London’s parks and farms offer a welcome retreat from the capital’s bustle, and a chance to get back to nature WORDS: Daniel Landon
As you walk through the gates of Freightliners Farm you’re struck by the mooing of cows, the bleating of sheep and goats and people in overalls carrying buckets of feed.
But surprising as it might seem, the farm is actually bang in the middle of the otherwise crowded metropolis that is London.
Although most of the city’s 16 or so farms and 57 nature reserves don’t rival London Zoo or Wimbledon Common in size or scope, they are a rare chance to get up close and personal with wildlife, habitats and animals usually
found only in the countryside.
Even if you’re not an animal lover, green thumb or eco-warrior, the city farms and nature reserves are a great place to go for a wander.
It’s invigorating to escape London’s crowded streets and emerge into a lush park or field full of lambs and goats.
it’s easy being green
London’s nature reserves serve a vital environmental purpose.
“They are important habitats for wildlife, including rare species of plants and animals,” says Helen Babbs of the London Wildlife Trust.
“London is a great place for certain species. Though they’re endangered, London is a haven for them.”
These include the water vole (a small, swimming mammal), the man orchid, and the rare habitat of chalk grassland, which is home to as many species as a tropical rainforest.
The nature reserves are also a vital source of green space in such a crowded city, and have an important educational function, especially for people who don’t have a big garden at home.
“We’re trying to get more Londoners to grow things at home, and make their gardens eco-friendly and climate-change friendly,” Babbs says.
At the nature reserves you can pick up some handy tips and ask the staff about growing veggies and plants in even the tiniest balcony or window box.
Get away from it all
While gawking at animals or plants sounds like something for a school excursion, London’s city farms are for adults, too.
“It’s a nice place to be, away from the hustle and bustle,” says Liz McAllister, the manager of Freightliners Farm in Islington. “It doesn’t feel like you are in a busy London suburb.
“Most people are surprised by our farm. We’re hidden a bit, and people come in and say: ‘Wow, I’ve lived here for 10 years and never knew this existed. I can’t believe it’s so different to where I was five minutes ago’.”
At Freightliners – which is typical of most London farms – you can check out rare breeds of farm life such as Dexter cows and Herdwick sheep, ogle the biggest rabbits you’ll ever see (seriously, they’re enormous), have a coffee and bite to eat at the on-site café, buy some plants for your garden and get some free-range eggs.
And while none of the cute little lambs will be becoming a kebab any time soon – they sure make an interesting change to visiting yet another staid art gallery.
Farms in central London
All have free entry.
Mudchute Park and Farm
(Pier St, E14 3HP Mudchute; mudchute.org).
The biggest in London. Also has a riding school.
Deen City Farm
(Windsor Ave, SW19 2RR South Wimbledon; deencityfarm.co.uk).
Hackney City Farm
(Goldsmiths Row, E2 8QA Bethnal Green; hackneycityfarm.co.uk).
(Sheringham Rd, N7 8PF Caledonian Road; freightlinersfarm.org.uk). Café.
Vauxhall City Farm
(Tyers St, SE11 5HS Vauxhall; vauxhallcityfarm.org).
Spitalfields City Farm
(Buxton St, E1 5AR Whitechapel; spitalfieldscityfarm.org).
Nature reserves near you
From night-time walks to spot bats to stag beetle hunting, nature reserves are a great way to help the environment or just have a peaceful wander. See wildlondon.org.
Some centrally located nature reserves are:
Camley Street Natural Park (Camley St, NW1 0PW,King’s Cross St Pancras).
Gunnersbury Triangle (Bollo Ln, W4 5LW Chiswick Park).
Centre for Wildlife Gardening (Marsden Rd, SE15 4EE East Dulwich).
Woodlands once covered most of London, but now occupies only 5 per cent.
Check ’em out at: Sydenham Hill Woods (Crescent Wood Rd, SE26 Sydenham Hill).
Beverley Meads and Fishpond Woods (Barham Rd, SW20 Raynes Park
Large expanses of chalk grassland can be explored at Saltbox Hill and West Kent Golf Course, both south of Croydon.