9 reasons why you should love pigeons

August 25th, 2021|

Who doesn’t love the underrated pigeon?! We have lots of them at the Cemetery Park, so here are NINE PIGEON FACTS:

A pigeon. Image credit: author Christian Jansky (CC BY-SA 2.5)1. Like humans, street pigeons have a complicated courtship, and they rub and lock their beaks together. Happy breeding season!

2. They are employed as unpaid street cleaners. Previous jobs include:
– 1941-1953: missile guide
– 1859: Charles Darwin’s inspiration to write On The Origin of Species
– 6th century-1996: wartime messenger

3. Feral pigeons, city pigeons, streets rats, lovely roundbois – whatever you call them: they only exist because humans got involved. They are descended from domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild. The domestic pigeon has been around for over 5,000 years, and was originally bred from the wild rock dove, which naturally inhabits sea-cliffs and mountains. They’re all still the same species, Columba livia, and will happily interbreed.

Pigeon tower. Image credit: author akhodadadi (CC BY 3.0)

4. There are some extremely cool dovecotes and pigeon homes around the world. This pigeon tower (کبوتر خانه or kabutar xâne) is in Meybod, Yazd province, Iran. It’s about 200 years old and has space for 4000 birds. It was built to collect eggs, and bird poo (guano) used as fertiliser. It’s three stories high, and there are hundreds of little niches for each pigeon to sit. It has seven balconies on each floor, so people can reach to pick the eggs from each niche. The pigeons have their own seven little doorways at the top of the tower, and there’s a hole in the domed roof to let sunlight in. Like lots of buildings in Meybod, the tower is made using the wattle and daub construction method, which gives the building a very organic and old feel. It also means the pigeons stay cool in a hot climate! One of our staff can confirm it’s nice and cool inside, even when it’s hot out.

5. Skills include:
– navigation using human-made structures
– travelling on human public transport
– recognising themselves in a mirror
– fly up to 92.5 mph – 148.9 km/h
– play ping-pong (without a bat)
– defacing statues of horrible humans

6. Pigeons aren’t dirty – they don’t carry more diseases than any other animal. There is no risk to human health from wild pigeons, unless you’re going to touch their fresh poo regularly and not wash your hands. You’re more likely to get a disease from your own pet.

7. If you ever see a pigeon stuck in a shop window, help the poor thing out! They’re quite easy to pick up (cover their wings with your hands) and put outside, just wash your hands after.

8. People who keep pigeons are called pigeon fanciers. For centuries, some pigeon fanciers have taken part in pigeon racing. A group of local fanciers will put their best pigeons in a basket, send them 100-1000 km/62-620 miles away on a specially modified lorry, and whichever pigeon gets back first, wins. Pigeon racing is popular in Belgium, China, Taiwan, Iraq and lots of other countries.

9. If you think football players are overpriced, Belgian racing pigeon New Kim sold for €1.6m (£1.4m) in November 2020, to a Chinese bidder. Fingers crossed she gets paid in very fancy seed.

Run the Virtual London Marathon!

March 10th, 2021|

Do you like running? We have a charity place available for the 2021 virtual Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 3 October 2021!

We would love our supporters to take part in this unique challenge, while raising much-needed funds for our charity. It won’t cost you anything – except effort! For this virtual version of the Virgin Money London Marathon you need to:

  • Aim to raise a minimum of £1,000.
  • Design your own route (it’s about 26.2 miles to all Magnificent Seven cemeteries!).
  • Carry a phone capable of using the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon App to enable GPS to track your 26.2 miles.
  • Be responsible for your own nutrition and hydration during the event.

If needed, we may be able to support you with a water/snack/first aid stop in the Cemetery Park (E3 4PX), and Leytonstone (E11 4LP).

If you would like to take part and raise critical funds for the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, email as soon as possible. You must let us know:

  • How much money you aim to raise
  • How you will raise the money
  • Ideas of how you’ll complete the marathon (e.g. walk, run, wheelchair, run as a whole group – not a relay) and your route.

We aim to let you know as soon as possible.

