Green spaces are prized treasures in the brick and concrete jungle of cities. Yet, according to a report commissioned in 2013, London is the greenest city in Europe, with about 40% of its surface made of public green space:
Of course most people will think of the large central green spaces such as Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath or Greenwich Park; but there are hundreds of smaller parks, garden squares, promenades or nature reserves to discover in the capital.
In South West London, very close to Morden tube station, Morden Hall Park is one of these. Originally land owned by Westminster Abbey, it was sold in 1553 to a rich family, the Garths, who enjoyed its tranquil settings far from the noises of the city. Sold again between 1800 and 1870s to a tobacco merchant, Gilliat Hatfield, the estate was given to the National Trust in the 1940s and now offers over 50 ha of park and wild land for all to enjoy (for free!):
The Northern part of the estate has been left relatively wild and is occupied by wetland, which is just starting to green. One could easily forget that this is in London, a few hundred meters from a tube station, if it wasn’t for the distant noise of sirens!
Many plants are already visible in this marshy land, such as the edible Water cress (Nasturtium officinale) and Ficaria verna (previously Ranunuculus ficaria), the Lesser Celandine:
But insects too are coming back to life, like this brightly coloured leaf beetle (probably Altica sp.), here feeding on willowherb (Epilobium sp.):
The River Wandle runs through the estate, and parts of its banks have been left wild, which makes a very relaxing promenade amidst the hustle and bustle of London:
The shaded banks are covered in Cow Parsley‘s flowers (Anthriscus sylvestris), while a quiet part of the river hosts the nasty Floating Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides). Originally from the South of the USA and Central America, it was imported to Europe in the mid 20th century as an ornamental pond plant, and has since become invasive in many countries. Pennywort is causing a lot of direct or indirect damages (loss of oxygen in water, flooding, pipe blocks…) but is very difficult to control. It is one of the five invasive aquatic plants whose sale has been banned by a government legislation starting April 2014, to try and limit their spread in the UK.
In the late 1700s and 1800s, parts of Morden Hall Park were used an industrial estate. In particular, snuff (sniffing tobacco) production was well developed on the site, with two mills being used to grind the leaves. The mills are still visible today, and although the wheels are no longer functional (parts were removed during the wars to be used as scrap metal), it is still a very nice evidence of the industrial past of the place.
Today, Morden Hall Park is a tranquil park only disturbed by bird songs and distant city noises, but I imagine what it must have been in the past with the mills running and many workers, suppliers, buyers and farmers around…
There is one noise though that you can hear nowadays: the buzzing of bees. Hives have been installed as part of a community project, with courses being given by a local Beekeeper’s association , and honey being sold to local residents.
Who said life in London had to be all concrete?