Monthly Archives: May 2012

Dungeness – A post-apocalyptic wildlife reserve?

A nuclear power station. A surreal and bleak landscape. An internationally important wildlife reserve?

The landscape

It is truly bizarre -reminding me of the art of Yves Tanguy. Walking in the shadow of an enormous nuclear power station intensifies the sense that it is a post-apocalyptic or abandoned land. But… it is also an aesthete’s paradise…

The wildlife

The fuzzy images above are of one of Britain’s rarest indigenous birds of prey: the Marsh Harrier. In the early seventies, there was only one remaining pair in the UK. Now, whilst still a rare sight, there are over 350 pairs.

Dungeness is a fantastic site to view rare and interesting birds and wildlife. Aside from the shots I got of the Marsh Harriers, below are some other photos I took of: a Reed Bunting with its mouth full; a juvenile Oyster Catcher looking rather out-of-place on a man-made nesting station full of young terns; and, a Small Copper butterfly on some unidentified wild flowers.

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No ordinary walk in the park – Richmond

Richmond Park is big. In fact, at 2360 acres, it is very big…

  • It is the largest green space inside the M25.
  • It is nearly seven times bigger than Hyde Park, and nearly three times bigger than Central Park, New York.
  • It is even bigger than some countries… nearly five times the size of Monaco, and almost twenty times the size of the Vatican City State.

If you haven’t been, I recommend it – particularly if you live in London. It is the only one of the Royal Parks where you feel you are approaching being in a truly wild space. Here is a brief Hipsta-tour to whet your appetite…

The fauna

The park is home to about 600 wild deer (Fallow and Red). Their stock dates back a very long time before they were walled in by Charles I. The park was named by Henry VIII and used as a hunting ground, although its royal connections go back much further to when it was called the Manor of Sheen owned by Edward I.

In the park, Fallow Deer (above) and the larger Red Deer (below) have become, inevitably, less cautious of humans than their cousins in wilder parts of the country, but they are still wild animals and it made my blood boil to see people trying to feed them crisps and pet them (more on feeding and petting animals below). I’d like to see someone try and feed crisps to a rutting Red Deer stag in October!

The Green Woodpecker below is about to slam its pick-axe of a beak into the grassy mound beneath its feet. The mounds are the homes to the almost entirely subterranean Yellow Meadow Ant. It is very possible that you have never seen one of these ants even though they are incredibly common (unless, like me, you like digging little holes into anthills to watch them at work), but you will have almost certainly seen the grassy mounds that can have been the homes to ants for literally hundreds of years.

The Egyptian Goose (below) is so called because of the distinctive eye markings that resemble the ancient Egyptian eye make up.

I’m definitely not going to win any photographic awards for the shot below, but then you try photographing the fastest creature on earth! If you are thinking that the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on earth, I would argue you are only partially correct. The Peregrine only reaches the top speed due to a lot of help from gravity. Nothing can touch the Swift going flat out. The Swifts below are acrobatically catching their insect prey on the move.

To me, the Swift is one of the ultimate flying creatures. Not only is it the fastest, it is simply made to exist in the air. When a Swift chick is ready to fledge, it will wobble towards the nest hole on its tiny feet (its Latin name, Apus apus, means ‘without feet’) and then take off into the sky. Its first flight (if successful) will last for four years without a break! The little bird will not touch ground again until it is ready to rear young. It will eat and sleep in the sky and never perch.

The Song Thrush (below, perched in a Beech tree) declined in number by over 50% from 1970 to 1995 due to the loss of its natural habitat. Watching the males sing their love songs from tree-tops in early spring before the females have even migrated back to the UK is a truly moving wildlife experience.

A lesson in life and death

Baby animals are cute. But, they are also wild animals and watching children rush up to cygnets like the one below (ugly duckling?) when the adult swans are there protecting them makes me wonder if the children’s parents have any common sense whatsoever!

