Isle of Dogs

From Londonbirders

The Isle of Dogs (London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Middlesex sector) is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the tidal Thames in east London and includes Cubitt Town, Poplar, Blackwall and Millwall and was once known as North Greenwich!

At one time the Isle of Dogs could be said to boast the greatest density of council housing anywhere in the country and today is still an area of social extremes with some of the country's most prosperous and deprived areas cheek by jowl; the stunning Canary Wharf complex clearly belonging to the former.

The first mention in the literature occurs in 1588 and it has been speculated that the area acquired its name on account of Henry VIII having his hunting dogs kennelled on the peninsula. Originally riverside marshland and sparsely populated before the onset of drainage and planting in the 1200s, the area itself has inspired many dark and sinister tales. In 1488, the Thames breached the river defence system (as it was) and re-flooded the area; it wasn't until the 1600's that it was eventually re-drained (by Dutch engineers) thereby allowing its 'modern' history to get underway.

Urbanisation began in the 1800's following on from the digging of the West India Docks. East India Dock opened in 1806 followed by Millwall Dock in 1868 and in 1909 the three docks were co-joined when the Port of London Authority gained charge. With these docks cutting East to West across the peninsula (with locks at each extremity) it could almost have been described as a true island.

By 1901, some 21,000 people were inhabiting the isle, all of which were very much dependent on river trade to make a living.

Come the second world war and the Isle of Dogs was clearly a high priority (for obvious reasons) on Luftwaffe target lists and, infamously, the area was massively bombed. Terribly high numbers of local people were killed and the docks were rendered completely unworkable for a lengthy period. Following the war, the docks had a brief upturn in fortunes and in 1967 even recieved an upgrade. However, the coming of containerisation in the shipping industry, which the docks were not equipped to handle, saw the area fall progressively into decline and dereliction. The economic misfortunes of the isle led to vehement expressions of anger and disillusionment by local people and events culminated bizzarely when in March 1973 the Isle of Dogs was declared an 'independent republic', even going so far as to elect its own president! The docks finally closed in 1980.

In 1981, the London Docklands Development Corporation was convened to redevelop the whole area which went on to include new housing, the Docklands Light Railway, and later on the Jubilee Line extension. Nowadays, the Isle of Dogs still retains an air of times gone by in certain areas, yet in others is highly illustrative of a progressive 21st century city. As such it has never lost its reputation as an area of stark contrasts.

Birding is limited but the area is best known for its Ring-billed Gull. This bird has been around for ten years (first found in Charlton in November 1996) and the most reliable site to catch up with it is on the foreshore of the Thames just to the east of the slipway on Glenaffric Avenue. Its usually present here on a rising tide between August and March but can easily be missed. Nearby areas such as the docks, East India Dock Basin and the Mudchute Farm area are all worth checking.


Nick Tanner's Isle of Dogs List for 2007 (at April 29th):

Little Grebe - Great Crested Grebe - Cormorant - Little Egret - Grey Heron - Mute Swan - Canada Goose ~ Shelduck - Teal - Mallard - Pochard - Tufted Duck - Sparrowhawk - Kestrel - Peregrine - Coot - Moorhen - Oystercatcher ~ Little Ringed Plover ~ Dunlin - Redshank - Common Sandpiper - Black-headed Gull - Ring-billed Gull - Common Gull - Lesser Black-backed Gull - Herring Gull - Great Black-backed Gull - Common Tern - Feral Rock Dove - Stock Dove - Woodpigeon - Kingfisher - Grey Wagtail - Pied Wagtail ~ Wren - Dunnock - Robin - Black Redstart - Blackbird - Song Thrush - Mistle Thrush - Reed Warbler - Common Whitethroat - Garden Warbler - Blackcap - Chiffchaff ~ Goldcrest ~ Blue Tit - Great Tit - Jay - Magpie - Carrion Crow - Starling - House Sparrow - Chaffinch - Greenfinch - Goldfinch.

Subspecies: White Wagtail.

Total = 58 species.

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