Lockdown has enticed many species into suddenly quiet cities and thrust nature’s beauty to the fore. Will COVID-19 help the fight against climate change?
(All photos by Tira Shubart)
For many of us, nature has become a bigger part of our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. To those of us in the northern hemisphere, we’ve gone from winter bleakness to a time of spring blooms and an explosion of green.
Reports of nature seizing the spaces left empty by humans have resulted in false, but perhaps hopeful, images of dolphins leaping through the canals of Venice. The Venetian dolphins were actually filmed in Sardinia and electronically relocated.
But there are plenty of actual sightings of animals encroaching on human territory, from scenes of ducks waddling through the centre of Paris, to mountain goats invading towns in Wales and fin whales breaching just outside the now-quiet harbour of Marseilles.
In densely populated cities like London, where the COVID-19 lockdown means most residents can only leave their homes for essentials and daily exercise, the value of connecting to nature in parks has never been greater.
And the glory of London is that 44% of the city is green spaces—parks, heaths, commons, garden squares, churchyards and the grand Royal Parks. Nearly everyone is within a mile of a green respite.
But it’s not just people who populate the parks.
COVID-19 has given us in cities more time to appreciate nature.
Wesley Kerr, a trustee and board member of Royal Parks, said: “We are just one of the species that uses the park.”
Larger species include the ancient herds of red and fallow deer, all descendants of animals enclosed by royalty in the parkland as far back as 1433.
Hundreds of bird species are clearly thriving as pollution caused by traffic and flight paths has dropped substantially. Rubbish in the water courses—the huge inner city wetlands—has almost vanished.
Ducks, geese and swans are livelier as they benefit from a natural diet of plants and fish rather than discarded fast food and white bread.
Joggers and walkers have time to delight in the spectacle of spring blossoms and flowering trees. The landscapes of grand Royal Parks, originally designed to be viewed from carriages, are now vistas for cyclists who travel at the same speed as horses.
The Mall, the tree-lined road from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, is no longer a highway for motor traffic. Suddenly, pedestrians can admire the bright reds of the floral displays planted to match the uniforms of the Guardsmen outside the Palace opposite.
Will our heightened appreciation of nature lead to change?
Modern life in COVID-19 times has become less intrusive on our senses as nature reclaims its rights. Planes overhead are rare, car traffic is substantially reduced. Outdoor events, a feature of London’s green spaces since Elizabethan times, have been cancelled or postponed. A bit of wildness has returned around us. Urban foxes trot boldly through overgrown parks, which look increasingly like rural meadows.
With birdsong now louder than traffic in parts of towns, songbirds are able to communicate more easily. People are using social media and online forums to learn more about the flourishing birds.
British naturalist Chris Packham launched The Self Isolating Bird Club on Facebook following the lockdown. To date, more than 33,000 have joined, many posting photos and videos of all manner of British species. Birds are sharing the virtual limelight with hedgehogs, moles, badgers and foxes. Even the London Police won “likes” for safely shepherding a pair of Canadian Geese and their newly hatched goslings through the streets.
Will our heightened appreciation of nature change our post COVID-19 behaviour? After we no longer walk and cycle everywhere, will low-carbon public transport be the norm? Will the legacy of the novel coronavirus result in more environmentally aware urban planning?
Finally, will we be willing to change our long-term behaviour when normal economic and social life returns, to make the changes needed in the battle against climate change?
(Read more News Decoder stories on COVID-19.)
Tira Shubart is a freelance journalist and media trainer based in London. She has produced television news and trained journalists across four continents for international broadcasters, including BBC News, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera, over several decades. She is a Trustee and Co-Founder of The Rory Peck Trust for freelance journalists and an Ambassador for the Science Museum in London.