Or… feeding a baby Canada Goose bread whilst its mother hisses out of shot…

Just as Spring brings goslings, so too comes the new growth of plants, such as this fern…

Whilst we celebrate new life in Spring, Richmond Park is an excellent example of the importance of death and decay. Everywhere you look, there is dead and rotting wood that is left deliberately and attracts some of the rarest insects (including the mighty Stag Beetle) and fungi.

Nature is not always pretty and cute. We should never kid ourselves that threat, predation, and death don’t occur in parkland. The young rabbit below had perhaps fallen prey to a Buzzard which was then scared away from its food by cyclists or dog walkers. It may be nicer to take pictures of baby birds than dead bunnies, but both are part of the wonderfully wild life and death that exists at Richmond Park.


A hidden Purl…

I took these dusky Hipsta-shots in the hidden gem of a cocktail bar, called Purl. Imagine Victorian themed molecular mixology and you are getting close. You need to book a table and then order some rather ‘different’ cocktails such as a Martini with a twist of lemon “detonated” over your glass with a popped balloon, or heavily (and very literally!) smoke infused rums and gins.

But my favourite (see bottom right) was the rather pricey ‘Cigar Box’ with the exquisite Blue Label, sherry aged sugar and salted and bitter chocolate on the side. Most of the cocktails were very reasonably priced and even the Cigar Box was worth every penny – I highly recommend!

Into the face of the Sun: Hipsta-Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor started working for Sir Christopher Wren (of St Paul’s Cathedral fame) earning two shillings a day on 1685. As a fully fledged architect, Hawksmoor was responsible for designing six post-Fire of London churches that remain some of the finest examples of architecture in London today.

Despite all the leakage, silhouetting, and spots of weird light you get (or perhaps because of them?) I can’t get enough of taking photos facing into the sun.

St Alfege, Greenwich

This is the third church built on the same spot to mark the place where an early Archbishop of Canterbury, St Alfege, was killed by Viking raiders in 1012.

St Mary Woolnoth, City of London

The church where anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce worshipped, is captured in T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Wasteland’, where his description of City workers holds true today 90 years later (I used to walk past this church every day to work):

“And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours”

St Anne’s, Limehouse

To keep the time on the clock correct a signal would be sent from Greenwich (using flags or lights) and then a weight would be dropped to keep the clock in sync with Greenwich.

St George in the East, Wapping

Despite suffering a direct hit from a bomb in the Blitz, the church and its famous ‘pepper pot’ towers stayed standing.

Christ Church, Spitalfields

Spitalfields and this church has always been the invisible border for me where The City meets trendy Shoreditch.

St George’s, Bloomsbury

The most westerly, and last of our trip, of the Hawksmoor Six.

Thanks for joining me on this whistle-stop tour.

Cast in order of appearance

St Alfege, Greenwich

St Mary Woolnoth, City

St Anne’s, Limehouse

St George in the East, Wapping

Christ Church, Spitalfields

St George’s, Bloomsbury

First six photos taken with iPhone using Hipstamatic (John S lens and Alfred Infrared film). Final six photos taken with Canon EOS 550D.

The Fordwich Trout

I took these photos yesterday in a sleepy town (Britain’s smallest) called Fordwich in Kent. The famous river Stour here is supposedly home to a legendary creature, the Fordwich Trout.

There is also in Kent, near to Canterbury, a trout called there a Fordidge Trout, a trout that bears the name of the town where it is usually caught, that is accounted the rarest of fish; many of them near the bigness of salmon, but known by their different colour; and in their best season they cut very white…” – Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653

Many an angler has sought to catch such a specimen…

Two of us trekked yesterday at water’s edge through meadow and bluebell wood in search for a trout so large that apparently only one of its kind has been landed with rod and line in decades…

We were also tempted by a carp lake…

But in the end, we succumbed to the lure and hook of Kentish ale in a local pub instead and so the Fordwich Trout legend remains intact and untouched.

Celebrating Shiitake

A little known fact for you: shiitake mushrooms have been cultivated in far eastern countries for around 1000 years.

A better known fact for you: shiitake mushrooms are delicious!

