A big part of the work we do with Global Generation Garden Team is design and maintain food- focused gardens for other people, and over the past few years we have spotted quite a lot of wildlife while working on roof tops, canalside terraces and urban gardens. Nature will come everywhere you offer habitat, and indeed we often work alongside Common blue damselflies, Brown Hawker dragonflies, mint moths, a vast array of butterfly from Gatekeeper to Painted ladies, robins, sparrows, dunnock and much more.
Lately our role as provider of a home for nature has come into sharp focus. Our planter alongside the canal always seemed very attractive to mallard duck, and they tend to nest there every year (I am flattered our lush planters attract such visitors to be honest!). When this happen we give them the space they need by putting up a barrier to stop people from approaching, and we keep an eye on the eggs and the state of the mum. And sometimes we even catch the moment when ducklings are hatching- which is a wonderful thing to see. But last month, a mallard went to where no other mallard had gone before, and took it upon herself to nest on one of the roof terrace we look after, on the 5th floor of a building in Pancras square, far from any water.
The Wildlife and Countryside act of 1981 states that we should protect wild animal whenever possible, and this includes mallard ducks, so we set on a mission to make sure mummy and her babies would make it through, despite the very unusual location of the nest. The Office Group who owns the building where amazing at looking after the duck, and called us as soon as the eggs hatched, 28 days after the last of the 16 eggs was laid by the mum (16 eggs!). We had to act fast, as the natural instinct of the duck is to plunge down the side of the building- which would be fine if they were dropping in the canal, but much less fine as they were about to land on harsh slabs, and possibly some passers-by heads. Being knocked down by a duckling on a Tuesday morning is no-one’s dream. The Office Group isolated the ducks away from the edge of the building, and we came up with two big cardboard boxes. We caught the mum and put her in the bigger box, and then ran after her brood and put all the ducklings in another box. It was all taped, hoised onto our trolley and carefully wheeled to the the canalside steps of Granary Square.
We let the mum out first, and after flying out of the box she landed in the canal, 2 meters from us. We then gently opened the box with the ducklings, and they followed their mum’s call and jumped without hesitation in the water, bobbing like corks in a glass. Soon the entire family was back together, and you could almost feel the relief of the mum, who cooed at her babies and gently nudged them all. As they swam away we waved goodbye to the mum and her 10 little fluffballs, feeling all warm inside from having done something really nice.
As much as it was a nice experience for us, it does raise the question of why a duck would go so far to nest, risking her duckling’s life, when the canal is so close. But that’s where the problem lies, the canal is actually too tidy. Ducks and waterbirds need rafts and material floating to build and anchor nests, and our obsession with tidiness has taken that away. As a result, mallard and other ducks are desperate to find places to nest, and end up in our planters and on rooftops. As humans who constantly modify their environment, we have a responsibility to make space for Nature, and not only in the canals, you can help too. Drop your hoes and leave nettle patches for peacock butterflies, allow hedges to grow for dunnock and hedgehogs, shy from lawn and leave your vegetables to flower to provide food for butterfly, bumblebees and honeybees, and give nature a home, wherever you are.