in one of the tower blocks. The peregrine was one of Britain’s most endangered species not so long ago – the RSPB estimates still that there are only between 750 and 1,400 breeding pairs in the UK, but some have been able to adapt to living and breeding in urban surroundings. They have not always been the most popular of birds with gamekeepers, and were badly indirectly affected by pesticides until DDT was banned – and because of their relative rarity they have been targeted by egg collectors too, but nowadays nesting in tall buildings like a Barbican tower block


– or Battersea Power Station or the Tate Modern they are perhaps safer and less accessible to egg thieves. The Peregrine is


renowned for its speed, reaching over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its


but the construction of the Barbican and the regeneration of the City caused them mostly to move on. Apparently in the 1950s and 60s there were thought to be as many as 70 breeding pairs in the Cheapside area.


characteristic hunting stoop (high speed dive), making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. They mostly feed on medium sized and small birds – hence the antipathy of gamekeepers – and may also be contributors to the high mortality rate for Barbican ducklings – but are also helpful in keeping pigeons away.


But perhaps the rarest inhabitant may be the black redstart, although we have been unable to get any confirmation that the breeding pair which used to nest here, believed to be in the area of the herb garden next to the Barber Surgeons Hall, are still resident today.


The black redstart is one of the


country’s rarest birds, but is far from easy to spot. According to the RSPB its name comes from the plumage of the male, which is grey-black in colour with a red tail. With fewer than 100 breeding pairs nowadays in the UK, the black redstart is on the amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern. Many of those few which are around in the country have adapted to live in urban areas like the Barbican. If anyone should spot one please let us know.


Interestingly there used to be a number of breeding pairs in the area as the postwar bombsites in the City did provide a good habitat for them,


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The other bird which appears to be on the danger list these days, at least in England, is the once exceptionally common house sparrow. The population is known to have declined about 70% between 1977 and 2008 with no-one sure why. There are some to be seen in the Barbican as are blackbirds – which get confused by the light emanating from some of the office buildings around and sometimes can be heard to sing through the night. Many common bird species are to be seen around – tits, robins, wrens, finches,the occasional thrush. I have even seen a report of a sighting of a green woodpecker. We don’t yet seem to be plagued by magpies. There are occasional pigeons venturing by, but these are put off by the peregrines – and also by occasional visits from a falconer, with a harris hawk, paid to persuade the urban pigeons to stay away. The lakes though, are a major attraction for some seabirds and waterfowl, and the odd predator like a heron which arrives occasionally for a spot of fishing. Seagulls are not popular with residents – noisy – and being aggressive and seemingly fearless birds have been known to be a major nuisance for those eating alfresco on the Barbican Centre terrace. They are also thought to be responsible for part of the annual duckling massacre. It must be heartbreaking being a mother duck here most years.


But speaking of ducks, those which grace the lakes are primarily mallards, on occasion joined by various other duck and small goose species which are usually temporary visitors. These have included ruddy


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