Blacktop Rain

…and other secret joys


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London’s Natural History by R.S.R. Fitter

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Feeding the pigeons in front of St Paul’s Cathedral – colour plate from London’s Natural History

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

London’s Natural History charts the natural history of London from its pre-historic, geological formation, through the Romans, the medieval period (when kites were a common London bird), the expansion of the city from the fifteenth century onwards, and on to its final bursting point in the mid-nineteenth century. It then looks at the various human impacts on the city’s flora and fauna in the present day (the present day being 1945), including the influence of traffic, refuse disposal, agriculture and the recent war. Whilst the history of London is interesting, it is the snapshot of London in 1945 that I find the most fascinating. For example, Fitter mentions the abundance of sparrows in London, according to Fitter they are the only London bird considered to be a Cockney. Since then the number of sparrows in London has drastically declined – by 60% between 1994 and 2004 according to the RSPB. On the other hand, he mentions the recent increase in the number of gulls in London, a bird that is still increasing in urban areas. Continue reading

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Nature Near London by Richard Jefferies

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Richard Jefferies

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

Although Nature Near London is maybe more accurately classified as suburban nature writing, the ‘near’ in the title giving it away, it would feel remiss to begin this series with any other book. After all, a genre doesn’t spring up fully formed over night and part of the aim of this series of blog posts is to explore the evolution of urban nature writing as a sub-species distinct from nature writing (and if, indeed, it is possible to define the genre at all). With Nature Near London the seed of an idea was being sown – the idea that it is not necessary to turn ones back on the city to find nature. I also include Jefferies’ book because the city, London, looms large; it is a presence that forms a counter-point to the places Jefferies explores. It also looms large in Jefferies’ own mind, and magnetised him even as he seeks to escape it. Continue reading


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A history of urban nature writing

Image from Wildlife in the City by Alan C. Jenkins

Image from Wildlife in the City by Alan C. Jenkins

Some time ago (I don’t remember when or how – though I can guess that I was probably on a train, which is where I have all my best ideas) the idea popped into my head to read and review every work of urban nature writing ever published, from Richard Jefferies’s Nature Near London, right up to the present day when the genre seems to have exploded. Once lodged in my mind, the idea refused to budge and it has been there ever since. Continue reading