Summer snooping, and assorted chaos

Well, it’s been a funny couple of months. No photos from attractive country locations to share, because we’ve been minus one driving husband for the past 6 weeks, and minus the car for half of that too.

Way back in May some time (I think?) the Mr tripped over a kerb coming out of the station, and several painful hours later decided he’d better take it to A&E. It was apparently only a minor chip to the bone, so he was wearing a boot for 2 weeks. Fine. 

Two weeks later, they realised the X-ray had missed a more serious fracture and the boot would be on for another 4 weeks. Damn.

He was managing alright with the boot outdoors and hobbling round at home, commuting the shortest possible journey in terms of walking distance – bus to the damn Northern Line, my nemesis for many years, but driving was out of the question.

Then we came downstairs one morning to find we’d been burgled and the car had gone anyway – this was at the end of May. We were dazed, but relieved that more hadn’t been taken from the house (just laptops and iPads, all backed up so nothing personal lost – always back up, folks!) but getting a new car was going to be an almighty great hassle.

It was a week later – 1.30am on the night of Bank Holiday Monday, we had the call – Police, we’ve found your car, can we come and collect the spare key in 10 minutes so we can move it? To be woken in the night with amazingly good news was, well, good, but befuddling. I was very sleepy but remember insisting to the Mr ‘check before you open the door, check it really is a policeman’.

Waiting for forensics, and insurers to sort out changing the locks took another few weeks, but the car is back, the door which was forced has new bolts top and bottom and we are throughly relieved all round. 

It has felt very strange not zooming out and about at weekends as we are used to doing, but then it was also the season of birthday parties so we’ve had that to keep us busy, plus the local paddling pool and trips to Greenwich and the Horniman at half term.

I’ve had to fall back on my local patch for admiring flowers – a few favourite houses I like to pass by, and a few new spots as well.


These were spotted in the garden of flats just by Streatham Common – amazing pink daisies, the bees loved them, and the gorgeous colour combination of orange poppies with white nigella.


A view of my very favourite local garden (featured before, I’m sure) – house painted strawberry ice cream pink, which always reminds me of the ‘strawberry pink villa’ in My Family and Other Animals, although SE London does not resemble Corfu in many other ways, I imagine. 

The planting is always beautifully done in purples, reds, and pinks to complement  the house, and the big girl decided she loved the ‘umbrella flowers’ – striped petunias really do look a bit like beach parasols! So I hunted the local garden centres until I found a striped petunia for her. 

A riot of even more purples and pinks: hydrangea, geranium, hollyhocks, clematis. Particularly love that shade of hydrangea – none of mine are flowering yet and one of the front garden ones has barely got going this year at all. Like most of the front garden, it’s rather a mess, but that’s another story.


Something from my own garden I can be proud of, our lovely white rose in the back garden (sadly scentless, but otherwise one of my favourites). I spent a good half hour this morning dead-heading it, so it’s now looking much more sparse, but it always grows back so vigorously I never worry too much about it. 

On the other hand, one of the other roses which was still flowering, I noticed was looking a bit bare in places – so I looked a bit closer…


See those little critters? Here’s a closer look.


It must be the Very Hungry Caterpillar and his friends! Luckily we have enough rose leaves to go round, and we are enjoying doing 30 Days Wild, so this was our ‘wild thing’ for the day. Quite thrilling for small children and me too.


The car/broken foot curfew is almost up, but next few weekends are busy with the school fair and other fixtures – Lambeth Country Show of course – but we will be back to days in the country soon, I hope.

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The Outside Room

This summer, it has felt like we’ve finally got the garden to work, as a part of the home, rather than just the nice green bit which sits behind glass and occasionally gets tended to. It turns out there are a couple of really simple things you can do to help make this happen, and one of them cost only £40, and the other was free. Let me explain…

Last summer, the first when we had the new living space at the back and the bifold doors, I certainly spent a lot of time sat on the sofa looking at the garden but not much time in it, unless I was doing actual gardening. 

Mostly, though, I was sat on the sofa, with a baby rolling around on the rug, drinking tea, and making grand plans for all the things I was going to do in the garden this year

Now, at the end of the summer, I cannot, hand on heart, say that I have created the den at the bottom of the garden, but it hasn’t stopped the Big Girl doing it for herself – round the back of the silver birch tree is her Ice Palace and there is usually some game being played there or story being enacted whenever a friend comes round to play. 

