Wildlife in Kentish Town

Wildlife in Kentish Town – Results from the Alma Street Fair Biodiversity Stand 

At the Alma Street Fair on Sunday 3 July, we ran a table on biodiversity. We promised to follow up with visitors. Drawing from conversations and the map board where you could pin where you had seen wildlife, here is a short summary of what we found. Because so many visitors were from outside the Inkerman Area, we have generalized this for Kentish Town, Gospel Oak and Tufnell Park. What wildlife species are residents seeing in these neighbourhoods? 

For birds, Wrens and Robins are seen everywhere, and some visitors also had Blue and Great Tits nesting in birdboxes. A surprise was the number of records of Grey Wagtail, which are clearly now breeding widely in Kentish Town, as are Goldfinch. Closer to Hampstead Heath, gardens are also visited by Long-Tailed Tits, as well as Sparrow Hawks hunting birds on feeders. Both of these birds nest on the Heath. We had a report of a Coal Tit nesting just south of Prince of Wales Road, also a nester on the Heath, which would be quite unusual and deserves follow up. 

We learned that three birds species which have experienced dramatic recent declines in London, House Sparrows, Swifts and Starlings, are much loved and looked after by residents. The Inkerman area has at least two “colonies” of House Sparrows (which appear to nest in eaves and gutters of adjacent houses and gather in dense bushes nearby). Nesting swifts were reported from Queens Crescent and Camden Square. These were “natural nests” in buildings, but we also met Kentish Town residents who had put of Swift boxes this year (about ten boxes between us!). None of these attracted swifts this year, but may next year. Some however, were used by Blue Tits and House Sparrows. Starlings, once nesting in large numbers in Hampstead Heath’s ancient trees, barely hang on there now, but residents reported them nesting increasingly in buildings in our area, which is good news. 

Foxes were by far the most common wild mammals seen, but it was reassuring that many residents also see bats regularly, probably Common Pipistrelles. Hedgehogs have also been seen in the Gospel Oak area, probably related to the large population on the Heath. A surprising number of residents have seen toads and frogs in their gardens, suggesting that there are quite a few backyard ponds. 

In order to increase wildlife in our local neighbourhoods, we encouraged visitors to create log piles in gardens, for arthropods and worms on which other wildlife feeds, to building small ponds and to put up bird feeders and nesting boxes.    

It emerged from our conversations with visitors that our wildlife experience in Kentish Town benefits enormously from our proximity to Hampstead Heath, central London’s most biodiverse green space. The Heath hosts over 600 species of wild plants and about 100 species of birds, about half of which nest there. Some of its habitats, like its sphagnum bog and acid grasslands, are unique for Central London, and its diversity of fungi, butterflies and dragonflies is impressive and growing as new wildlife surveys uncover more species there. If you go to the Heath, you will find at its entrances biodiversity interpretation boards introducing the new and common species you will see in each season, and on them a link via QR Code to biodiversity highlights of the month of your visit (https://www.heathandhampstead.org.uk/heath/biodiversity/

So how does the Heath benefit our wildlife experience in town? It was clear from our talks at the Fair that many birds in our neighbourhoods  depend on the Heath in some way. Raptors like Sparrow Hawk and smaller birds like Long-tailed Tits nest on the Heath and forage in our gardens. At the same time, starlings and swifts nest in town but feed on Heath meadows and ponds, respectively, while finches and wagtails probably do the same. Mammals like foxes, bats and hedgehogs wander between Heath into the town. 

Relevant to this close relationship between Heath and town, we discussed with visitors a plan to build a green corridor for biodiversity in a future Murphy’s Yard development. All the visitors to whom we spoke endorsed this idea, which would bring even more wildlife and wildlife habitats into our area through connections with the Heath. Who knows, some speculated, but perhaps this could link up with the proposed Camden High Line, a  green corridor on a raised railway line from Kentish Town to Camley Street Nature Park, creating even more opportunity to improve our urban wildlife experience.