I was born in post-war, bombed-out Deptford docklands where the only wildlife was a few pigeons, the occasional sparrow and an unwelcome mouse, writes Valerie Weber.
My aunt and uncle lived next door and were lucky enough to have two lilac trees in their garden, and a sycamore. That and a few horse chestnuts was the extent of my tree knowledge.
Our garden consisted of cornflowers, antirrhinums and radishes. On our regular Sunday walks to Greenwich Park, we might see some other birdlife, and I’m pretty sure we saw red squirrels. Of course, there ducks on the ponds.
In 1964, Deptford Council wanted to beat the amalgamation with Lewisham by tearing down as many of the houses the Luftwaffe had not destroyed as they could and creating their version of Venice.
I remember the leaflets. I don’t remember the new Venice, but I do recall being moved away from the community where I had been born and into a flat in a huge house in Lewisham Way, near the Stone House.
There was a neglected pear tree with inedible fruits in the huge back garden, and a forest of triffids, our word for sycamore seedlings.
My aunt and uncle moved into a flat in the same house and tamed the garden.
My best memory of wildlife there was the odd owl hooting. School was truly barren – tarmac playgrounds at primary (Tidemill) and secondary (Addey and Stanhope).
My university years were spent in the amazing greenery of Lancaster, with trips to the Lakes. I’m not sure I ever saw any wildlife even there. Not because there was none, but because I was a student!
When I moved to my present house in Ladywell 43 years ago, I could again hear owls, and at dusk bats flew overhead. Both are long since gone.
House martins nested along the road, but the house owners took down their beautifully crafted nests. I fed sparrows, starlings and greenfinches, then they all disappeared.
It was years before any birds returned. I started feeding them again and the flocks built up. Starlings came, then went again. Blue tits and great tits are regulars, and sparrows are nesting in many roofs along the street, and congregating in overgrown bushes.
Where there used to be several blackbirds competing on chimneys, we are lucky to have two. The nearest thrushes are in Ladywell Fields, which has sent us some of their parakeets. There is always a wren with its distinctive call, and crows and magpies (and pigeons, wood and feral) have never left.
Sometimes some longtailed tits fly through, a pair of collared doves has a little love-in, a jay hops by or a grey wagtail comes and says hello. It’s a pleasure to look up in spring and see the returning swifts. Goldfinches and chaffinches come and go. At present they seem to have gone.
Wild mammals are restricted to foxes. The first time I saw one I thought it was a ginger cat crossing over the top of my garden.
I did once receive a gift of a live rat one of my cats brought in as part of a catch and release scheme. A flooded kitchen, new dishwasher and spurned live trap later I had to admit defeat and betray my vegetarian squeamishness to have her killed.
In the early days of living here, there were many and varied butterflies – red admirals, commas, painted ladies, peacocks, small blues, hedge browns, ringlets, gatekeepers, tortoiseshells.
Now, just as in post-war Deptford, I rarely see anything other than a cabbage white. Moths were also common to see – tiger moths, white or buff plume moths, hawk moths.
Neat and tidy gardens have removed the grubs’ food sources, and pesticides have killed the few adults. Once the development of Silver Road begins, I foresee massive disturbance of our recently resettled wild animals, which are taking advantage of the rewilding of the Ravensbourne and probably making homes in the Axion House site. The last of the stag beetles and hedgehogs must be somewhere nearby. TfL’s latest plans will turn our streets into rat runs, so even our cats will not be safe.
The Ravensbourne channel was concreted up following the 1968 flood, but even so an optimistic heron used to stand waiting to see if any lunch would swim by.
There’s still a heron in the naturalised channel, as well as moorhens and mallards. Occasionally a Mandarin duck appears or a tufted duck – even a Jemima Puddleduck visited once! Many of the current ducks are apparently called “manky mallards” (an American name, I’m told). They are very dark and have a largeish white bib. This year, for the first time, we’ve had quite a brood.
The news is very mixed. Just outside the Ladywell border, on the roof of the old Citibank tower, peregrines continue to breed (four chicks this year) and a neighbour has shown me a photo of a sparrowhawk on next door’s roof. We must all make sure we do our bit to protect what we have, and prevent officials at the town hall and city hall forcing us to start again from scratch.