Urban wildlife in the age of coronavirus

Siân Moxon, senior lecturer and sustainability coordinator at The Cass, discusses how human relationships with nature and wildlife may change through isolation measures.

Date: 30 March 2020

COVID-19 might have started with our mistreatment of wildlife - the World Health Organization suspecting its origins in the Chinese wild animal trade - but nature could ultimately profit from its impact.

As our towns and cities go into lockdown, wildlife can carry on its business undisturbed. When only the occasional jogger passes through, parks will allow more timid species to prosper alongside the dominant grey squirrels and parakeets. Wildflower meadows will appear, as building sites go dormant and overstretched councils ease off maintaining public spaces. By night, urban foxes, who live for on average 18 months because so many are killed by cars, can relax on the deserted streets. Meanwhile, less trafficked roads, waterways and railway lines will bring in less-common visitors, such as muntjac deer, red kites and hedgehogs.

Globally, reductions in air travel and inessential consumption during the pandemic will limit the carbon emissions and habitat loss that are driving an alarming decline in biodiversity. While tragic for us, any cull by the virus of the nearly eight billion people overcrowding the planet relieves pressure on other species.

More positively, our enforced break from modern life is a chance for us to rediscover what is important and reconsider our environmentally damaging way of life. Outside our windows, in our own streets and gardens, life goes on. Spring is underway, with birds singing, trees blossoming, and bees and butterflies emerging. As we pause to observe this, we should feel the proven benefits of even this limited contact with nature on our health and wellbeing – and perhaps a sense of hope that we could live better lives in harmony with nature.

Projects such as my Rewild My Street campaign are encouraging residents to use this moment to reconnect with nature, even while self-isolating, by adapting their own gardens and balconies for wildlife. Our latest newsletter advises residents to : “Stockpile bird food to fill feeders, so you have something to watch from your window. Get out in your garden to boost your wellbeing and make it better for wildlife with our activities. Grow your social network by sharing stories on our community forum.”

Although reported sightings of dolphins taking over Venice’s canals have been debunked, they offer a utopian vision of how our cities could be reimagined after the pandemic, as wilder places that nurture humans alongside other species. London’s pioneering National Park City Charter provides a framework to achieve this and should be executed with urgency once the crisis has passed. After all, our disregard for nature is proving suicidal.