As a daydreaming, continually grazed-kneed five-six-seven-year-old, visits to my grandparents in Southall were often met with mixed emotions.  


The wrench of being torn away from imaginary adventures in our suburban semi-detached garden could be momentarily appeased by the occasional detour via Heathrow runway (around it rather than over it!). While a jolt of excitement always sparked my imagination at the sight of an exquisitely dressed Sikh man adorning his Kirpan.  


Once at the comparatively smaller terraced house with an even smaller yard, the excitement came from Grandad, Charlie, a WW2 veteran and Dunkirk evacuee, as he appeared to swap his knees over, detach his thumb and seamlessly pull his teeth out and replace them again before we had time to gasp. 


Mixed up in that patchwork of memories are faint images of a free-range, muddy-green parrot that fluttered about the house as it wished. With the living room at the rear of the house, as we funnelled through the hall we were greeted by a framed photo of Queen Elizabeth II before settling into the cosy space which consisted of a couple of armchairs, a small table, and a radio rentals TV.   


Today, our children can’t fathom a world where the choice of only four TV channels were available and where what was broadcast was what you got. But that’s how it was and whether we were at Nan and Grandad’s or they were at ours, if the TV was on, it was either on the news, horse racing or a post war documentary, like ITV’s ‘All our Yesterdays’ series. 


With not much to capture my imagination “on the box” it wasn’t long before I’d wander into their yard. The compact, colourless concrete yard helped frame one of Grandad’s favourite exhibits, his greenhouse filled with tropical Orchids. It was the warmest place on the premises, I still remember the rush of cold air as I’d apprehensively part the misted doors to leave. Yet, my strongest memories from these formative visits were of my Nan, Kathleen and how she would feed the sparrows. 

Maybe a week’s worth of bread crumbs, saved in an old plastic bag, before being scattered over the stone-cold, monotone floor, much to the delight of the equally grey yet insuppressibly chirpy house sparrows.  It’s a memory that has stayed with me. There was something noteworthy about the activity. A gentle, kind gesture but one that somehow seemed reciprocal.


Since those increasingly hazy memories, TV channels and “on demand” services have grown faster than Usain Bolt trapped in a fibre optic cable, yet, in a scarily similar time period house sparrow numbers have halved across Europe


This recent, attention-grabbing headline is unlikely to shock or even surprise those in tune with their local environment. Those who have witnessed first-hand the gradual and continued decline of wildlife from their doorstep. From hedgehogs to swallows, from the iconic to the not so well known, wildlife across the board is diminishing as steadily and as reluctantly as a pint after last orders.


“Common birds are becoming less and less common, largely because the spaces they depend on are being wiped out by humans.” – Anna Staneva, interim head of conservation,  BirdLife Europe


Another defining headline last week was the cancellation of the HS2 Eastern Leg to Leeds. The collective cheer from conservationists and campaigners must have rattled treasured and carefully displayed Toby Jugs up and down the country. 


Yet, sadly, this apparent “win” for nature can be no more than a temporary reprieve, and even that might be  a stretch. The cancellation won’t actively increase biodiversity, it won’t even pause the existing decline. Furthermore, there can be no doubt that this latest HS2 decision was not based on its impact on nature and biodiversity. Only when decisions and policies are made with the natural (our) world at the core can we call it a win. Only when we see and recognise the vital, tangible, yet delicate interconnectivity between our species and others will we be able to start “winning”.

House sparrow in the snow covered hedge
House sparrow in a standoff with a starling
House Sparrow in flight
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