Animals and the City

Amateur naturalists in search of London’s wildlife will find signposts in London’s libraries, wherein are informative and colourful guides to where to go and what to see.

Watching wildlife in London by Marianne TaylorChris Packham’s wild side of townUrban Wildlife (Usborne Spotter’s Guide)Urban Wildlife Habitats by Barbara Taylor Wild town: wildlife on your doorstep, by Mike Dilger

London’s diverse animal habitats are engagingly surveyed in Watching wildlife in London by Marianne Taylor, Wild in London by David Goode, and Chris Packham’s wild side of town: getting to know the wildlife in our towns and cities. Fledgling naturalists can take flight with Urban Wildlife (Usborne Spotter’s Guide), Urban Wildlife Habitats by Barbara Taylor and Wild town: wildlife on your doorstep, by Mike Dilger.

The websites of the London Wildlife Trust and the London Natural History Society are packed with information on reserves, habitats, species, events and issues.

Beastly London, by Hannah VeltenThe opportunities for feeding and breeding attracts and sustains London’s animal populations. The story of those creatures who did not choose to make a home in the capital is evocatively told in Beastly London by Hannah Velten, an unsentimental, readable and well-researched account of “the heaving mass of animals that once lived on the street”.

Whilst unsentimental the book concludes with “a heartfelt apology to the animals with thanks for their forbearance …. for the exploitation they were subjected to, and the unnatural urban conditions they had to cope with”. Working with original sources and plentifully illustrated with contemporary drawings, prints and photographs, the author recounts the travails of the animals “used to feed Londoners, to transport them and their goods, to entertain them, to provide a livelihood for them [and] to provide sport and gambling opportunities”.

Itinerant dancing bear and dogs, 1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Itinerant dancing bear and dogs, 1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Also documented are the changes in attitude which led to legislation to restrain animal maltreatment, with Acts to prevent cruelty to horses and cattle in 1822, to dogs in 1839, and against animal baiting and cockfighting in 1835 and 1849. The rise of animal welfare societies is recorded too, with the Society for the Protection of Animals being established in 1824 and Our Dumb Friends’ League (today Blue Cross) in 1897, the latter opening an animal hospital in Westminster in 1906, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Patients Awaiting Admission, Our Dumb Friends League Aniimal Hospital. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Patients Awaiting Admission, Our Dumb Friends League Aniimal Hospital. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

[Rory]

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