Post-apocalyptic entomology

I’m left wondering if the Heygate Estate, at Elephant and Castle, South-East London, was ever the site of a gate through which hay was brought. For the last 40 years it has been the site of brutal concrete monolithic blocks of flats towering over small gloomy ‘communal’ gardens. Ever grim, in my memory, seen from the top of a passing bus, the estate became even grimmer as it was cleared of tenants, and boarded up in preparation for demolition. A year on from its final closure it stands as a Chernobyl-like shell, abandoned, desolate, empty — just the sort of place to do an environmental survey.

That’s where I’ve been today.

Actually, it was nowhere near as unnerving as I thought it might be. The sun was shining brightly, the air was alive with bees and butterflies. The gardens have run wild, the mown grass has grown shaggy, the pavements and cracked tarmac have acquired a green haze of thin vegetation. Overhead sparrowhawks were squealing.

And almost the very first insect of the day was a silver-washed fritillary. Ordinarily a relatively scarce creature of old woodlands, where the caterpillars feed on violets, growing in the dappled sunlight of coppice cycles and cleared glades, I’d have been pleased to find this in any Wealden forest. But in Elephant? Amazing.

I’m heading back there next week, for another look around. Purple emperor maybe?

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Incidentally, I love the fact that, in London, you can get into a bus or a taxi, say “Elephant please mate” to the driver, and yet this is accepted as perfectly normal behaviour.

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