Latest News from Operation Centaur
During the first week of June, if you happened to be passing through Ham Avenues, you may have come across our Shires, Tom and Murdoch, at work alongside a team of about 40 local and corporate volunteers recruited by Ham House.
The horses are the last herd of working Shires in London, and part of Operation Centaur; an organisation that promotes the relevance of the horse as a contemporary working animal in partnership with humans. This can take the form of heritage skills in conservation and agriculture, learning and therapy.
Operation Centaur works in close partnership with The Royal Parks and helps them deliver community outreach programmes. Richmond Park was fully supportive when we were invited to work on Ham Avenues by Thames Landscape Strategy.
The pilot project funded by Petersham Environment Trust allowed heavy horses to work on Ham Avenues for the first time in decades.
Tom and Murdoch walked each day to the Avenues from Richmond Park. For the first two days they pulled a traditional 1950s Amish mower cutting grass and encroaching brambles. During the next three days volunteers scythed between the lime trees, raked cuttings, and then loaded cuttings into a horse-drawn hay wagon. By using the Shires we could be sensitive to the environment and minimise any disturbance to local wildlife.
About 180 local school children had the opportunity to meet the Shires. The children were amazed to find on their doorstep an animal rarer then the Giant Panda; only about 1500 Shires are left in the world.
Local photographers took some great pictures during the week showing all the stages of the project. Have a look on our Facebook page.
We plan to return to Ham Avenues in September for the second part of the bi-annual hay-cut. Schools and local organisations who would like to be involved can get in touch here.