Michael McCarthy: The grass is greener on the other side

Nature Notebook: Great Nature is still visible in view of the heartless towers if you look hard enough


Glancing out of the newsroom window at the noble London plane trees fronting the Victorian Gothic of St Mary Abbots church, topped by the tallest spire in London, I tried hard to think of something favourable to say about Canary Wharf. I failed.

The Independent has finally moved. After nearly 15 years living among the steel-and-glass towers of Docklands we have shifted, from east to west, to the heart of Kensington on the other side of London, and all I can think of is, good riddance. I feel there are many reasons to detest Canary Wharf, most prominent among them being the fact that this flashy overgrown business park symbolised supremely the rip-off culture of financial services, that ideology of egregious greed which produced the banking crisis and the mess we are all in now. Look at the tall glittering towers and they seem the embodiment of the heartless; and as I wrote here in January, it is a district which is lifeless, too, a place where the bits of greenery that are allowed are entirely cosmetic and controlled, with never so much as a weed or an insect in view.

But as I also wrote in January, that's not quite the whole truth. Canary Wharf sits on the Isle of Dogs, that tonsil-shaped peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Thames, and where you have a river, you also have wildlife, willy-nilly. Back then I learned that my colleague Sean Huggins, sub-editor, local resident and talented birdwatcher, was compiling a list of all the birds he could see on "the island", as they say down there, and in the first two weeks of January had reached the remarkable total of 45 species, including such surprising occurrences as sparrowhawk, great spotted woodpecker and woodcock.

Sean has now left the paper, but on Sunday evening, thinking Canary Wharf thoughts, curiosity got the better of me and I rang him up – he was on a birding holiday in Norfolk – and asked what the figure was now. It was 67 species, he said, including merlin, our tiny, exquisite falcon, and ring ouzel, our blackbird of the mountains. Amazing. So down there, in view of the heartless towers, Great Nature is still visible if you look hard enough. It's a consolation. But not much of a one.

Kensington gets a bum deal

Looking at St Mary Abbots, I suddenly remembered that once, in the back streets behind the church, I had spotted a party of long-tailed tits (which used to be called bumbarrels) flitting about in a nearby tree. Not surprising, as two major parks are close by: Kensington Gardens and Holland Park. Others may see Kensington as the epitome of the elegant or the stylish; permit me to view it henceforth as the home of the bumbarrel.

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