Closet wild child: Hidden nature reserves near you

Written by: Sophie Taylor

He sits alone and murmurs towards no-one in particular, engrossed in all other wildlife around him. Beautiful, elusive and graceful, the hushed-spoken Attenborough is a rare beast to spot and hugely endangered. But head towards a nature reserve and you might just catch a glimpse of this wise, silver-haired mammal quietly chattering and helping look after other endangered species.

Yes, Sir David Attenborough was found in his element recently, unveiling the UK’s newest nature reserve in Stoke Newington: Woodberry Wetlands, a once abandoned, barren reservoir and wasteland.

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Along came the London Wildlife Trust who planted more foliage, encouraging wildlife and transforming the 27 acre wetlands into a refuge for some of the UK’s endangered birds. Originally built in 1833, the reservoir was used to store drinking water for us thirsty Londoners before being disinfected with chlorine between 1955 and 1980. Boo! The water is back to it’s former drinking safe place now though and not just available for the greedy humans: nearby animals and wildlife are getting stuck in too.

You can visit Woodberry Wetlands from 8am – 5pm Mon – Friday and from 9am on Saturdays and Sundays. Wildlife spotting is thirsty work, so go and wet your whistle at Lizzy’s Coal House Cafe before catching more rare sightings in the undergrowth.

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As mentioned in our What to do in Finsbury Park article, we had a look around another nature reserve opposite the station. One of us was sceptical that such a butterfly dreamland actually existed, having already ventured into Gillespie Park previously. But not far enough!

Did you know Gillespie Park is approximately the size of 4 Arsenal football pitches? ME NEITHER. Funnily enough, the stadium wanted to turn the area into a carpark back in 1980, but lost out to locals and Islington council who wanted to nurture a space for wildlife.

It is now supported by a group called ‘Friends of Gillespie Park’ and the Ecology Centre Manager. It has ten elected members every year and its aims are ‘to protect and promote the park for the benefit of the local community’. They hold an annual festival with multi-cultural events to raise funds and keep the park alive and well.


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If you keep walking along the railway path you will eventually wander into the Gillespie Park nature reserve. Wander on down the stone steps past the fairytale-esque cafe and Ecology Centre, via the ominous looking ring of tree stump seats (where I’m assuming the forest beasties gather to discuss what to do with all the humans) and further along through a branched archway.

You’ll then come across a huge lily pond bubbling with bugs, frogs, toads and newts (I started cackling and chanting out some spells at this point which didn’t go down too well).

There are also meadows to explore, inhabiting over 200 plant species, almost 100 different birds and a whole load of sexy butterflies flirting with the rest of the partying insect community.


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We were lucky enough to catch a robin redbreast casually chilling next to us on a bench. He stayed so long I started to think we had a new wingman to be honest. But as we gave each other the knowing side eye and I reached out to take him by the shoulder and show him the unknown delights of The Faltering Fullback and Rowans, he hotfooted it off into the undergrowth.

Presumably to tell the rest of the winged and hoofed creatures to call off The Great 2016 Dissolution of the Humans. “Guys. Guys! Those old two-leggeds are actually alright you know”.

Gillespie Park is is open daily from 8am to dusk, except on Arsenal home match days when both the reserve and the Ecology Centre are closed. The Ecology Centre is open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.

Read more about the history here.


Photos Mike Barry, Sophie Taylor and via Woodberry Westlands

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