Friday, 27 May 2016

Event Review: David Lindo, the Urban Birder

Ellie Howell, Cley Marketing and Engagement Intern

Yesterday at the Forum for our Wild in the City event, naturalist broadcaster, writer and birder, David Lindo, spoke about his encounters with wildlife in urban habitats. David was poignantly introduced by senior education officer, Annabel Hill, who noted that we have become disconnected with nature, but also that we have an inherent need for nature in our lives. I was excited to see how David negotiated this dilemma through his passion for urban birding.

David Lindo, photo by Susana Sanroman

As David walked on stage, I noticed his friendly countenance, which the audience warmed to immediately. He even saw me at the back scribbling away, joking that someone was already taking notes on his talk.

He began by contesting the media’s presentation of nature, of countryside programs which are unlikely to excite younger audiences. He mentioned exotic shows in places far away that might not be accessible for urban residents, calling them the ‘jaws and claws’ programs. Of course, such media is very important for enthusing and informing people about nature. But what can be done and seen within our own cities, towns and back gardens?

David started to speak more about his experiences and feelings around birding. He’s had experience of birding in Norfolk, and Cley in particular. He mentioned how profound it was to wake up to the sound of oyster catchers, and the waves lashing upon the shore in the early morning. For David, birding isn’t only about lists and numbers, but also about having a real connection to nature – especially in unlikely places. What was very unlikely, and of course what makes David so interesting, is that his experience of birding started in North London. He told us about a book of birds he got out of his local library at the age of eight, which he read from cover to cover, and almost memorised. It reminded me of a worn book which sits upon my parent’s bookshelf about British birds that I often read when I was younger.

Robin, photo by Elizabeth Dack
David was responsible for the Britain’s National Bird campaign. At school, he created a poll so that he could discover the favourite bird of his class. It was the sparrow that won. Years later, in 2015 the poll was taken and it was the robin that won. He wanted to get people talking about birds, and I certainly think he succeeded.

The challenge, then, is not finding birds for people to talk about, but actually making people more aware of them. For David, it is having an open mind, and the attitude that anything can happen, anywhere. For example, in his travels to Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, he saw in just one urban park 22 long eared owls, as well as kestrels and rooks. He and several tourists gained access to the top of a high-rise building, and sighted white tailed eagles and Caspian gulls. In Kolka, Latvia, in a marshland just behind his hotel, he spotted cranes, stalks, and chaffinches. He said it was ‘like a slideshow’ of many types of birds all flying around him.

He concluded the talk by speaking about his local birding area, which he referred to as his ‘patch’, his inner city Fair Isle. He said that Wormwood Scrubs was in great danger of encroachment, and stressed the importance of protecting your own patch. It reminded me of the importance of not only protecting our own Norfolk land, but getting excited about it too.

On my walk home that evening, instead of walking down St. Giles Street, I decided to stroll through Chapelfield Park. I was open to the possibility that I might see anything, and joyful at the realisation that I was not as distant from nature as I first thought. 

There are two more Wild in the City talks taking place:

Kate Blincoe on Green Parenting, featuring well-known local farmer (and Kate's father) Chris Skinner: Wednesday 1 June, 6.30pm

Nick Acheson on 90 years of Norfolk Wildlife Trust's history and achievements. Meeting bitterns, cranes, stone curlews, rare flowers and the people who have striven to save them. Thursday 2 June, 4.30pm 

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