Michael McCarthy: Try as you might, you can't keep nature out

Nature Notebook

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Some time in the next three months,
The Independent is due to move from Canary Wharf, the mini-Manhattan in London's East End where we have been located for just over 14 years, to the very different setting of Kensington High Street on the western side of the capital. It has to be said that Canary Wharf, as a location, will not be much missed. Its post-modern steel and glass towers are no more than functional: they seem to embody both the flashy glamour and the heartlessness of that now discredited religion, financial services.

I personally have found Canary Wharf hard to like for a different reason: it is lifeless. I mean, literally. Between the two entrances of the Jubilee Line tube station, for example, there is a garden, which is attractively laid out, with a long lateral fountain imitating a mountain stream. Yet I've never seen a butterfly there; I've never seen any insect; I've never seen a bird; I've never even seen a "weed", by which I mean a wild plant which had come in of its own accord. It might be superficially pleasing to the eye, but the human control of this site is rigorous; nature and its essential wildness is nowhere allowed. I hate it.

However, nature is hard to repress completely, and as Canary Wharf is part of the Isle of Dogs, surrounded by the Thames, the birds that are always part of the river are sometimes on view, from coots to cormorants, from terns to great crested grebes. This week I realised the neighbourhood bird fauna is actually far richer than I imagined, as my colleague Sean Huggins, a birdwatching Indy sub-editor, has begun a list of all the bird species he sees on the Isle of Dogs in 2009. and has already reached a total of 45.

Some are astounding. Great spotted woodpecker! Sparrowhawk! Woodcock! Or perhaps that should be, woodcock!!! A bird that symbolises the deep woodlands of autumn, in sight of the heartless glass towers! It just goes to show that wild things are there much more than we think, even in the cities, but we sometimes need the skill to see them.

Sean's a better birder than I will ever be; and as he lives on "the island", as the locals say, he'll be able to complete his year-list.

One finch in Fulham

This column's last foray into urban wildlife referred to the number of bird species which could be observed from Craven Cottage, the Thameside-ground of plucky premiership stalwarts Fulham FC (Come On You Whites!). It is a pleasure to report that the column in question has now been reproduced word for word in the club's fanzine, One F in Fulham (don't dwell on the title). One feels a certain unaccustomed element of football credibility. One is chuffed.

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