There is a lot I could do – and hopefully still will do – to make it into a proper child friendly play area, but of course what I should have known all along is that a child’s imagination will do all the heavy lifting – they don’t need lots of money spent to enjoy grubbing around in the soil with a stick.

We did still have the challenge of what to offer the baby sister, though, who was crawling at the start of the summer and walking by the end. As I wrote about here, the big thing preventing me from getting out into the garden during daylight hours was her love of climbing, scrambling and balancing on the edge of the raised bed in terrifying fashion. 

I realised we had to find some outdoor toy of some description which could occupy her safely, so that we could all spend time in the garden without having to repeatedly pull her down from the raised bed or patiently re-plant the sedums in my planter which she pulled up over and over again. 

Turns out the solution is very simple. I kept my eye out on Facebook, and when someone local offered a Little Tikes slide – the cube shaped one – for £40, we snapped it up. The first afternoon it was out on the lawn was the first ever I was able to drink a cup of tea while it was still hot, and without having to retrieve a grumbling baby who’d got stuck at the bottom of the garden.


It has been a huge success for her, as she is just the right size to climb up and onto it without help, but even better is how both the children play on it together. The moment the doors are open, they are both out there, sitting on top of it, hauling out trolley loads of toys and setting up tea parties.


I didn’t expect the Big Girl to be interested in it at all, so her willingness to join in has been a great delight. By next summer, I imagine they’ll both be too old for it, but the entertainment that slide has brought them for £40 was money well spent. 

The other thing which helped? Well, that was something we couldn’t have planned or predicted, but one day in early August we spotted a fledgling robin sitting on the garden bench (and using the arm as a pooing post, thanks robin!)

He (or she) was unusually tame and curious for a wild bird, as robins often are, so we started leaving out crumbs, and pretty soon he was a regular visitor.


Over the course of August he’s grown from a speckly, still slightly fluffy fledgling to an almost full-grown bird, and we’ve seen him virtually every day.


Isn’t he a cutie?

Of course he had to have a name, and between us, he was christened Cheerio Bubbles (don’t ask…)

It has been a key element of making the garden feel like a proper part of the house that we live in, knowing there is a friendly small creature interested in us, and busy making our garden his home, too. And of course it’s been a privilege to watch him growing and realise that the children are getting to see wildlife as a daily part of their life. 

Remembering to save some crumbs for him and put them out after breakfast, and looking out to be the first person to spot him that day, have all become part of the daily routine. We hope he’ll be one of the family for a long time to come.

Farewell to summer, autumn’s on the horizon…

Back in the day, it always seemed as if there was a distinct chill in the air on the first day back at school, so I always anticipate a crisp biting feel to early September, but the truth is more likely that the first day of school was the first in six weeks I was up early enough to feel that chill, after a summer of lazy starts. 

The last couple of years, though, we’ve barely even had a frost at the height of winter, let alone autumn, so that first chilly morning just doesn’t register with me at all, and I measure the gradual change in seasons by other means – the day I put away my flip flops and reluctantly got out my slippers, and the day I much less reluctantly made plum cobbler with the fruits of  Beryl-down-the-road’s tree, along with the first Sunday roast of the season. 

  

Our garden is still looking lush and green, after a few spectacularly wet days which restored the lawn from its summer dry spell, and we took the opportunity to do a bit of real – if rather basic – bit of structural work to the bane of my life, the raised bed.

One of my repeated frustrations with having such a large raised bed was the inability to work on it without trampling plants – and I end up gardening round the edges and never in the middle.

So a quick trip to Homebase for some aggregate and stepping stones later….

  
…and I now have the ability to cross the bed from front to back without having to tread on anything. I’m hoping the stepping stones will also give a bit of structure to the bed, and if I can encourage creeping plants to bed in around them and soften the edges, I’ll keep working towards my goal of as little visible bare earth as possible.

Here’s how it looks a week or so on – lovely cosmos in the left foreground which I hope is going to flower before the end of the year, but on the far side of the bed I’m still swamped by marigolds which no amount of weeding and hoeing can get rid of.

  
I suspect it will go on being a work in progress (aka dog’s dinner) for a long while yet – but at least the stepping stones make it a more practical space to work in now.

Beyond our own little patch, I’ve seen a few signs of autumn approaching – and given me yet again a few ideas of plants I’d like to have in the garden one day.

