City Lit Blog

London's diverse wildlife

Story added 5th May 2017

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar on Ragwort

London might not be the first place that springs to mind if you were asked to think about nature. When I first set up shop as a wildlife guide here I was asked on several occasions “aren’t there just rats and pigeons in London?” And yes, we do indeed have a good line in rats and pigeons here. 

The brown rat probably originated in the steppes of central Asia and arrived here in the 18th century aboard ships from Russia, replacing the ship rat which had been introduced previously by the Romans. The feral pigeon is actually a variety of the wild rock dove, which was bred by people over many generations into a countless assortment of forms. They were studied by Charles Darwin as he investigated his theory of evolution. We even have our very own subspecies of mosquito here in London, which evolved isolated in the tunnels of the Underground.

But if rats, pigeons and mosquitoes aren’t quite your thing, how about kingfishers, peregrine falcons, orchids, lizards, hummingbird hawk moths, red deer or harbour seals? London is in fact stuffed full of exciting and charismatic wildlife.

Mute swan

Some of London’s many species of plant and animal are survivors from an ancient natural landscape; hedgehogs, badgers, adders, owls and orchids have hung on in certain places as the city has grown around them. Other species, such as foxes, gulls, and peregrine falcons, are opportunists who have adapted to fill new niches and taken advantage of the opportunities that we have created.

Others are newcomers, species which have arrived in London from other parts of the world due to global links, transportation and even fashionable trends. These include Chinese mitten crabs, false widow spiders, Egyptian geese and of course grey squirrels. Finally some are native species which in the past found London a polluted and inhospitable place, and are now returning to their previous haunts. These include lichens, freshwater shrimp, and even otters.  

Fallow deer

The diversity of London wildlife reflects a fascinating story of human development and an evolving relationship with the environment. The stories of our rats, pigeons and mosquitoes just scratch the surface of how and why thousands of species are Londoners today.

If you would like to discover the natural history of London, take a look at the diverse array of nature and ecology courses available at City Lit. Just as London’s wildlife is enthralling in its many facets, so the courses on offer immerse you in the nature of the city in all its forms; through different seasons, a range of habitats and an array of fascinating species. Whether you are knowledgeable about wildlife or just take pleasure in observing and exploring what’s around you, these courses are not to be missed.

Common Ball Butterfly

Find out more about natural history courses at City Lit.

Brenna Boyle is a zoologist, wildlife guide and environmental teacher. She is the founder of Wild Capital ( and runs a series of natural history courses at City Lit including Wild London, Spring Birds and The Big Butterfly Day. 

Ecology courses in London at City Lit

Browse all upcoming nature and ecology courses at City Lit.