Five species that have quietly adapted to urban living in London

A peregrine falcon. This one’s probably never been to London, though. Image: Getty.

There’s a weird assumption that cities and wildlife are two completely incompatible entities. That once humans start living together in large numbers, nothing else can stand a chance. This couldn’t be more wrong.

Cities are, in fact, teeming with wildlife, and I’m not just talking about the rubbish animals nobody likes, like rats and pigeons. In London there are some incredible creatures that have adapted to the urban environment and even thrived. Here are five species that have made their home alongside the capital’s eight million human residents.

Peregrine Falcons

That’s right, London has its own bird of prey – the largest falcons in the UK, no less.

In the last 20 years the population has crept back from the edge of extinction, to the point where the capital now boasts over 30 pairs of the birds, which mate for life. The city’s tall buildings offer a suitable exchange for the mountains and cliffs where they would usually nest and with plenty of pigeons around, food is plentiful.

While you’re unlikely to spot one of the falcons unless you’re actively looking, there are live streams available of their various eyries such as those at Merton Civic Centre and Kingston College.

This amazing bird’s revival in London is still in its early stages and relies on the tireless work of a bunch of volunteer organisations. But the situation is improving, and many are hoping for the birds to become a regular feature of the city’s fauna.

Image: screenshot from Falcon 1 Camera stream at Kingston College.


By the 1950s it was believed that herons would never again breed in the city, thanks to the poor quality of water. Bad water meant less fish, and the birds had been starved out.

As London’s rivers and canals began to be seen as more than just a convenient dump, we cleaned up our act and fish returned – quickly followed by herons. These days, more than 300 nests are recorded each year, and the spindly-legged fishermen can be found alongside many of London’s waterways patiently awaiting a catch.


Muntjacs are miniature deer, meaning they can slip around London’s green spaces in a way that a massive stag probably couldn’t. Native to China, they arrived in the UK around 150 years ago and have been eating everyone’s shrubs ever since.

As Robert Donaldson-Webster of the British Deer Society (BDS), told the Barnet Times: “The North Circular is heaving with deer.”

Ring-necked parakeets

You’ll be well aware of these squawky birds should you live anywhere near a park – or perhaps even just a tree, they nest just about anywhere – because boy are they loud.

Native to Africa and South Asia, they flew onto the avian scene in the 1970s and have gone from strength to strength since, becoming the UK’s only naturalised parrots.

How they ended up in the capital is subject to debate, as is, more importantly, the extent of their environmental impact. The parakeets may be responsible for driving native species out of their nesting spaces and causing significant damage to plants. In their native India, the birds inflict extensive damage on crops, reducing maize yields by up to 81 per cent.

Still, at their current population they are relatively harmless and undeniably add some colour to the city. The brilliant green of these ‘posh pigeons’ certainly stands out among the otherwise muted urban shades.


There’s something a little magical about meeting an urban fox on a quiet street late at night. I usually encounter one as I’m stumbling home from the pub, causing the fox to just watch me in a slightly judgey way. Still, I love them.

In London, foxes get quite a hard time; they’re seen largely as a pest responsible for messing up bins. Few have entirely forgotten or forgiven foxes for that awful incident in which one bit off a baby’s finger in Bromley in 2013, and, admittedly, their calls do resemble the dying shrieks of someone who’s lost their voice – but on the whole, they’re pretty great.

They quietly prowl the streets hunting rats, which are by far the worst animal thriving in cities. The old adage goes that you’re never more than six feet from a rat. Maybe, but not if the urban foxes have anything to do with it.


What are Europe’s longest train journeys?

The Orient Express was a pretty long train. Image: Getty.

For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, a question popped into my head and refused to leave: what’s longer? Britain’s longest train joruney, or Germany’s?

On the one hand, Germany is quite a bit larger – its area is 70 per cent more than Great Britain’s. On the other hand, Great Britain is long, skinny island and Germany is much rounder – the distance from John O’ Groats to Lands End is over 1,400 km, but you never have walk over 1,000 km to cross Germany in any direction.

And it turns out these factors balance almost each other out. Britain’s longest train, the CrossCountry from Aberdeen in Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall, runs 785 miles or 1,263 km. Germany’s longest train, the IC 2216 from Offenburg in the Black Forest to Greifswald on the Baltic coast, is exactly 1,300 km. Germany wins by a tiny distance.

Except then I was hooked. What about the longest train in France? Spain? Italy?

So I did what anyone would do. I made a map.

The map above was all drawn with the Deutsche Bahn (Germany Railways) travel planning tool, which rather incredibly has nearly every railway in Europe. The data quality is better for some countries than others (the lines in France aren’t quite that straight in real life), and the measurements may be a bit off – it’s not always easy to find the length of a train service, especially when routes can vary over the year – but it gives us a good idea of what the routes look like.

