Valerie Weber laments the loss of birds, bees and insects in her Lewisham neighbourhood.
I was born in a spacious Victorian terrace in Deptford, surrounded by sites being rebuilt after the bombings of docklands in World War Two.
Designated “slums”by the council because they had no bathrooms or inside toilets, they were condemned and demolished, replaced by low-quality housing. Communities were destroyed. I don’t remember seeing any birds but pigeons. There was no
other wildlife. Except perhaps mice – but we had cats, so we never saw any rodents.
In order to fulfil the dream publicised on their leaflets (to turn Deptford into the new Venice – I kid you not) we were moved to a flat in a newly converted house on Lewisham Way, near St John’s Station. Suddenly there was wildlife – squirrels, wood pigeons, sparrows, hedgehogs; I could hear owls and bats at night too.
When I moved to Ladywell, I could also hear owls, and bats would swirl around my head. A nearby house had a nest for house martins. Sparrows were numerous.
Then suddenly they were gone. Greenfinches appeared for a season, then were gone again. Eventually the sparrows returned, but less numerous.
Blackbirds competed from the aerials and chimney pots. One clever starling enjoyed impersonating blackbirds and robins just to confuse me. Blue tits and great tits were abundant, long-tailed tits and pied wagtails put in appearances.
There were plenty of crows and all kinds of pigeons, magpies, and even the occasional jay. There were also clouds of bees and all kinds of butterflies and moths. Insects abounded, and spiders spun webs and made nests of spiderlings. Caterpillars, stag beetles came and then disappeared.
Householders were allowed to build fences that prevented hedgehogs from reaching other gardens, ensuring their extinction locally.
Collared doves and parakeets are the most recent arrivals, challenging the foxes to catch them. The old Citibank tower’s resident peregrine falcon has been known to swoop down on prey. But my garden is largely wildlife free, despite multiple bird feeders and baths, nest boxes and native weeds.
Our wonderful council has chosen to concrete over every square inch of grass. For 70 years I have watched successive councils degrade the local environment, doing more damage than was done in the war.
They have allowed local names to be turned into a laughing stock. On the Sundermead Estate, they’ve allowed the making of a Smead Way.
Presumably because Sundermead was shortened to S’mead by someone who knew, and someone who didn’t read it as Smead. Then there’s Pine Tree Way, with an ancient mulberry tree on the corner.
And let’s not forget the tidal nature of our local rivers. If you stand on the bridge Leading from Elmira Street to Molesworth Street, you can see the river flowing down from the Bankside Avenue bridge, while the incoming tide from the Thames flows back.
Who can tell you about that? I’m proud of my borough, but to see a 16-storey block rise up to overlook my house, on a plot that had been designated as “not suitable for high rise”, breaks my heart.
To have lost so much of our nature is criminal. And there’s no way back.