More information about the event, training and nutrition advice, and ideas and inspiration for creative ways to take part can be found on the London Marathon website.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Foraging in the Cemetery Park

March 1st, 2021|

Wild garlic - ramson - Allium ursinum - (CC BY 2.0) author you want to forage at the Cemetery Park, you must apply for permission. Please email If you’re unable to email, call 0203 8982 8670. It can take us up to 3 working days to reply, so please be patient.

As a charity we spend a lot of money, time and effort on our plants so that everyone (people and animals) can enjoy them. To ensure that foraging is carefully managed we require all foragers to request written permission, this allows us to monitor demand as well as provide clear guidance to foragers. Permission from The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is required for all foraging and we do enforce this during our patrols.

Please note that we only allow foraging for personal use. NO RESTAURANTS OR COMMERCIAL FORAGING is allowed. If you’re a chef, source your food legally and without the risk of a £5,000 fine, e.g. from Farmdrop, or Ocado.

Please donate to support us replanting afterwards. The vast majority of our foragers make a donation.

You need to follow these rules for responsible foraging:

  1. Apply for permission – email Include the species, frequency, and quantity you want to forage.
  2. Donate. The vast majority of our foragers give a donation. It costs the charity time, effort and money to support foraging.
  3. Bring your phone/a copy of the permission email, so you can show the email if asked by staff.
  4. Only take a small quantity, maximum 150g – think a small bag of salad at the supermarket.
  5. Use a sharp tool so you don’t accidentally pull out the roots. You can not dig up plants.
  6. Leave no trace. Don’t trample any plants, and don’t disturb wildlife. Ensure areas don’t look damaged.
  7. Only pick from where there are lots of plants. If you see bald patches, do not pick there. Collect from more than one spot, and away from footpath edges (it looks bad, and think dog wee…).
  8. Follow foraging best practice.

If you are ever not 100% sure of what you are picking, please do not forage it. We wouldn’t want you to accidentally poison yourself.

If you’ve received permission in a previous year, please apply again, as the permission is annual and does expire.

Please note that according to Tower Hamlets Parks byelaws, picking plants isn’t allowed at all. Legally the Cemetery Park grounds are part of Tower Hamlets Parks, so in principle the byelaw still applies. However as a charity we strongly encourage people to enjoy nature, within reason, and by following our rules and guidance, foragers can find food without damaging the Cemetery Park.

You can also join any of our monthly forage tours with Forage London or Made in Hackney.

Open call for an artist in residence for the Cemetery Park

November 18th, 2020|

Are you an artist who likes the Cemetery Park?

Image of an artwork with the words 'open call for a artist in residence'Our artist in residence Louise Hildreth is ready to hand over the baton to a new person for a one-year residency. We are looking for an East London* artist working with a nature- and community-based practice.

This residency allows for a full cycle of seasons spent amidst the woodlands and wildflowers as well as the extraordinary heritage of the cemetery and local area. We would like to encourage community outreach and can support any funding applications that could aid a programme of this kind (e.g. Louise has received Arts Council funding).

This is a self-guided, unpaid residency and sadly, we don’t have a studio to offer. However:

  • Our current artist in residence will be there to talk you through what it’s like, and may be able to help you with funding applications
  • We will shortly be running a Kickstarter-style fundraiser, where one of the rewards for a £1,000 donation will be for the artist in residence to create an artwork and deliver a workshop. Part of this money can be shared with the new artist in residence.
  • We’re flexible on the commitment required: Over the course of a year we’d like you to create at least 3 artworks and deliver 3 workshops.

* By ‘East London’ we mean that you’re based or from there. This isn’t a strict requirement, but it’ll help you keep transport costs and time to a minimum.

We always aim to be inclusive and want the Cemetery Park to reflect the diversity of the local area with its rich culture and multi-ethnic community. We particularly welcome applications from those who are significantly underrepresented within the arts.

For more information or to apply, contact the current artist in residence, Louise Hildreth on Please send proposals including a brief outline of your practice and why you would like to be the next artist in residence, as well as images or links to websites/social media pages.

The submission deadline is 11 December 2020 23:59, and candidates will be informed by 18 December 2020.

The purpose of ponds

November 16th, 2020|

Researching Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park’s aquatic insects with Europonds

Guest post written by Liam Nash (Queen Mary University of London), in collaboration with Laura Sivess (Natural History Museum, London) for the Europonds project as part of the Freshwater Biological Association.
A white person holding dragonfly nymphs in their hand

These baby dragonflies, called nymphs, live underwater but grow wings and leave when they become adults.