Let’s start with the UK. The Aberdeen to Penzance route isn’t really for people who want to go all the way across the country. Instead, it’s a way to link together several railway lines and connect some medium-to-large cities that otherwise don’t have many direct services. “Cross-country” trains like these have existed for a century, but because they crossed multiple different company’s lines – and later, multiple British Rail regions – they tended to get ignored.


That’s why, when it privatised the railways, the government created a specific CrossCountry franchise so there was a company dedicated to these underused routes. If you want to get from Edinburgh to Leeds or Derby to Bristol, you’ll probably want a CrossCountry train.

The usual route is Edinburgh to Plymouth, but once a day they run an extra long one. Just one way though – there’s no Penzance to Aberdeen train. 

The longest train in Germany is weird – at 1,400 km, it’s substantially longer than the country itself. On the map, the reason is obvious – it takes a huge C shaped route. (It also doubles back on itself at one point in order to reach Stuttgart).

This route takes it down the Rhine, the biggest river in west Germany, and through the most densely populated patch of the country around Cologne and Dusseldorf known as the Ruhr. Germany’s second and third longest trains also have quite similar routes – they start and end in remote corners of the country, but all three have the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area in the middle.

You’re not meant to take the IC 2216 all the way from north east to south west – there are much more direct options available. Instead, it’s for people who want to travel to these major cities. They could run two separate trains – say, Offenburg-Dusseldorf and Griefswald-Cologne – but making it a single route means passengers benefit from a bit more flexibility and helps DB use its rolling stock more effectively.

France’s longest train exists for a very good reason. Most of France’s high-speed lines radiate out from Paris, and it’s very hard to get around the country without going to the capital. Usually to get from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Nantes near the Atlantic, you’d need to take a TGV to Paris Gare de Lyon station, then get the Métro across the city to Gare Montparnasse.

Once a day though, this TGV avoids this faff by stopping in the suburb of Juvisy and turning around without going into the centre. This lets passengers travel direct between the coasts and reduces the traffic through Paris’s terminals in the rush hour. The exact length of this route isn’t clear, but Wikipedia says it’s about 1,130 km.

Spain’s longest train is very different. This is the Trenhotel sleeper service from Barcelona to Vigo, and it’s pretty fancy. This is a train for tourists and business travellers, with some quite luxurious sleeping cabins. But it is a regularly scheduled train run by the state operator Renfe, not a luxury charter, and it does appear in the timetables.

Being dry, hot and quite mountainous in its middle, most of Spain’s cities are on its coast (Madrid is the one major exception) and as a result the train passes through relatively few urban areas. (Zaragoza, Spain’s 5th largest city, is on the route, but after that the next biggest city is Burgos, its 35th largest,) This is partly why overnight trains work so well on the route – without many stops in the middle, most passengers can just sleep right through the journey, although there are occasional day time trains on that route too if you want to savour the view on that 1,314 km journey.

Finally, there’s Italy. This is another sleeper train, from Milan in the north to Syracuse on the island of Sicily. It goes via Rome and travels along the west coast of... wait, it’s a train to the island of Sicily? How, when there’s no bridge?

Well, this train takes a boat. I don’t really have anything else to add here. It’s just a train that they literally drive onto a ferry, sail across the water, and then drive off again at the other side. That’s pretty cool.

(As I was writing this, someone on Twitter got in touch to tell me the route will get even longer in September when the line to Palermo reopens. That should be exciting.)

So those are the longest trains in each country. But they aren’t the longest in Europe.

For one thing, there are some countries we haven’t looked at yet with very long trains. Sweden has some spectacular routes from its southern tip up into the Arctic north, and although the Donbass War appears to have cut Ukraine’s Uzhorod to Luhansk service short, even Uzhorod to Kharkiv is over 1,400 km. And then there are the international routes.

To encourage the Russian rich to take the train for their holiday, Russian Railways now run a luxury sleeper from Moscow to Nice, passing through France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czechia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. This monster line is 3,315 km long and stretches across most of the continent. That’s got to be the longest in Europe, right?

Nope. Incredibly, the longest train in Europe doesn’t actually cross a single border. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Russia, but it’s not the Trans-Siberian – the vast majority of that’s route is in Asia, not Europe. No, if you really want a long European train journey, head to Adler, just south of the Olympic host city Sochi. From there, you can catch a train up to Vorkuta on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The route zigzags a bit over its 89 hour, 4,200 km journey, but it always stays on the European side of the Ural mountains.

Bring a good book.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray often tweets about this kind of nonsense at @stejormur.

All maps courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.