An old reservoir in the boroughs of Hackney, in north east London, has been transformed into a nature reserve. Called Woodberry Wetlands, this 7-acre site of reed-fringed ponds, dykes and scrapes was created out of an early 19th century reservoir in Stoke Newington, and is located just ten minutes’ walk away from the Manor House tube station.
The East Reservoir was constructed in 1833 to meet the growing demands for drinking water in suburban London. The water was brought in from the chalk streams of Hertfordshire via the New River through the wooded village of Stoke Newington. Prior to the building of the reservoirs, the Woodberry Down —as it was called then— was rolling grass meadows where cattle grazed, and small woodlands where wild boar lived. Soon after its construction, large Victorian and Edwardian mansions went up overlooking the reservoir, and Woodberry Down became a luxurious extension of the city.
The two world wars of the 20th century left many of the houses and villas of Woodberry Down unused prompting the city to purchase the entire area and turn it into a social housing project. Some 2,500 homes were built for the poor including one of the country’s first purpose-built comprehensive schools. Woodberry Down was hailed as a utopian success. By the end of the 20th century, Woodberry Down’s housing estate, like many others across the UK, fell into neglect and disuse. The reservoirs fell under threat too. Thames Water wanted to sell them and developers drew up plans to fill them in and build houses over them. Only a vigorous campaign by local people saved the reservoirs.
Finally, Thames Water sold the adjacent lands but retained the reservoirs. The west reservoir was given over to recreation, while east reservoir continued to serve as a reservoir and a nature reserve, but closed to the public.
Now London Wildlife Trust in collaboration with Thames Water and other organization have significantly expanded the reed beds. The nature reserve will be inaugurated on 30 April (today) by David Attenborough, and will be opened to the public from May 1.
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For the last two hundred years, the shallow lake has been attracting more than three hundred species of migratory birds, and providing habitat and nesting place for a good variety of waterbirds, including ducks, swans, goose, and grebes, who share this space with the usual frogs and toads. Woodberry Wetlands will also an excellent place to see moths, dragonflies, butterflies and damselflies in the summer months.
This feature originally appeared in The Amusing Planet.