Park Life, more than Pigeons: bird watching in Queen's Park, Preston Park and St Ann's Well Gardens
I feed the pigeons, I sometimes feed the sparrows too It gives me a sense of enormous well-being (Parklife) And then I'm happy for the rest of the day safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it
All the people So many people And they all go hand-in-hand Hand-in-hand through their parklife
It's got nothing to do with Vorsprung durch technique, you know?
(Parklife) and it's not about you joggers who go round and round and round (Parklife)
Blur, Parklife (1994) Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree
I live in an area of Brighton named after a park: Queen's Park, and my maternal grandmother went to Park Street Girls' Secondary School close by. Queen's Park is five minutes from my house, where we have lived for thirty-one years, yet I did not see it is a place to birdwatch previously. I looked at the ducks and the geese on the pond happily, but I didn't see the park as a place to watch birds, as that was something you do in the Countryside, or an Estuary, or a Nature Reserve; the ducks and the geese were ornamental and domestic, part of the design of the park.
But Lockdown III has changed that. I am following strictly the injunction only to take exercise in your local area. The places that I exercise (and bird watch) in are typically local marine and countryside spaces and woods, viz. the Undercliff between Brighton Marina and Rottingdean (where my mum, for whom I am sole carer, lives); the local wood (Craven Wood, which is opposite my house and is part of Whitehawk Hill, a Local Nature Reserve), Whitehawk Hill and the abutting Sheepcote Valley (formerly a council waste tip). I also go to the Castle Hill Local Nature Reserve (behind Woodingdean) and Hollingbury and Bursted Woods in Brighton, and Stanmer Great Wood (listed by the Woodland Trust as a wood of historic important). All of these I construe as "wild", thus as "legitimate" place to birdwatch. But I viewed parks as human-created "tame" spaces, that didn't warrant spending time bird watching. This is odd, as I have always excepted that my back garden, was a "legitimate" venue to bird watch, probably because of the impact of the citizen science project The Big Barden Birdwatch; and parks are just larger public gardens, indeed some parks ae called gardens
Of course parks are mostly human-made environments. "These green spaces shape the character of our towns and cities creating attractive places for people and their families to live and work. The majority of the large public parks date from the late 19th and early 20th century. We have inherited a rich canon of public parks and gardens and these parks are of huge historic and cultural importance with some 300 designated as designed landscapes of national historic interest.
Public parks were created to offer healthy recreation for all, and in particular the working classes. The Victorians saw recreation as offering mental and physical wellbeing, and social benefits – literally a ‘re-creation’. They realised parks could serve as ‘The Lungs’ for the cities. The legislation for the new parks is embedded in the Victorian Health Acts and the development of public parks is very much interrelated with concerns about the welfare of employees, and civic consciousness. https://whatworkswellbeing.org/blog/parks-for-people-the-role-of-historic-public-parks-for-wellbeing/
But bird's "natural" habitats are mostly tress and areas of green space (and for some, e.g. House Sparrows, the built environment). Birds don't care if the tree or green space that they live and forage in are "natural" ("wild") spaces, or a human-made space like a park. Moreover, the idea that there are "wild", "natural" environments for bird watching needs challenging, all "natural" environments have developed through human-environment interactions, for example the famous chalk grassland environment of the South Downs is an environment created through sheep grazing - despite it being seen it as "natural", "wild" today. We are living in the geological era of the Anthropocene; human influence on the landscape is ubiquitous, for good and mostly ill; no bird lives in a habitat that isn't conditioned, to some extent, by human influence.
Yesterday (15/02/21) I decided to visit three parks - starting with my local Queen's Park, then walking to Preston Park and St Ann's Well Gardens (the park I used to play in as a child, as I lived from the age of four to eighteen just ten minutes away). My aim was to see how many different species of birds I could see.
"Set in a sheltered valley, Queens Park is perfect if you want to take a short stroll and relax. There is a wildlife garden planted by a local herbalist and a pond at its centre (see further information below.) There is also a grade two listed clock tower, built in 1915 from Redbrick and Portland stone." Queens Park (brighton-hove.gov.uk)
Vintage Postcard ca. 1890.
Starling (on TV aerials on house chimney pot opposite Queen's Park)
Other birds seen but not photographed: Mallards (m and f); Greylag Geese, Domestic Geese; Moorhens; Black-headed Gulls, Carrion Crows, Woodpigeons, Feral Pigeons
"Preston Park is the largest urban park in the city. Whether you want to take part in sports or sit and enjoy a picnic on a summer’s day, Preston Park is the perfect place to go. Preston Park is the largest urban park in the city. Whether you want to take part in sports or sit and enjoy a picnic on a summer’s day, Preston Park is the perfect place to go. Due to its size and location the park is also used as a venue for concerts, circuses, fairs, family days and other events". Preston Park (brighton-hove.gov.uk)
Other birds seen but not photographed: Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Carrion Crows, Magpies. Woodpigeons, Feral Pigeons
St Ann's Well Gardens
"St Ann's Well Gardens, not far from Hove seafront, is a treat for the tree-lover and will appeal to young and old alike. There is a wide range of native and exotic trees giving the gardens their unique character and providing shelter and tranquillity for wildlife. Nature conservation is important in the park - there are designated fenced off areas, a scented garden for the visually impaired and a well stocked pond with a biological filter system". St Ann's Well Gardens (brighton-hove.gov.uk)
Photo of vintage postcard from Judy Middleton's blog Hove in the Past: St Ann's Well Gardens, Hove (hovehistory.blogspot.com)
Other birds seen but not photographed: Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Carrion Crows, Feral Pigeons
Despite, Albarn et al.'s lyric I feed the pigeons, I sometimes feed the sparrows too, I saw no sparrows in parks yesterday; I don't think I have ever seen a House Sparrow in one of Brighton and Hove's parks, however, I did see a fair few sparrows in house gardens walking between parks.
Port Hall Street, Brighton
Fuze Hill, Hove