Spring Nature Diary – Sir Mark Walport

We asked the nation to help mark the arrival of spring to create a crowd-sourced nature diary. Prof Sir Mark Walport, CEO of UK Research and Innovation, captured the wildlife that he saw on his morning commute.

The vernal equinox, the astronomical definition of the start of spring – a pair of Egyptian Geese and a sighting of the Felucca – could this be my morning commute to work on the Nile?  The inhabitants of the Thames are as cosmopolitan as the rest of the city and quite as dramatically dressed.

Entertainment whilst waiting for the riverboat included feral pigeons scavenging by the river at low tide. A few piebald variants were as exotic as some of the most fancy pigeons beloved of fanatical pigeon breeders.  Charles Darwin keenly bred domesticated pigeon variants and his collection of skeleton and skins resides in drawers in the Natural History Museum.  

As for the Felucca, this safety boat bears no resemblance to its namesakes on the Nile, and sat moored by one of the combined sewer overflow sites that are being connected to the main Thames Tideway Tunnel. These connections will divert into the main tunnel the approximately 40 million tons of raw sewage that currently overflows into the Thames each year. The pairs of sleek cormorants in breeding plumage will no doubt appreciate the fishing bonanza that will result.

It may be slower than the tube but commuting by boat to the UK Research and Innovation offices on the Victoria Embankment near Blackfriars delivers me in a state of Zen-like calm, which lasts for at least ten minutes before the daily onslaught of meetings and briefings.

During the last few weeks the inhabitants of the Thames have morphed from large winter flocks in non-descript plumage to small numbers of pairs in sleek plumage. Regularly distributed pairs of mallards dabble in tight choreography. Several groups of resplendent males have clearly missed acquiring mates and will have to wait for another year.

Their human counterparts display their occupations in their dress. Two smartly dressed bankers discuss clients indiscreetly, wearing expensive overcoats with red-lined collars, whilst two financial technologists wear fleeces and sport open shirts. Many of the morning commuters stare into their smartphones, as unaware of the glories of nature as the wildlife is of the human hubbub. But all arrive at work calmer from the experience of slowly motoring along the aorta of London that is the Thames.

To contribute your own Spring Nature diary, head over to the AHRC website.

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