On Wimbledon Common we saw gorgeous teasel heads:

  
– a must-have in the garden for attracting seed-eating birds like goldfinches, and in their own right as a beautiful piece of natural sculpture.

At Dulwich Park we saw a favourite from my childhood (and from Flower Fairies of the Autumn), the glorious spindle, a plant so glamorous I can hardly believe it exists in nature.

  

Aren’t they splendid? If the shocking Schiaparelli pink outer shell of the berry weren’t impressive enough, they split open to reveal a flame coloured berry within. Such an unexpected contrast! I’ve decided I definitely MUST have spindle in the garden somewhere.

(However surprising that clash of pink and orange, it can’t beat the shades of these heathers I saw in Homebase the other week for unnatural garishness. How these colours were achieved other than by spray-painting them, I don’t know. And who would want such horrid plants in their garden, I have no idea).

  

Dulwich Park also has a lovely wild flower meadow which was packed with poppies and cornflowers when I saw it last. Much more restful to the eye.

  

Then we were back in Suffolk for a weekend and every field seemed crammed full of fungi, including this specimen:

  

– I certainly don’t know enough about fungi to take any risks (and I don’t endorse anyone picking anything without knowing what it is), so I left that one well alone, but I did decide I recognised a plain old field mushroom well enough when I saw one and took these beauties home:

  

(And no ill effects from eating them roasted alongside our home grown tomatoes, so I think I’m safe).

  

What’s next? I still have a few pie-in-the-sky gardening plans before the end of the year which I’m trying to make a bit more concrete, but in the mean time, let’s make hay while the sun shines and keep enjoying it all.

Walks around….The New Forest

We spent a week in the New Forest in June – an early holiday, to avoid peak school holiday season while we still can.

I have spent weekends and other fleeting visits to the New Forest in the past, and it was on my list of places to visit for a proper family holiday – easy walking, close to the sea, ponies – what more do you want?

  
….well, a thatched cottage is pretty good, too!

We had heathland directly over the road from our cottage, (near Beaulieu) stretching away for miles, which was either idyllic in good weather or slightly grim and foreboding, Egdon Heath-style, if you walked out there at twilight, as I did on the first evening.

 

The heath does not lend itself to family friendly walking – too tussocky and boggy and not enough proper paths to follow, so in our goal to find walks which could handle a buggy and a big girl, we went first of all to Bolderwood, a Forestry Commission site famous for its deer sanctuary.
It was a very short and easy buggy/ wheelchair-accessible walk to the viewpoint to see the deer, which was a lovely start to the walk.

  
…and beyond that a bit of a slog round the rest of the trail, an easy walk but not a terribly child-thrilling one, bar the odd fallen tree to scramble on.

Much more to her taste was Moors Valley country park, which had a forest trail with no less than 10 play areas to explore. This pretty much makes it 3-year-old heaven. 

  
Again, this was a buggy friendly walk, although felt like even more of a slog than Bolderwood, because we were constantly stopping and starting, and having to nag at the big girl to get her to move on to the next thing – it was a big hit with her, but time-consuming.

The other thing with these Forestry Commission walks is that one patch of forest plantation looks pretty much like another: there was not a lot of wildlife to be seen, nor any particularly dramatic scenery. It’s all pleasant walking, and being under the trees meant we stayed out of the sun, too, but we wanted to make sure we saw a bit more than just forest.

For that, we went to a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for years: Brownsea Island, famous for being the site of the first Scout Camp, and for its squirrels.

  
I don’t think I could imagine a place more suited to appeal to me – beautiful sea views in all directions (and what a colour the sea was – Poole Harbour is very shallow, and that lovely azure shade of sea made it feel more like a tropical island!), gentle walking on nice sandy soil, and best of all, red squirrels. (See little red dot in fork of tree on this picture).

  
What a privilege to see this wonderful animal for real – and how much cuter it is than the smug urban greys – red squirrels are tiny, mischievous and wiry, that flash of red coming as a joyful sudden sensation of movement out of the corner of your eye. I swear I saw one turn a cartwheel, and I’m sure it was doing it for the sheer fun of it.

We left Brownsea much earlier than I would have liked, as we had to allow enough time for the boat – the ride back is longer, taking in a full tour of Poole Harbour – so a good half of the island will have to wait for us to return another day to be explored. In my dreams I’d stay overnight, but I suspect I might have to (re)join the Scouts for that.

