Wild Cities Cork – bringing wildlife into our cities
Wild Cities Cork airs this Sunday the 22nd May on RTE 1. The programme was a pleasure to make with the team from Crossing The Line Films and Director Gerry Nelson. As I look forward to seeing the finished product I thought I would share my thoughts on why the core messages from the series matter to us all.
Already over half the population of the earth lives in urban areas – so most children will grow up in cities and experience the world through an urban lens. The question is: will they have opportunities to explore the natural world in this setting or will nature be something that exists for them only in the countryside and on holidays?
We know that nature will always thrive where it gets a chance. Wildlife is quick to re-establish in abandoned urban buildings and industrial zones. Plants will always make the most of cracks in the concrete and our most adaptable animals will thrive in almost any context – pigeons for example are now a city bird.
But can we design urban spaces so that people who live their whole life in the city get to experience nature and to learn their place in it?
I am reminded of my time working in outdoor education in the midlands of Ireland. In the summer we used to get groups of inner city Dublin kids coming down to the centre for a week of adventure sports and the great outdoors. These street wise kids would arrive brimming with attitude and bravado only to be stopped dead in their tracks when confronted with a cow or a dirty puddle. Once they got over the fright of large bovines, mud and cold water – their delight in the discovery of the outdoors was contagious. They leapt into deep pools, climbed hills of peat and heather, tasted wild bilberries and came face to face with newts. The joy, the discovery, the wonder – was just wonderful. They were face to face and covered head to in the mud, water and slime of the natural world and they couldn’t get enough of it. They went home with their eyes opened on a new world – but still a world not at their doorstep.
What would be great would be to continue this experience in the city, to have enough wild places, parks and greenways to allow people to interact with nature on their way to school or work, at the weekend or on a summer evening. This is all possible through clever urban planning and a commitment to creating public places where people and nature can co-exist.
I was genuinely surprised by what we found in making the Cork programme of Wild Cities. I have walked up and down Grand Parade at dusk many times before – but in the rush and bustle of the city I never looked up at the tree that hosts hundreds of Pied Wagtails every evening. How could I not have noticed? The wagtails were noisy and messy – and they come there to roost like clockwork every night. We filmed another sequence with pigeons in Bishop Lucey Park. I have to confess to being less than enthusiastic about these ‘rats of the sky’ – but time spent reading about them and watching them revealed intelligent, highly sociable and very adaptable birds.
Most of all the experience of making the programme reinforced my desire to make sure that my children and children all over Ireland get to know and interact with our native wildlife. With good planning we can allow people and wildlife to co-exist in our towns and cities – as well as in the countryside and protected areas – and our children will be better global citizens if they grow up knowing their place in the natural world and the influence they have on it.