Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Woodberry Wetlands opens

It's not often a nature reserve opens up near where you live, especially when you live in inner London. The new Woodberry Wetlands – opened last week by the naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough – has been created on a reservoir fed by the New River, which was opened in 1613 to bring fresh water to the growing city from the chalk streams of Hertfordshire. (F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have boated here while staying nearby.) While new housing rises abruptly on the reservoir's north banks, the view south is low-level and misleadingly rural, although there are glimpses of the Shard, Canary Wharf and the Post Office Tower in the distance. It's hardly the countryside – the sound of planes and sirens put a stop to that – but it's a restoring urban escape to greenness, nature and a slower pace.

The reservoir, which is still supplying water to us London's inhabitants, is home to kingfishers, buntings, grebes, snipe, herons, terns and more, as well as dragonflies, butterflies and bats. Some birds migrate thousands of miles to spend the summer here in Hackney, the guide tells his cosmopolitan audience, to murmurs of appreciation. The reservoir was off limits to the public for nearly 200 years: clean water was such a precious commodity at the time it was built, it was fenced off. Now we can follow the volunteer-built trail around its perimeter and stop in its Coalhouse cafe, train the binoculars on the reeds, and enjoy the warmth of summer that has suddenly arrived. And it's just a 17-minute tube journey away from Leicester Square.

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