We also spent a day pottering along the New Forest coast, taking in Christchurch and the dramatic viewpoint of Hengistbury Head, (somewhere I’d been years ago, and always wanted to return) which had Tarmac paths all the way up – although a few steps thwarted us getting the buggy to the very top.

 

Besides all of this, we managed to explore the classic New Forest settlements of Lyndhurst and Lymington, visited a farm and also found a good walking route from Beaulieu following the river.
This left us surprisingly little time to relax and actually enjoy our thatched cottage, but on the last afternoon we finally laid our picnic rug on the grass and did nothing. For a short while.

And I couldn’t resist the chance of photographing a few of the cottage garden flowers that were in the immaculate garden – ox-eye daisies, Canterbury bells, love-in-a-mist, and the tallest foxgloves I’ve ever seen. It was complete bliss.  

  

Finally, just because, here’s some of the ponies on the lane outside our cottage one afternoon.

   

When can we go back, please?

Building a library for children, part 3

I am going into dangerous territory with this blog: I am entering the world of Twee. It’s not fashionable these days, and it’s not encouraged, and I have my reservations about it as much as any other feminist, but I do like a bit of twee, of things that are fancy, sweet and tiny and pretty and dainty.

I don’t know what started it off, but I suspect an early fascination for all things miniature went hand in hand with a love of flowers – I was very keen on making miniature gardens as a child, the sort where you put moss in a plastic tray and a mirror for a pond.

As we were growing up in the countryside with parents keen on wildlife, learning the names of wild plants was a given – and my mum encouraged this by giving me my first Flower Fairy books when I was about 7. (I remember the occasion as they were a present after I’d had a very minor operation in hospital, along with what became another much loved book, Little House in the Big Woods).

I think my mum – not otherwise a fan of fairy related stuff – liked the Flower Fairies because the floral illustrations were accurate, and didn’t just focus on pretty flowers.

She pointedly *didn’t* buy me Flower Fairies of the Garden, thinking garden plants are not nearly as interesting as wild ones – and the Flower Fairies of the Wayside includes some of the most despised weeds, including groundsel and goose-grass.

The Flower Fairies of the Autumn also taught me the difference between white and black bryony, and was my first introduction to poisonous plants and berries.

This came in useful when I was able to reassure other parents at the toddler’s nursery that the plant we’d found in its  garden was in fact not deadly nightshade but the less likely to be fatal (but still nasty) woody nightshade. Phew.

Of course it helped that when I was growing up, many of these plants were commonly found in the hedgerows so I was able to learn them and recognise them – I saw them all the time.

It won’t be quite so easy for a city dwelling child, but we have woods nearby which we visit quite often, and plenty of flowers in our garden have been inspired by my childhood love of the Flower Fairies, so I hope she’ll pick up some knowledge on the way. And knowing which berries not to eat is basic common sense information all children should learn.

The poems which accompany the Flower Fairy pictures are probably verging too much on the twee even for me, but some of them are lovely – and the fairies themselves, whilst some of them have frilly dresses (see Guelder Rose, above) are pleasingly lacking in glitter and wands and so forth. Look at the Blackthorn fairy, for instance –

There’s a hairdo that hasn’t seen a brush in a while!

I throughly approve of these wild and slightly mischievous fairies – they belong to the world of fairies Shakespeare knew, of Robin Goodfellow, of the fairy folklore in Edward Thomas’ Lob (one of my favourite favourite poems) and of Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill.

Moving on from fairies, though, there are also animal books which enthralled me as a child and still do – Beatrix Potter was a stalwart of my childhood, meeting parental approval again because the animals were drawn accurately from life (though as has often been pointed out, how poor Potter is at drawing people!), and the Lake District was one of our favourite family holiday destinations (my copy of Mrs Tittlemouse proudly has a label inside saying it was bought at Hill Top).

So we have already got a confirmed junior Potter fan in our household, with her own Peter Rabbit money box (alongside my original set of PR china which has somehow survived childhood intact – mug, plate, bowl and eggcup!)

The other animal books which I don’t think my mum would endorse (or at least, I never owned myself as a child, but always coveted) are the Brambly Hedge series.

This is an unashamedly twee world – a place of tiny mice, of pretty flowers and lace and frills and all things dainty.   But again, the animals and plants are all drawn accurately, and it’s the level of detail I love most of all.

