London firefighters encountered a surge in callouts to rescue animals in 2020, figures show.
The London fire brigade (LFB) was involved in 755 such incidents – more than two a day. The number of rescues rose by 20% compared with 2019 when there were 602, with the biggest rise coming in the number of non-domestic animals rescued, according to the data.
When traffic fell to almost half its normal rate during the spring lockdown, social media was awash with reports of animals roaming the unusually quiet city.
In April, the musician Billy Bragg posted pictures on Twitter of a herd of deer that had colonised some front gardens on Harold Hill, east London. Firefighters were on hand the next day to help one unfortunate deer stuck in railings.
Other unusual incidents included the rescue of a distressed fox from a school in Peckham; a squirrel that had to be coaxed out of a drainpipe in Hendon; and a swan trapped in an electrical substation in Greenwich. In November, a lovebird was rescued after it became trapped inside a lift in an office block in Paddington.
The LFB said: “While we can’t give a definite reason for an increase in this type of call, it could be partly due to people spending more time outdoors who have spotted these animals in distress.”
The rescues come at a cost: in 2020 a record £276,000 was spent, up from £240,000 in 2018 and 2019. The LFB calculates the average cost of each rescue to be £346, though one rescue, which involved a horse stuck in a ditch and required two fire engines to be deployed, may have cost as much as £2,700.
Calls about distressed cats are the most common. Last year 337 were helped compared with 269 in 2019. Not all of them were stuck up trees: some managed to find themselves under floorboards, solar panels and fridges, and up telegraph poles and chimneys, while one particularly unfortunate feline wound up in a recycling bin after its owner failed to notice it had climbed inside a rubbish bag.
The number of incidents involving foxes attended by the LFB last year nearly doubled, from 32 rescues in 2019 to 61 in 2020. The Fox Project, a charity dedicated to protecting foxes in the south-east, said the increase in the number of rescues might be down to people’s growing sympathy towards the animals since the start of the pandemic.
While Londoners marvelled at being able to hear birdsong like never before in modern times, there was a 34% increase in bird emergencies, from 141 in 2019 to 214 in 2020, with the number of rescues shooting up in the spring period after the first lockdown was announced.
The RSPCA said this may be in part because of less regular checks for gaps in netting, which birds can fly into and get trapped in. More than a third of bird rescues in 2020 were net-related, with one incident in June involving 10 trapped birds.
The fire brigade also rescued 73 dogs, 17 horses and 17 deer.
As well as a dramatic rise in the number of wild animals needing help, there were more calls about domestic animals in distress, which the LFB attributed to a rise in pet ownership during the pandemic.