Cockney Sparrow

Peabody Trust

Launched in 2009 by Peabody in partnership with London Wildlife Trust and funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Cockney Sparrow aimed to put the sparrow and other birds back into the heart of London by engaging residents of Peabody’s estates in the nature of their neighbourhood. 

The project was delivered by the London Wildlife Trust Cockney Sparrow Community Projects Officer - an expert and engaging ornithologist.  One of the project’s key species was the House sparrow (Passer domesticus), also known as the traditional Cockney Sparrow of London. House Sparrows, along with several other well-loved and iconic urban birds and animals, have declined rapidly in just a few decades – after centuries of happily living alongside Londoners.

The Cockney Sparrow Project was designed to capture local people’s interest in sparrows and other commonly encountered birds by helping to restore bird levels through getting people out of their living rooms and engaging with wildlife themed activities. This allowed them to learn about their local environment and their shared natural heritage. The residents were able to make a positive contribution to maintaining their estate green spaces and improving habitats for sparrows and other wildlife. 

 

Project Activities

Cockney Sparrow activities included:

  • ID 'crash courses' and on-estate birding
  • Planting hedgerow species such as hawthorn and blackthorn to create the ideal, bustle-friendly bird habitat
  • Planting grasses and flowers to attract the protein-rich aphids, caterpillars and weevils that nestlings love to feed on
  • Maintenance of these through a volunteering scheme
  • Community workshops to make nest and roosting boxes for a host of species including bats, swifts, house martins and sparrows
  • Setting up web-cam technology to monitor birdboxes
  • Wildlife walks and talks, including visits to wildlife reserves and green spaces in London
  • Training to record birds and wildlife on estates
  • School visits and presentations

In addition to engaging residents directly, the project involved many other members of the local community - including schools, youth clubs, faith groups and elderly people's organisations.

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A person

Project Impact

Cockney Sparrow has enabled residents to enjoy and learn about London’s wildlife through a range of wildlife activities, both practical and interactive.  

Families have started to lead more active lifestyles, and to explore and benefit from London’s green spaces. Participants as young as two and as old as 96 have learned new skills and made new friendships.

Those that were involved in the project have started to see where they live differently. They have invested in their outdoor environment and have become more connected to their community.

Beneficiaries

  • The Dasgupta family, and Pat and Christine Ayres, have lived within a few metres of each other for many years, and have never previously spoken. When they all came on a nature trip to Rainham Marshes, by the end of the day they were firm friends and arranging to meet up again. Christine has Downs Syndrome and was particularly taken with the children, who helped her look at birds in the hides.  
  • Jordan, a severely autistic ten year-old, now considers himself a local expert on his estate’s birds after attending several London Wildlife Trust events and activities on his estate, and writes down all species he sees every day.  
  • Andy and Patrick, two middle-aged men on the Pembury Estate who hadn’t previously met before events, have teamed up to monitor the Kestrel nest-box which we’ll be putting up on the estate roof next month. Andy had previously expressed misgivings about ‘the blacks’ on the estate – Patrick is black.  
  • Chelsea, a nine-year old resident of the Kings Cross Ten estate, has asked for a copy of the Project Officer’s ‘Urban Birds’ PowerPoint presentation to test her and her friends on bird identification. Previously Chelsea considered birds to be “smelly and dirty.”

The Cockney Sparrow Project from PeabodyLDN on Vimeo

Lessons Learnt

  • You cannot predict who will engage most in the project – so ensure all residents are given the same opportunity and see who gets involved!  
  • Even events that are poorly attended can be valuable across the whole project term – those few initial participants can become key volunteers over time.  
  • Targeting activities at schools is a particularly effective way to harness children’s natural enthusiasm and indirectly reach parents too.   
  • Big fun launch events are a great way to overcome inertia or disinterest in wildlife – the barriers are significant, with few people making the connection between their conception of wildlife they see on TV and the reality on their own doorsteps.  Once that connection has been made, however, the increased connectedness of people and their environment sustains their interest and participation.

The story of Hamim

Hamim is a nine-year old Bangladeshi male from the Peabody Whitechapel Estate. He attended the Cockney Sparrow project launch day on his estate, but was with his gang, and was uncomfortable engaging at the time because of peer pressure.  

A couple of months later, he attended a Special Bird Day on his estate, and was a little more receptive, especially when making bird feeders; however, he remained difficult to communicate with, as his friends obviously disapproved, and his parents were unsympathetic to him partaking in our events and activities.  

By February 2010 (a couple of months later), I'd began working with his primary school (Shapla, adjoining the estate), which consisted of a programme of events and activities, beginning with an 'Urban Birds Crash Course'. In the interim he'd obviously been looking for birds on and near his estate, and after further encouragement, told of his observations - which included following a female Blackbird to the bush where she'd begun nest-building - and he'd found the nest! He said he'd been following their progress but didn't want to tell anyone else in case they disturbed the birds.  

He then decided he'd like to come along on a day trip to the London Wetland Centre, which I ran to and from the estate. He brought a friend along this time, and as the day went on, he came more and more out of his shell, enthusuastically identifying lots of different birds, and repeating facts about e.g. their breeding and feeding behaviour. By the end of the day - helped by the fact he'd been able to see his 'target bird' (a Sparrowhawk) at very close quarters, he had emerged as a natural enthusiast of birds and wildlife. It was his first ever trip to a nature reserve, or indeed anywhere with 'natural' habitats.  

At the end of the trip I bought him a bird field guide (as I do with everyone), which he was very excited about using. A couple of weeks later, and I took a group of 20 Shapla pupils to the Wetland Centre - of course, including Hamim! - who, in the meantime, had begun writing and illustrating his own bird book, featuring all the birds he'd seen around his estate and school.  

By now Hamim had convinced his friends that the project was great fun, and unofficially 'co-led' the school trip with me. He and his friends are now custodians of the bird-feeding station and the nest boxes which we installed, with the pupils, at the school. He's also set up his own recording book, which pupils and teachers contribute their sightings to.  

Hamim and his friends have also now joined their school's wildlife club, which as a result of the project, has grown from 2 to 16+, with all members enjoying their responsibilites and projects in the school grounds.

Mark Pearson, LWT Cockney Sparrow Community Project Officer.