From eyesore to architectural feat, people’s opinions of the inner city tower block range from horror to awe, but most would likely suggest such buildings have little or no wildlife value. But the people who live in them disagree…
Daphne and Lillian, two ladies who have called an imposing Hackney tower block home for over thirty years, rave about the natural spectacles they witness from their cloud capped building. The pair sit in the kitchen of a seventh floor flat, smoking cigarettes and reminiscing, all the time framed by a window that has sweeping views out over East Reservoir, Stoke Newington and beyond to central London.
Your eyes can trace the shapes of the Gherkin, BT Tower and London Eye, before settling closer to home on the steeple of Saint Mary’s New Church and then on the many birds resting on the glittering water at the tower block’s feet.
“The first time I came here I really couldn’t believe it, it’s such a wonderful view. From the street you’d never think it” says Daphne. “I’d spend hours staring out of the window at first. My mother used to say you could never be depressed in this flat because of the view, because you got to see all four seasons in detail. In the winter, when it snows, you look out and it’s like a village, with the snow on the trees and on the church. It’s so pretty.”
Lincoln Court doesn’t look especially pretty from the outside. It’s a tall, grey wedge of concrete and the main reception area is almost grim. But ascend a few floors and enter Daphne’s spacious, light-filled flat and you’re transported to another world. “You look out and you don’t see other people’s windows and walls, you see vast open space” says Daphne. The ladies feel blessed. “You’d miss out on all this if you were on the ground in a house” adds Lillian.
“You know when it’s most wonderful?” Daphne asks. “In the summer when there’s a storm. I love storms. We watched one at 3am in the morning once. We were glued to the windows watching it break over the reservoir. The water looked electric lit up by flashes of lightning. It was fantastic. We also get some really beautiful sunsets. When you’ve lived up high for a few years you really start to appreciate what you’ve got, it’s amazing.”
For Lillian, it’s the creatures and natural dramas she witnesses from her high rise perch that make her love life in Lincoln Court. She adores foxes and watches a local family of them every day, recognising individuals and learning to understand their behaviour. She recalls an incident three years ago when she saw a partridge from her flat. Watching the bird through her binoculars, she found her local foxes had also seen it and were in hot pursuit. With delight she exclaims that the partridge shot up a pear tree and escaped.
Lillian is a birdwatcher and has seen everything from jays to kestrels high up on the tower block’s ledges. “In the summer I left some food on my windowsill and a jay came and took it. There are four of them now.” Seagulls have recently moved in and the ladies comment that Canada geese used to be reservoir regulars but don’t visit any more. They’ve watched the reservoir change over the years, saying it seems smaller now as the reed beds gain strength. After initial concerns, both are huge fans of London Wildlife Trust’s community garden on the water edge.
Mark Pearson works for the Trust at the East Reservoir Community Garden and believes the local tower blocks are an essential part of the landscape. A fanatic birder, he relishes the views afforded by such buildings.
“Being fascinated by London’s ever-changing avifauna, I spend more time looking up than is probably healthy in a city of white van drivers and bendy buses, but it’s more than worth it – there’s an incredible variety of birdlife above us in the city skies.
Visible migration involves the ebb and flow of migrating birds overhead, and is a phenomenon that is especially dramatic in late autumn. Raptor-watching, meanwhile, is concentrated mainly in the main migration windows of spring and autumn.
To appreciate these spectacles, there is no better (or more comfortable) venue than high up in a tower block. I’ve been lucky enough to see osprey, black kite, honey buzzard and marsh harrier circling over the reservoir – special enough from the ground, but much more dramatic from Lincoln Court, the tower blocks that overshadow the water.
The extra height from tall buildings gives unrivalled views of many birds in flight, from large raptors to battalions of smaller birds. If you live or work in a London tower block, think of your window or balcony as a private, all-mod-cons bird observatory – because that’s exactly what it is.”
This article appears in the winter 2009 issue of Wild London magazine