Monday, May 1st 2017
One of the oft-praised features of London is the number and quality of its green spaces. These include the obvious in the form of parks, gardens and sports fields and the less obvious in the form of nature reserves and city farms. It may seem counterintuitive that there are farms in the city but there certainly are. They number at least 16, according to this list on London Footprints. Our visit today was to the Mudchute on London’s Isle of Dogs. Here is a map showing its location:
The Isle of Dogs is not a true island but a piece of London bounded on three sides by the largest meander of the River Thames. There are no more dogs here than in any other district of comparable size and the origin of the name is uncertain. According to some, King Edward III kept greyhounds here and according to others it was originally called the Isle of Ducks after the large number of water fowl. For an outline of these theories, see the Wikipedia article Isle of Dogs.
The name of Mudchute, however, is much less mysterious. Originally grazing land and a brick field, the area’s fortunes changed abruptly in the 1880s and 1890s with the digging of Millwall Dock. The spoil of mud and silt was sent here, apparently through a gigantic pneumatic tube. In 1918, the local council took charge of what was originally called ‘the Mud Shoot’ by means of a compulsory purchase order and it then served as allotments and piggeries until the Second World War when anti-aircraft guns were sited here. In 1977, it was designated a public facility consisting of wooded and open areas, nature reserves, a stables and the Mudchute Farm. Though the latter is a working farm, visitors are welcome and admission is free (though donations are of course welcome).
To reach the farm, you walk across a large open field. You might almost feel here that you are out in the countryside but…
…this oasis is hemmed in by buildings. You are remain aware of the city surrounding you.
A farm affords an excellent environment for breeding the animals we have come to see but it is equally good at breeding organisms that are too small to see but are nevertheless dangerous to human health. Notices warn you to wash your hands before leaving and facilities for doing so are provided.
Photographing animals can be fun but can also be frustrating. The concept of the ‘photo opportunity’ is something they do not grasp! Animals move about erratically and are often too far away for a good photo. They are as likely to lick the lens as gallop off to the other end of the field just as you press the shutter release. And it’s not only the farm animals. There is another set of animals who are adept at getting in the way and spoiling your chances. This species is called People. But, however selfish and annoying they may be, you have to remember that they have as much right to be there as you do and that imprecations will not be kindly received!
Here then are a few photos of the denizens of Mudchute Farm.
Though not traditional British farm animals, llamas and alpacas have become popular with British farmers. Most of us find it hard to tell llamas and alpacas apart. They are related species and can interbreed. Alpacas are smaller than llamas and I think the above are alpacas but correct me if I am wrong.
Sheep are among my favourite animals. I remember once crossing a field in which there were sheep. They all ran away except for one young sheep who came rushing up to me and allowed himself to be stroked. I can only guess he had been hand reared and was therefore accustomed to people. There are so many breeds of sheep that it takes an expert to know them all. I believe this one is a White Faced Woodland but I could be wrong.
At this time of year, the spring lambs are beginning to become less dependent on their mothers and can be seen hanging out with their peers and getting into mischief. The adult in the picture is, I think, an Oxford Down.
Why would you have an ack ack (anti-aircraft) gun on a farm? I think I will let the plaque that accompanies it explain:
3.7” ACK ACK GUN
This is one of four gun emplacements on the Mudshute which
provided a vital part of the anti aircraft defence of the docks.
This 3.7 anti aircraft gun was the type most commonly used
in defence of London. The shells were stored in the bunkers.
The gunners had a barracks and storehouse on site which were
severely damaged by a landmine. Captain Fletcher, in charge
of the unit, received the military cross for bravery, the only
one awarded for action on British soil.
If you visit a typical country farm, the inmates largely ignore you. In contrast, when you visit a city farm, you have the distinct impression that you are being watched. I photographed this Anglo-Nubian goat while she was giving me the hard stare.
Not content with stares, this pygmy goat came galloping up and thrust his head at me through the fence. The bald patch on this nose shows he is in the habit of doing this. Of course, this interest is in no way an indication that they like you and want to be your friend. It is purely materialistic. Everywhere there are notices reading DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. So what do people do? They feed the animals, of course. The latter become hooked on sweets, chips and sandwiches and are continually on the look-out for more. They don’t know that it is bad for them.
Pigs tend to get bad press (and Orwell’s Animal Farm didn’t help their reputation). They have become a symbol for people who are dirty, lazy and slovenly. This is most unfair: if pigs live in filthy conditions it is because their human owners impose these on them. There was nothing dirty about these Large Black pigs, busily rooting about in their enclosure and keeping a hopeful eye open for hand-outs.
Before the comparatively recent invention of mechanical motors, horses for centuries provided mankind’s motive power, pulling carts, trams, coaches and ploughs and being ridden. This intimate relationship between the species still endures as witness the number of riding stables throughout the land and even, as at Mudchute, in built-up areas. Bread is no longer delivered to your door by horse-drawn baker’s van as it was when I was a kid but horses and ponies are still trotting and galloping through human history and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Leaving the farm (having carefully washed our hands!), we took a walk in Mudchute Park along one of the paths, enjoying the strange feeling of being in the country while being in the city. It’s not often that a spoil heap, created without any thought of its effects on the environment, has blossomed so successfully into a multi-purpose green space in the heart of the city.