Brin Best


AS I live in Otley and work most days in Leeds I get the chance to witness fascinating urban nature encounters that are not normally available to residents of Wharfedale.

My lunch hour, in particular, provides a valued opportunity to escape business meetings and secure a rendez-vous of a completely different kind.

A few weeks ago I discovered a sizeable pond in the city centre where, quite startlingly, huge koi carp patrol up and down as passers-by with shopping bags go about their business. Nobody seems to know exactly how the fish arrived in this particular location, but having done some research the larger specimens – which are over 50cm long - must be worth more than £200.

The exotic fishes’ fabulous colours and deliberate movement through the water provide a splendid, relaxing spectacle, as native species such as grey wagtails and mallards look on from the water’s edge.

Last week, I headed down to the pond in the hope of some fish-based relaxation, but was instead greeted by a scene reminiscent of the Florida Everglades. Sure enough, the fish were there, but stood motionless on the grass – and tame as anything - was a statuesque grey heron.

Grey herons, our largest widespread heron, are usually easily spooked. But in urban areas, where they get used to all the people and stop fearing them, they can become incredibly tame. I once got so close to one in a Parisian park that I could easily have caressed it with a baguette.

The Leeds heron was gazing, seemingly with great excitement, at the chunky, finned beasts in the depths below. I’m clearly not the only one who knows about these impressive urban fish.

The heron edged stealthily forward, beady eyes focussed on the orange and white creatures that would surely keep it going for a week, should it be able to extract one from the murky water.

Just as a kill seemed inevitable, salvation for the gilled ones! Overzealous passers-by bearing smartphones got too close and flushed the winged assassin. It retreated to a nearby office rooftop as the fish continued their endless circuit of the pond, unaware of their own appointment with a sharp beak.

The natural world is cruel and unforgiving, and I have no doubt that later, when everyone is tucked up at home, the heron will return and there will be one less colourful fish in the city school.