I think it’s the cross section drawings of the mouses’ homes which captured my imagination as a child – the winding stairs and larders and corridors disappearing around corners were fascinating, and they appealed to my love of miniature things.

The Flower Fairy pictures never showed their homes, but Brambly Hedge imagined a whole world entire, with weavers and bakers and birthday parties and weddings. It was so complete, and so perfect.

I can’t remember when I first encountered Brambly Hedge, but what I do know is that any book showing cross-sections inside houses fascinated me – and ultimately it led to another enduring passion, my own much-loved dolls house. That’s probably a blog in its own right, for another day, though.

I have made up for the lack of Brambly Hedge in my own childhood by buying the books for the toddler – but I have resisted reading them to her too much – I love them, but are they too twee and girly to merit approval these days?

I also picked up Angelina Ballerina in a charity shop, but that I think is a step too far into the world of tweeness even for me and it has remained hidden away, so far. I love ballet, but I’d far rather the toddler’s first experience of ballet (when she’s a bit older) was the Ladybird book of Ballet which I treasured as a child (and how I wish I still owned it!), and of course, Ballet Shoes. But it’s a few years until she’s ready for either of those, so I’m not sure I can keep hiding Angelina Ballerina for too long.

I am aware that there is an awful lot of projecting my own interests onto my children here: fairies, dolls houses, ballet and flowers – so I should add that we are also encouraging trains and dinosaurs too, but we don’t have so many books about these. Perhaps I should be getting some recommendations….

Urban meadows, green roofs and tyre gardens

This post has been brewing for a while, but it took a few recent delightful and chance discoveries to bring together a few scattered ideas for a blog into a more coherent whole.

The first chance discovery, down a side road in Streatham I’d never been down before and haven’t since, was several months ago, and I’ve been longing for a chance to post it.

It was this lush green sedum roof on top of a garden shed (unusually, in a front garden). It was so gorgeous I must have stood and gawped at it for 5 minutes at least.

Green garden shed roof

Green garden shed roof

I’m not sure I’ve seen a green roof with so much variety and colour – a real treat, especially in a humble suburban garden. I thought excitedly ‘ooh, I’ll blog about this‘ and then proceeded to see NO more green roofs anywhere, or anything even remotely similar, so the picture sat in my photo stream for several months, waiting for an opportunity to be used.

I had been hearing about a green roof initiative on a row of otherwise unremarkable shops in Herne Hill, but it is best visible looking down from the train line, and I haven’t had a chance yet to take a picture of it.

Then, on a trip to Brockley to visit a friend, I was stunned by the planting around the station there – I knew that there had been improvements and landscaping going on, but I did not expect to see this beautiful meadow on a railway embankment where you’d normally see cans of lager and crisp wrappers…

Wildflower meadow, Brockley

Wildflower meadow, Brockley

Near the station entrance, they have created a more formal bed of mixed planting – I assume selected on the basis of being hardy and vandal-proof, based on the presence of some rather prickly and evergreen plants, but still plenty of variety in colour, shape and height, and the overall effect was very impressive.

Formal planting outside Brockley Station

Formal planting outside Brockley Station

What I like most of all is that someone – as it turns out, Brockley Cross Action Group – has bothered to think about this, and take some time to make it nice, when it could just have been some woodchippings and a few tired shrubs chucked in as an afterthought by the urban planners and landscapers. People of Brockley, you’re very lucky to have this.

After my Brockley envy, I went to Brockwell Park, and found, to my delight, an even more lavish flower meadow which has been planted outside the Lido.

Brockwell lido flower meadow

Brockwell lido flower meadow

I honestly don’t think photos could do justice to the colours – the sheer impact of the red poppies against the red brick wall was the first impression I had, but then other colours started to jump out – blue of cornflower, yellow of corn marigold, white of ox-eye daisy, purple of vetch – and more.

The work, by various community groups associated with the Park and Herne Hill, obviously creates a scene very pleasing to the human eye, but also a significant new habitat for bees and other pollinating insects – and I was glad to see several bees bumbling around the flowers as I watched.

Finally, it was just yesterday I saw the final piece of urban landscaping which I realised would be the perfect conclusion to this blog.

On a housing estate just down the road from us, I’d recently seen these tyres nailed up on the wall of the carpark. At first I thought it was some kind of urban art installation….