From the Arctic circle to the Azores, there are thousands of ponds across Europe, everywhere from Alpine wildernesses to inner-city London. Great or small, these blue oases provide essential freshwater habitat for a massive diversity of amphibians, insects, plants and more. Many people’s first experience with nature is through ponds – enjoying an afternoon of pond-dipping for dragonfly larvae, or watching frogspawn develop into tadpoles. But ponds are not only important for these strange-looking, underwater creatures. They also hugely benefit their surrounding landscape. As with all things in nature, pond animals are tightly interconnected with their wider ecosystem, including that outside of their pond, on land.

Many pond insects, such as midges, mosquitoes and dragonflies, undergo metamorphosis, transforming from aquatic larvae to emerge as flying adults. Well-known is the mass mayfly emergence in spring, where millions of adults emerge just for a few hours to mate before dying. Anyone who spends time near water will be acutely aware of adult midges and mosquitoes, winged and able to bite us. But, as much of a nuisance as these animals are for us, they are a food source for many other species of bird, bat and spider. Ponds become “insect chimneys”, attracting predators for miles around to eat these newly adult aquatic insects.

A map of the sites of Europonds research

A map of all the different ponds being sampled across Europe as part of Europonds (map from Google).


However, we understand very little about the importance of this food source. What factors influence it, and how does this vary in different environments?

Europonds is an exciting pan-European research project targeting these questions. Scientists from all across the continent are examining the impact that pond insects, as a food source, have on surrounding land animals. We are two London-based PhD researchers heading up the UK team. The Cemetery Park is a key site to investigate the benefit of emerging insects on urban wildlife.

Catching the insects as they leave the water is made possible with emergence traps, essentially floating pyramids of netting. After counting and identifying the insects, they will be sent to Austria for ‘fatty acid analysis’ to assess their nutritional value for birds and other animals. We’ll also look out for the cast-off ‘skin’ (called an exuvia) dragonflies leave behind when they emerge, collect larvae using nets, and take some water samples to build a complete picture of everything going on, in and out of the pond.

Ultimately, all the teams will share and collate their data from fifteen European countries carried out in autumn, winter, spring and summer. This will be used to determine how ponds impact their surroundings, what pond characteristics are most important and how this varies over space and time. Everything we find will be shared with the Friends, to see how their ponds, specifically, are providing food for their own wildlife. Each year the Cemetery Park attracts around 60 bird species, 30 butterflies and nationally rare beetles and spiders into the heart of London. It may well just be that the ponds are part of the reason why.

Europonds traps in Soanes Centre pond

Europonds emergence traps.

More Europonds emergence traps.




Poet in Residence

January 1st, 2018|

We are delighted to welcome Nelson Brooks, Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Poet in Resident 2018. Each month, Brooks will release a new poem inspired by the Cemetery Park. Click here to read his poems to date.

Funding success!

December 6th, 2017|

Big thanks to the LBTH & especially Cllr. Khales for his generous donation to us. Thanks to fellow participant charities for helping to raise £10,725 to go towards our work @APASENTH @bbpi100 @soulfc. We feel very proud and honoured to be one of Cllr. Khales chosen charities and to have raised so much.

We’ve launched a new Heritage Trail!

September 17th, 2017|

We are excited to share our new self-guided Heritage trail which was launched at London Open House weekend. The trail brings to life the stories of people buried here and the architecture of the memorials which commemorate them.

Pick up a leaflet on site and follow the purple and gold metal waymarkers to learn more about the fascinating history of the Cemetery. More info.

Shuffle Festival

August 27th, 2017|

Once again Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park has played host to the wonderful Shuffle Festival, bringing, music, art, cinema, culture and family fun for the August Bank Holiday weekend. These photos give a taste of the beautiful event, which is designed to respect the historic and cultural environment of a Cemetery.

More Murals!

February 28th, 2017|

February saw the return of street artists to Ackroyd Drive Greenlink to help us with our continuing work to enhance the value, importance and appreciation of this green link that that runs between Bow Common Lane and Burdett Road.