Here is one way they can be enjoyed:

fry some onion and garlic…

“wait a second! What’s that cheeky little half-finished cocktail doing in the shot?”

*…Digression

OK. That ‘cheeky little cocktail’ is a Dubonnet Negroni. You already know that I am a fan of Dubonnet. Well, another cocktail to enjoy if you want something a little more hardcore and bitter than a Dubonnet Cocktail is the Negroni version. It is simply one part gin (preferably not from a £100 bottle of discontinued limited edition ‘Crown Jewel’ like I used – I ran out of normal gin, I wasn’t just showing off), one part Campari, and one part Dubonnet (or sweet vermouth in a normal Negroni) stirred over ice and strained.

End of digression*

So… once the onions are soft and going slightly golden I then add the roughly chopped shiitake. Then add cream (I like a mixture of double cream and full fat milk, but then I don’t really do diet food), a generous pinch or three of nutmeg, a bit of oregano, and then season very generously with salt and pepper. Simmer it down to a nice rich mixture and then serve over pasta of your choice (I used large fresh penne, but tagliatelle could be lovely) and… that’s it. I just made up the recipe as I went along, and it was delicious and super simple!

 

Wharf in the rain… with Hipstamatic

OK, I realise that photo-blogging London in the rain in black and white can become a little tired, but… hey, my life at the moment is all about London in the rain. I could use Hipstamatic’s many colour combinations, but Canary Wharf is grey at the best of times. In the rain, it is grey on grey so I may as well use monochrome to make it look like I’m in control of the colour!

I nipped out during my lunch break and braved the pathetic drizzle to capture a very wet Wharf.

The eyesore

This carbuncle below is a big deal for me at the moment. It is being erected at lighting pace and is blocking my view from my office window (yes, ‘poor you’ I hear you all chorus). I am obviously not a structural engineer or an architect, but I believe that it is actually a hollow and temporary shell protecting the concrete core/lift shaft being constructed inside for a new glass and steel tower.

The cable car?

Below is a ground level view of the ‘O2’ (or “the dome” in non-sponsor-speak) which is also visible from my office. Less visible are the tiny pylon things to the left of the dome. That is the ‘Emirates Air Line’ (or “cable car” in non-sponsor speak) which is the first urban cable car in any UK city.

The wharf in the foreground is one of many interconnected waterways at Canary Wharf and you can see the mouth into the Thames. My gym is at water-level of a connecting piece of water and I have seen a wild Common Seal playing with a metal pipe there. No, I am not lying.

Canary Wharf?

To many people, the building below IS Canary Wharf (the famous flashing pyramid roof is not visible from this ground-level perspective). It is the original and tallest building in the Wharf (only recently knocked off its overall UK top-spot by the Shard) and is more correctly named ‘1 Canada Square’. I like the tiny eagle you can see soaring around the building just to the right of the tower.

Oh alright! It’s not an eagle, but a Herring Gull in the photo. I was just trying to spice things up a bit having raised expectations with the seal. We do get Peregrine Falcons at the Wharf though and I have interrupted important meetings on the 30th floor of my building to “corr!” and “wow!” at the fastest creature on earth plummeting down off our roof after some poor unsuspecting pigeon. 

Metal and glass

Canary Wharf is all about metal and glass. There is a lot of metal and lot of glass including most of the sculpture and artwork (as below outside one of the office towers).

The new Wharf

Ever since the experiment began in the ’90s to build a new business district in London in one of the traditionally poorest and most run-down areas of the country (let alone the capital), there has continued to be a huge amount of development down here. Just as I started this post with a building site, so I finish with one. This poor sod below was sweeping the muddy puddles off the new concrete that has been laid for one of the largest construction projects the in the country: Crossrail.

Many people attack Canary Wharf for being soulless. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I genuinely enjoy working there (despite it not having the history of the ‘City of London’) and I wouldn’t want to bet that this young and thrusting concrete, metal and glass upstart doesn’t actually have a soul of sorts after all.