Michael McCarthy: Why scruffy sites mean rich pickings

Nature Notebook: There was the black redstart, nesting amidst the 1950s pin-striped stockbrokers


I've always been drawn to scruffy bits of land. In nature, scruffy means rich, because nature doesn't do neat. The scruffier the corner, the more things will be inhabiting it, whether it be plants, insects, mammals or birds, and a supreme example of this was the case of the bombsites in the City of London.

When the last war ended, Britain was broke, with no money to start rebuilding anything for years, so the bombsites were left, became rampantly overgrown, and eventually attracted a most charismatic bird to breed on them, the black redstart. There it was, nesting amidst the 1950s pin-striped stockbrokers, in the heart of the Square Mile.

For the last 10 days I have been commuting every morning past a substantial piece of landscape which is quite splendidly scruffy, as I journey with thousands of other interested parties from central Copenhagen to the UN Climate Conference, at the Bella Centre, below, in the Danish capital's southern suburbs. It is a wild expanse of scrubby, desolate brown grassland running alongside Copenhagen's spanking new Metro when it emerges above ground, and I noticed it the first morning: gazing bleary-eyed out of the train window in the Danish dawn, the Scruffiness Alert went off in my head.

All last week I wondered what it was and what it might hold, and at the weekend I found out: it is Amager Common, an old landscape preserved as a nature reserve, and according to the website of the Dansk Ornitologisk Forening, the Danish version of the RSPB, kindly translated for me by Professor Google, "here in May and June, experience the impressive chorus of nightingales and various singers". The website also informs me that "here in the willow copses, the rare pungmejse in 2004 again began to breed after years of absence".

Prof Google unfortunately found pungmejse beyond his linguistic capabilities, but a little research revealed that it was the penduline tit, a remarkable bird which builds a hanging nest like a Christmas stocking, and has never bred in Britain. So this week, on the way to report on the world trying to sort out climate change, I am looking out of the Metro window in the grey Danish dawn upon that fantastic scruffiness, and seeing in my mind the penduline tit nests, and hearing the nightingales.

No French? Quel dommage

Another observation from the UN conference: the preponderance of English in international affairs is now quite overwhelming. As a dyed-in-the-wool Francophile, I say that with a real pang. French was the indispensable language of culture and diplomacy for 300 years after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, but at Copenhagen, the biggest international gathering for half a century with nearly 200 nations taking part, it's as if it did not exist.

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