London: A Manifesto From Your Animals

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Performed at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park on October 19th, 2008 for Manifesto Marathon curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and published by Serpentine (Amazon)

{delivered in complex layering of multiple voices, a loud, booming wall of sound}

Attention humans of London:
Those Romans just showed up one day a couple thousand years ago and things have just not been the same since. At first it was ok, but lately, it’s become a real pain sharing this land around our river with you. We come to you today with some gentle suggestions, polite requests and urgent demands. We are particularly excited about the possibility of some homes that you could make for us, and are hoping that you will share our enthusiasm. We are calling for a network
of Animal Estates to be constructed throughout the city of London, to replace the spaces that you have taken away from us. I think you will agree that we really do need each other, or at least you need us, so let’s figure this out.
Most Sincerely,
The Animals of London That Were Here Before You

I am the Brown-banded carder bee – Bombus humilis
{delivered in staccato; peaceful but forceful manner; very high buzzy voice}

+ You need me!
Over 70 Crops in the UK are dependent on, or benefit from, my pollinating visits.

+ I am demanding an immediate halt to your intense modern farming methods at the perimeter of the city, based on a narrow, and rather boring monoculture.
I was once widespread in Britain. My numbers are now in drastic decline as one of the most endangered bees in the UK.

+ I am demanding more places in your city of London to nest, forage, mate and hibernate!
Right now I am mostly clinging to the flower-rich habitat along the Thames Gateway.

+ Kitchen gardens? YES!
I also like most of the herbs used by cooks.

+ I want honeysuckle!
It provides a rich supply of nectar.

+ Cultivated flowers?!
That’s great too.

+ Hey, how about planting flower-rich meadows with long corollas such as vetches, clovers, dead-nettles and the red bartsia!?
I also nest on the surface of the ground at the base of long vegetation.

+ Farmers: leave a little around the edges for me!
It is so annoying the way you are now cultivating right to the edges of your fields.

+ And your hedgerows? Relax!
When you cut them back so regularly they cease to be safe nesting sites.

+ I am asking for messier gardens!
I also nest under accumulated plant litter.

+ Abolish all insecticides!
It indiscriminately kills me along with other insects, spiders and many other useful invertebrates.

+ Do you have an old crumbling wall? Leave it for me!
That will be a great place to nest, just leave some tussocky grassy areas in warm sheltered locations.

+ And, finally, nest boxes please!
You can build a simple wood nesting box for me like the ones you see here to welcome me into your domestic gardens.

Warmest appreciation to you all (and sorry for the stinging).


I am the HEDGEHOG – Erinaceus europaeus
{delivered slowly, patiently, in a low and rich voice}

– Alert to the humans of London, we are disappearing!
My numbers have declined 50 per cent in 15 years. I only remain in Regents Park, of the parks in London. At that rate I will be gone from your town by 2025.

– I can’t deal with the vast empty expanses of lawn, field and concrete that have been spreading since you arrived.
I’m a great “generalist” with a happy existence at the bottom of your hedges and in your back gardens.

– We are hit by your cars, chopped up by your mowers, tangled in your tennis nets and perish with our heads caught in your plastic containers.

– I am quiet, nocturnal and discreet by nature, but now I have a few demands for you humans of London:

– I want more of the in between neglected overgrown spaces.
I love open woods and grassy heaths, cultivated land, scrub and sand dunes, parks and cemeteries. These spaces are also good for the general environmental health of the city, so if I am there it is a sign of a somewhat healthy landscape, plus I’m cute.

– Leave some places for me to nest! Do not make your garden too tidy, let the grass grow, dead branches lay, and leaves pile up! I like brush piles, rocks and other crevices. This is how I live, this is what I like.

– And keep those piles of leaf litter and branches around your garden for my hibernation between November and March.

– By the way, I would also appreciate a dish of water now and then, especially during the summer months.

– Leave dead wood around to encourage beetles!
They are delicious.

– I would like to see more flowering plants in your gardens!
This will attract the insects that I eat.

– When you are not playing tennis, furl your net above the ground!
I get tangled in them, starve and die.

– Cut the plastic rings off  “4 pack” plastic holders.
I get stuck, starve and die!

– Ok, you may think this is crazy, but can you reduce your speed limit for me? And why not help us London hedgehogs across the road when possible?
Our defense system of prickley spines is no match for your cars. Each year thousands of us fall to the violence of your tires and pavement.

– I am hereby demanding that every wall and fence in the city of London shall feature a hedgehog-sized hole somewhere at it’s base!
Connect your green spaces for me, so I can navigate your city, I may travel up to 200 yards in a night. Here is what I’m trying to avoid: dogs, foxes, ploecats, badgers and tawny owls.
I can curl into a tight little ball.

–  And finally, why not build me a home in your garden?
It can be a simple enclosure with a 5” opening like those you see here. Place it under a hedge, large shrub, or other concealed place, that would be great!

– And in closing, you need me!
I will eat your pests! and I am known as the “gardener’s friend” eating your slugs, beetles, and caterpillars.

Thanks for your attention people.

I am the GREY HERON – Ardea cinerea
{delivered with a gracious tone, in an elevated, squawky voice}

– I live all over Britain & Ireland, from estuaries to lakes in city parks.
Perhaps you have seen me while crossing the Millennium Bridge, in Battersea along Grand Union Canal in West London, or in Regents Park?

– I am a native species and a top predator in the food chain, eating a whole range of fish, frogs and ducklings, which puts me at the receiving end of any decline in the water quality or food supply.

– I will sometimes come and eat your goldfish, sorry about that.

– In the 1950s your water and city was so polluted, I was not even in London, and many of you humans thought it unlikely that I would ever breed here again.
Thank you for the improved water in the Thames, now I have returned. In 2004 I had 26 breeding sites, and about 300 nests around town.

– I mostly rely on fish as a food source which can be killed off by frosty weather. The recent warming may be another reason why I am back. Thanks for the global warming.

I will get right to the point, here is my short list of demands:

– Build me breeding platforms! Up high on a tall post! It will look great! You people will love it!
Looking at beautiful me up there in my big 3 foot diameter nest of branches and sticks. I usually build them in the highest trees, such as alder and Scots pine, but I’m interested to see what alternatives you can come up with since you got rid of most of those pesky trees in town.
I will return to the same nest each year, and several of us will nest in the same area, known to you as a ‘heronry’. Wouldn’t it be great to make a huge urban herony, that can be up to 100 nests in one location. Can you imagine that in the middle of London? Along the Thames? Hundreds of tall posts topped by me!

– Ok, one other request, but I hesitate to ask: could you remove all of your telephone lines & barbed wire? Is that too much? I get caught up in these things and die. But, nevermind.

Ok, thanks for you thoughtful consideration dear humans of London!