Tyre gardens, West Norwood

Tyre gardens, West Norwood

…but when they were painted green, I thought ‘Oh – they’re going to use them for planting!’ – and that’s exactly what has happened.

Taking a look up close, they are looking pretty well established already…..

Tyre gardens up close

Tyre gardens up close

…and even from a distance, although the wall itself is still shabby and blighted by graffiti, the tyres really are helping to make an otherwise dull environment a little more bright and interesting.

And that’s what made me finally realise the point of this blog – just to admire the effort some people and groups have made to add a little (or a lot) of greenery where previously there was none, and to praise them for making London nicer for us all. Thank you.

The Rise and Fall of the Cockney Sparrer

My Twitter and Facebook feed have recently been filled with an endless stream of statuses along the lines of ‘Ah, Autumn, my favourite season’, usually accompanied by an Instagram of some attractive foliage.

Now, I can take a snap of a pretty Autumn leaf as well as the next person, but I won’t be jumping on this particular bandwagon, as I’m decidedly a spring person, despite my birthday being in the depths of November. When spring is sprung, the grass is riz, lambs are gambolling and daffodils are nodding, I’m at my happiest.

Autumn Leaf

Oh ok then, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

I certainly admire the beauty of autumn, and enjoy the crisp, sunny mornings, but when it starts getting dark at 4pm, I yearn to be able to hibernate or migrate south. I sometimes wish I was the kind of character from an Evelyn Waugh or PG Wodehouse novel who decides on a whim to ‘motor down’ to the Riviera for the winter, and spend my days wandering under cypresses and beside the Med, and my evenings drinking aperitifs on a terrace, watching the sun set.

Autumn sunset

And autumn sunsets aren’t bad either.

However, this post wasn’t meant to be all me, me, me – I do remember occasionally to think of others (!), and last week I was guiltily reminded it was time to start feeding the birds again. I have not been as assiduously feeding them as much as I used to this year, partly due to lack of time, and partly due to thinking they ought to be fending for themselves a bit more during the summer, when there should be enough insects and seeds to go around – but of course the same doesn’t apply now that it’s late autumn.

Earlier this year, I took part in the RSPB’s Cockney Sparrow count, which has been asking Londoners to record sightings of the much-loved and familiar House Sparrow. The highlights of the survey results were sent back to me last week, along with a free pack of insect- (and therefore bird)-friendly wild flower seed – thank you, RSPB!

The survey indicates that the apparent decline in sparrows in central London continues, but the population in the outskirts is holding up better, East more so than West. Based on what I’d read before, I had thought pollution affecting fertility was a potential factor, but the RSPB’s current view is that a lack of invertebrate food is causing chicks to starve in the nest (now making me feel even more guilty that I didn’t put out food during the breeding season!)

House Sparrow

House Sparrow (Source: BBC Wildlife)

Increased predation from sparrowhawks and other birds of prey may also be hitting the sparrow population, and is a trend I have personal experience of – last summer to my amazement, a sparrowhawk stooped to snatch a sparrow right from my patio. The split-second moment when the hawk and I stared at each other, and the shriek that went up from all the other birds as they hurried to get away will stay with me a long time – and the silence in the garden afterwards was noticeable, my usual sparrow, blue tit and robin visitors didn’t return for several days.

Whilst I’m pleased to have been able to confirm to the RSPB that cockney sparrers are still doing well in my patch of South London, it does make me sad that you simply don’t see them in central London any more. One of my earliest London memories is feeding sparrows in St James’s Park, now totally dominated by feral pigeons, and of course landmark locations like St Pauls and Trafalgar Square are now bird-free thanks to the efforts to rid them of feral pigeons. Great in terms of reduction in pigeon poo-related nastiness, but a shame for the sparrows who were such a London fixture for so long.

Something else I’d note here, out of anecdotal interest, as I haven’t seen it recorded anywhere else by ornithologists – the sparrow population crash does seem to be a peculiarly London phenomenon. In the past few years I’ve been to a fair range of other major European cities – Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Vienna – and sparrows are still just as common in their centres as they were once in London. I have particularly fond memories of watching sparrows dustbathing and drinking from fountains in Madrid.

Sparrows in Madrid

Sparrows in Madrid

Thankfully, I can continue to do my bit for the sparrows by feeding them in winter and planting insect-friendly plants in spring and summer to ensure they have a good food source all year round – and barring any more sparrowhawk-related incidents, I can continue to enjoy watching them, too.