People-friendly streets will help the birds, too

Friday, 18th December 2020

• AS I was walking along the newly-implemented PFS, people-friendly streets, in Canonbury West, I saw a cat cross a road until recently dominated by motor traffic.

I thought about how many cats’ lives have ended unnecessarily early due to dangerous roads.

It led me to realise that as someone who has been campaigning for PFS, I have had in mind the benefits to human beings and forgetting the benefits to animals and plants.

Since I was a child I have had a love for birds. Living in Islington I have admired how certain species such as goldfinches, greater spotted woodpeckers and wrens survive here seemingly against all the odds.

Birds have been a lifeline for me during this difficult year, bringing a cheer to my heart whenever I hear them sing.

During the first lockdown I felt electrified to hear friends and neighbours feeling the same joy as, with the absence of the drowning traffic noise, they became aware for the first time of the birdsong.

I decided to research the impact air pollution has on our birdlife in London. Birds are particularly susceptible to pollution.

Birds are exposed to more particulate matter than humans because they have a higher breathing rate and spend more time in the open air. They, too, suffer from respiratory diseases and cancers from air pollution.

Studies in the US have shown that the accumulation of nitrogen oxide – one of the main pollutants from diesel cars – causes soil and water to become more acidic.

Soil and water acidification negatively affect the nutritional values of birds’ food sources, leading to smaller egg clutch sizes.

The noise of motor traffic also means birds struggle to hear each other’s alarm calls and mating songs. So despite appreciating all the birds I see and love, I know the bird habitat here in Islington could be far richer.

About five years ago some elderly residents at Canonbury Square recounted how a pair of barn owls used to live there in the 1970s.

When I heard that I felt so sad that our traffic-dominated streets have meant that such wonderful birds no longer live here, but it also raised hope of the prospect of what might be possible.

I know the importance of the role birds have had for my mental health and their potential to heal, so in this current time of pandemic and political and economic uncertainty. their presence will be vital for many people.

I’m excited at the prospect that species such as the barn owl could return as a result of the PFS scheme. As the name of the scheme suggests, this would be an unintended consequence, but a far more important one than most realise.

For more information about PFS see


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