As of 1 May, local residents of Woodberry Down – and, indeed, the entire general public – are able to freely visit and explore Woodberry Wetlands, London’s newest nature reserve. This 11-hectare reservoir in Hackney has been closed to the public since it was built in 1833, but thanks to an intervention by the London Wildlife Trust, it’s now making an assortment of wildlife accessible to Londoners.
The reserve was opened by Sir David Attenborough, who toured the Thames Water-owned site thanking volunteers for their efforts in cleaning up the wetlands. ‘I’ve spent the last 60 or 70 years hearing about this disaster or that disaster,’ he told an assembled crowd. ‘It’s marvellous to be here seeing the reverse, seeing things getting better. We should celebrate that and we should certainly thank the people responsible.’
Since hatching its plan to create Woodberry Wetlands six years ago, the London Wildlife Trust has created over 13,000m2 of reedbed and planted 550m2 of hedgerow, wildflower meadows and fruit trees. It’s the culmination of a clean-up which began when the practice of pumping disinfectants – such as chlorine and sodium phosphate – into the water was stopped in 1980. As birds and insects – which the chemicals had killed off – began to return, it was designated a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation in 1987.
Following the most recent conservation efforts, the wetlands are now home to numerous waterfowl, such as gadwell, shoveler, tufted duck, common waders and terns, as well as priority species including reed bunting, song thrust, Cetti’s warbler and kingfisher. The array of frogs, toads, newts, butterflies, moths, damselflies and other insects now found on site has made Woodberry Wetlands a recognised feeder site to the Ramsar-listed Lee Valley Special Protection Area.
One significant feature of the reserve remains the fact that it is not a new park, but is in fact a fully-functioning reservoir supplying water to London’s ever-growing population. ‘[That is] something quite crucial,’ said David Mooney, the London Wildlife Trust’s project manager for Woodberry Wetlands. ‘Opening up nature to people who have no access to it is absolutely vital, otherwise people will never get to know it, and will never understand it; they’ll be scared of it, they’ll probably damage it. We can’t forget the fact that you can build a nature reserve on an operating reservoir – it’s remarkable!’
‘If you come very early in the morning, particularly on the “Dawn Chorus” walks, there’s every chance you’ll see kingfishers,’ added Mooney. ‘Kingfishers, for me, say everything about a wetlands, say everything about British nature and early morning walks, and you get them here!’
‘A hundred years ago,’ continued Attenborough, ‘there was a very rare bird that had been persecuted for its feathers in this country, and which had the most unbelievable courtship ritual, as beautiful in its way as any bird of paradise. It’s out there now – the great crested grebe! A hundred years ago it was rare and now anyone around here in spring or summer can see this breathtaking sight.’