This sits alongside last year’s Endangered 13 public art project that saw 13 of the railway arches painted. This new project became a reality with the support of local resident and public art curator, Bablu Miah of Sugar for My Soul, along with Global Art Supplies who donated the paint and the two artists who have given us such fantastic murals: Aspire has painted two birds, a great and blue tit, and Matt Shapira depicted two roaming elephants. There is still space for three more murals, so if you can help us with cash donations to pay artists for their time then please get in touch.

Green Care Project

January 9th, 2017|

We launched a new wellbeing project Green Care, in partnership with the Women’s Environmental Network and the three Tower Hamlets city farms.

Your favourite community-run green spaces in Tower Hamlets are forming a partnership to support positive mental health and wellbeing through Green Care, the new term for all therapeutic activities based in nature. We ran Taster Sessions are an opportunity to try a wide range of fun green care activities, relax in beautiful natural spaces and meet people in a friendly group. We hope that the project will be funded to go forward. Click to find out more.

Barnardo’s Memorial unveiling

December 5th, 2016|

Today, we hosted a touching dedication ceremony to unveil a new monument commissioned by Barnardo’s to commemorate the lives of over 500 Barnardo’s children our heritage volunteers have identified who were buried here in unmarked graves between 1876 and 1924, along with three of Dr Barnardo’s own children also interred here.

London Loves Us!

November 15th, 2016|

For the third year running we have won the Time Out Love London Award in the Bow and Mile End area Local Culture category. Thanks so much to everyone who voted for us and to all our volunteers, members and supporters, without whom none of this would be possible.

National Winners

October 17th, 2016|

We’re #BritaininBloom winners! We won the National Conservation & Wildlife Award (in association with @BBCSpringwatch Do Something Great)

@RHSBloom #ourbloom.

Thank you to all our staff and many volunteers who help us care for and manage THCP. This award is for each and everyone one of us. Our combined efforts made this win possible. Our award and the Cemetery Park also featured on BBC Autumnwatch on 27 October.

Soanes Murals Project

August 10th, 2016|

The Soanes Centre murals are now complete! Artists Roo, Lilly Lou and Annatomix showcased their talent on the walls and highlighted Britain’s threatened animals – bees, red squirrels, hedgehogs, and wildcats. Thanks to sugarformysoul, Montana Cans, Global Art Supplies, and Planet Rock Graphics.

New Kingfisher Bank

March 10th, 2016|

Kingfishers are regularly seen along the Regent’s Canal and other waterways in the borough in winter, but always leave before the breeding season starts. This is probably due to a lack of suitable soft, vertical banks in which they can dig their nest burrows. Providing suitable nesting sites for Kingfishers is an objective in the Tower Hamlets Local Biodiversity Action Plan.

The Friends were asked by Tower Hamlets Council to build a new kingfisher bank. You can read more about it and see pictures of the completed bank, by clicking HERE.

Win a Pond Liner!

February 2nd, 2016|

Tell us how you would like to use a free pond liner in your garden or school and the best idea will win a free pond liner!

You may want to create a haven for orphaned frogs, a stop-off for dragon flies or a splash pad for the local birds. Be as creative as you like with your ideas.

Tweet your ideas to @FoTHCP using the hashtag #winapond and we’ll choose the best one. The winner gets one free pond liner courtesy of All Pond Solutions, an expert online aquatics retailer. If you win, we’d love to see a photo of your finished pond too!

Hidden Histories

January 28th, 2016|

We are delighted to announce the award of a grant of £9,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a research project entitled ‘Researching the names on the War Memorial in Tower Hamlets Cemetery’.

Awarded through HLF’s First World War: Then and Now programme, the project will research the lives of the 204 service personnel who lost their lives during War World One and are recorded on the War Memorial located in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. You can contribute your knowledge and any information you hold in family records:

More information

Tower Hamlets in Bloom Winners

December 14th, 2015|

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park won two awards at this year’s Tower Hamlets in Bloom Award Ceremony; an Excellence in Service Award and a Special Recognition Award.

The team had a lovely time at the event, which was held at the Mile End Park Art Pavilion. We were very chuffed to receive the awards, especially as we had no idea that we had been nominated! A very nice surprise. Well done to all of the other winners.

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