New nature reserve in London, England

This video from England says about itself:

Volunteering and nature: London Wildlife Trust

14 November 2014

With over 40 nature reserves across London we rely on the volunteers who give their time to help us protect wildlife and nature. This short, inspiring video shows some of our volunteers and staff in action at Gunnersbury Triangle. Many thanks to everyone who helps us look after wildlife and wild spaces in London.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

‘Fencing people away from nature is bad’

An ambitious project is under way in north London to create an urban haven for rare birds alongside modern towerblocks. Welcome to Woodberry Wetlands, ‘wildlife gardening on a colossal scale’

Patrick Barkham

Sunday 17 May 2015 18.00 BST

Look north, and gleaming new towers resemble the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. Turn south, and you are transported into a bucolic corner of 18th-century England. Dense beds of reeds rise from the edge of a lake. A heron stalks the shallows. And if you arrive when volunteers are working on what could be the most exciting new urban nature reserve in the world, there is the surreal sight of a Suffolk Punch draught horse, hauling cut reeds from the marsh.

This is Woodberry Wetlands, a haven for wildlife, and people, which is being created out of the little-known east reservoir in Hackney: 17 acres of reed-fringed ponds, dykes and scrapes five minutes’ walk from the urban grit of Manor House tube station. At first, the contrast between the flashy and controversial new towers of Woodberry Down and the water beyond, fringed by venerable oaks including Hackney’s oldest, is bewildering. But both these landscapes are equally man-made, reflecting the ever-changing human geography of London.

In the 17th century, the New River was constructed through the wooded village of Stoke Newington, bringing clean water from the chalk streams of Hertfordshire to central London. In 1833, two large reservoirs – east and west – were built as part of this system. The city’s new rich craved water vistas on the edge of London and so enormous villas rose up, their large gardens backing on to the New River. One local legend claims that F Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed punting and gin-and-tonic parties in the bourgeois suburb of Woodberry Down.

By the middle of the 20th century, the only part of Woodberry Down that appeared unchanged were the reservoirs. The London County Council compulsorily purchased and demolished the villas to create a utopian estate for the capital’s poor: 2,500 homes were completed by 1962, alongside one of the country’s first purpose-built comprehensive schools.

Over the next 40 years, Woodberry Down declined, beset by poor design, leaks, underfunded local facilities and Thatcherism. By the 1990s, the reservoirs were under threat too. Thames Water wanted to sell them and developers drew up plans to fill them in and build houses over them. A vigorous campaign by local people saved the reservoirs: Thames Water sold the nearby filter beds for housing but the west reservoir was given over to recreation (a Hackney council-owned sailing lake; a climbing centre in the old pumping station) while the east reservoir continued to serve as a reservoir and a nature reserve, closed to the public.

Now Woodberry Down and its waterways are being transformed again, with the sculpting of the east reservoir into a new wetland, due to open to the public next spring.

“This is 21st-century urban nature conservation,” declares David Mooney of London Wildlife Trust, which is overseeing the £1.3m project. “It’s a man-made structure turned into a nature reserve in the centre of a massive urban conurbation. There are very few examples of it in the world. Yes, there’s the London Wetland Centre at Barnes, but it’s not Hackney, is it?”

The (re)gentrification of Woodberry Down has been controversial but Mooney praises Berkeley. “I don’t really want to celebrate developers but they massively listened to us. They are spending £250,000 on a bit of public space and are getting nothing back apart from a bit of PR. There must be something in partnerships between charities and the private sector.” Mooney grimaces. “I sound like a Blairite now.”

Images of open water, reeds and herons loom large on the latest marketing for Woodberry Down – nature, clearly, is worth a lot to house-builders – and on a bright, windy May day, Mooney takes me on to the reservoir. A blackcap sings, a reed bunting flits into a willow thicket, and swifts scream and swoop to catch insects over the water. With finance from the Heritage Lottery Fund (50%), Berkeley Homes (20%), Thames Water (20%) and Hackney council (10%), a footbridge will be built so people can swap Kuala Lumpur for the wind in the willows in a short stroll. A 19th-century coal store and kitchen is being converted into a cafe with roof terrace and a new path will open up three sides of the reservoir.

This is wildlife gardening on a colossal scale. Rather like an enormous hair transplant, reeds have been dug up and replanted along sinuous new banks built from tight bundles of hazel and chestnut sticks. In the middle of the water, an orange digger is balanced precariously on a pontoon, dredging silt from the main lake into a new area of shallow ponds. A Canada goose and a coot have already made nests inside the old tyres placed on floating platforms, and special banks will encourage nesting kingfishers and sand martins.

“There used to be one heron every few months but now there is a pair,” says Mooney. “The ponds are already starting to come alive, the fish fry will be breeding and a whole new habitat will be created. Eventually, bitterns will come.”

We head on to the water in a little plastic boat, and potter down a deep channel between the new banks. “This will effectively become a backwater, an urban bayou,” says Mooney. The depth prevents the whole reservoir from being swamped by reed and is also an anti-fox and cat moat, protecting ground-nesting birds.

Crucially, wildlife will live alongside people, with the wetlands freely open to the public. Mooney points to a primary school which abuts the reservoir: it only has a tarmac playground and yet, until now, generations of pupils have been excluded from this watery paradise. The concept of “nature deficit disorder” has its critics but there is a growing body of scientific research revealing the physical and particularly mental health benefits for people spending time among trees and parks.

“Sealing off nature and looking at it through a gate – what’s going to happen when those little nippers who have never interacted with it find a green space? Unfortunately people who have never come into contact with nature before are scared of it or want to kill it,” he says. “Fencing people away from nature is bad. If you never experience it, how can you be expected to protect it in the future?”

He is not worried about misbehaviour – local young people will be employed as rangers to enforce basic rules (no dogs, no barbecues, no bikes) – and wildlife that is vulnerable to disturbance will still find sanctuary on the reservoir’s northern bank, where visitors won’t be allowed.

Woodberry Wetlands is only the start. London Wildlife Trust is working with Waltham Forest council on a much bigger wetland nature reserve covering 211 hectares and 10 reservoirs at Walthamstow, which will include a cycle path and the conversion of an old pumping station.

Despite working at Woodberry every day, Mooney remains entranced by the juxtaposition of ultra-modern towers and the wild. “Once the reed beds have grown up you’ve got the Norfolk Broads here, but turn around, check it out – it’s ridiculous. Is London really this crazy? Yes it is. And do you know what? I’m celebrating it.”

6 thoughts on “New nature reserve in London, England

  1. Pingback: Female blackbird on eggs, male sings | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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