|Anthropocene walk London
Organised on behalf of professor Neil Cummings for a group of researchers and students from Chelsea School of Art and Design. The aim of this walk was to trace some manifestations of the 'anthropocene' in central London.
Three locations marked the walk, the first being an open air talk about the emergence of new species by geneticist Ekaterina Yonova-Doing, the second a visit to a London Plane tree in the heart of the financial district, and the third a visit to Deptford Creek including a guided tour showing the newly created habitats for plants, birds and fish and reflections on the influence of the constant building activities around the creek.
The London tube mosquito is a new species found in the London Underground system. Stagnant water (pools, flooded sumps and shafts), relatively warm temperatures and an abundance of mammals (humans, mice and rats) form a habitat for a population of mosquitos, genetically different from the species found on the surface. Maintenance crews are plagued by the mosquito, and drivers have to clean the front windows of trains daily. Infamously named molestus this insect is benefitting from the man made environment in multiple ways and has adapted to its new environment in a mysterious way. While normally new species take thousands of years to evolve, the molestus has succeeded in doing this in a period of less then 150 years, making it an evolutionary erratic. According to a article published in Heredity by Katharine Byrne and Richard A Nichols the species seems to have emerged from a single colonisation that happened around the same time as the Bakerloo line was build (1898-1906).
On Woodstreet, in the heart of the City of London, a solitary tree stands proudly between old and new buildings. The Plane was planted in 1821 in the Churchyard of St. Peter’s and in 1835 was said “to occupy the space of a house”. Then years later two rooks’ nests were observed. Clauses in the shops’ leases prevent its destruction. The churchyard were the tree grows is mostly used by city-folk to smoke cigarettes in the short breaks punctuating their busy and purposeful lives. The tree towers over the old building and extends its branches, occupying all precious space that is left. On the fence surrounding the tiny park, a plaque can be found whith a section of Wordsworth poem The Reverie of Poor Susan, in which a similar tree on Woodstreet is mentioned. The resilience of the tree in this neighbourhood that is entirely dedicated to exploitation and commerce is remarkable.
Deptford Creek is an uncovered creek (one of the rare examples in London) and has still a considerable amount of wetlands on either side. Most tributary rivers of the Thames are invisible nowadays, flowing through sewer pipes under the pavement. Others are canalised and have flood barriers, losing significance as natural habitat. Deptford Creek is still ‘wild’. Although most people refer to the creek as a muddy mess, it is in fact an amazing ecosystem supporting many plants, birds, insects and micro-organisms. The Creekside Discovery Centre protects the area and organises many activities in and around the creek, most famously low tide creek walks that offer a profound experience to urbanites. Surprises are literally scattered along the creek. Discarded shopping trolleys provide shelter for small fishes, a raft is used as a nesting place for birds and the numerous nooks and crannies of the river walls provide habitat for a wild array of different plants and flowers. Shrimps and crabs can be caught with simple fishing nets. The intensity of the flowing river, the reflection of the sunlight on the water, and the changing visual and sonic perspective together result in a regaining of respect for the natural powers that surround us and shape us.