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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Meet me at St Pancras

The Meeting Place

I made one of my rare and fleeting trips to London yesterday to attend a conference. I caught the train to and from St Pancras and as I was wandering round the train station waiting for my train home I noticed the above statue from afar. The two giant, kissing figures loom over the station, even as the impressive span of the Victorian station roof looms over them.  Continue reading


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Review: The Unofficial Countryside by Richard Mabey

The Unofficial Countryside spans the four seasons and is Richard Mabey’s account of wildlife within and around London. Published in 1973 it was ahead of its time with its focus on urban nature, something that is still relatively under-represented by the nature writing canon. In each chapter Mabey visits various liminal or marginalised spaces – such as sewage works, rubbish dumps, and gravel works – as well as the more acceptable faces of urban nature – such as parks, gardens, and golf courses – and writes about the plant, bird, and animal life that he encounters there. Continue reading