Surrounded by the dense London suburbs of Manor House, Stoke Newington and Woodberry Down, Woodberry Wetlands is a wildlife oasis within the London Borough of Hackney. Opened to the public on May 1st 2016, the reserve has been created around Stoke Newington’s East Reservoir, which had not previously been accessible to the public since its construction in 1833. The site is owned by Thames Water and managed by London Wildlife Trust. It has been designated as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
According to its website, the reserve covers 12 hectares (30 acres).
Address: Woodberry Wetlands, West Entrance via New River Path, Lordship Road, London N16 5HQ.
Historically, the Woodberry Wetlands site was once covered by grassy meadows, cattle pasture, small woods and peasant smallholdings. It only became a wetland because of Victorian London’s demand for clean drinking water.
Until the 1600s, London's water supply depended on the River Thames and some local streams, wells and springs. Then in 1604 King James I authorised the construction of the New River to carry clean water from chalk springs in Hertfordshire into central London. In 1613, the New River Company completed an artificial channel called the New River, carrying water into London on a route that took it through Stoke Newington.
In 1833, the New River Company also built the Stoke Newington East and West Reservoirs next to the New River to meet the demand for drinking water in the growing areas of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill. The banks of the reservoirs were lined at higher levels with stones taken from the medieval London Bridge, then in the course of demolition.
Over the following century, the reservoirs gradually became surrounded by housing developments. The reservoirs and the New River were treated with chlorine and sodium phosphate to “clean” the water. Not surprisingly, they were then devoid of any significant wildlife.
In 1992 the newly privatised Thames Water put the reservoirs up for sale, with a view to both reservoirs being filled in and built over. But after a long campaign by local residents, the reservoirs were saved, the use of chlorine and sodium phosphate was discontinued and wildlife began to return.
The west reservoir was eventually converted into a water sports centre but the east reservoir continued as temporary storage for water before processing at Walthamstow Reservoirs.
In 2014 the London Wildlife Trust took over management of the east reservoir and began improving its appeal for wildlife. The new nature reserve was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough on 30th April 2016.
The reservoir was originally some 6m deep, but silt from the New River has gradually reduced its depth to about 2m. The silting up created undulations to form pools, islands and channels and allowed the existing reedbed to spread out further from the edge. Since the reedbeds are rich in wetland wildlife, the London Wildlife Trust has increased their size with movement of silt and new planting. The reedbed is dominated by common reed with patches of bramble, curled dock and common nettle found throughout the reedbed.
Hedgerows on the site also provide habitat for birds, mammals and invertebrates. Hawthorn is the principal component of the hedgerows. Its blossom provides a nectar source for pollinators and its structure shelters foodplants of butterflies.
On top of the embankments is an area of improved grassland, and the south facing slope next to the reedbed features semi-improved grassland. The improvement of the grassland is reflected in the dominant grass species, which are species associated with higher-nutrient environments: meadow foxtail, barren brome, red fescue, Yorkshire fog, wall barley and perennial rye-grass.
The London Wildlife Trust has also created an area of wildflower meadow, supporting species such as meadow vetchling, greater bird’s-foot trefoil and lesser trefoil.
The site also includes an orchard, planted with traditional English fruit varieties that are expected to provide vital habitat for invertebrates as they mature. The trees include Victoria plum, conference pear and James Grieve apple — a former fruit market staple that has been largely forgotten, since it bruises easily and is therefore ignored by modern supermarkets.
Birds Woodberry Wetlands supports many bird species, from wintering wildfowl to the 50 or so species that breed here in summer. A comprehensive list of birds seen at the two Stoke Newington reservoirs in recent years can be found here. Total observed bird species from all sources now puts the total at 171 (May 2017)
Other vertebrates According to the reserve’s website, the bats one might spot at Woodberry Wetlands include Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Nathusius’s Pipistrelle, Noctule, Daubenton’s Bat, Leisler’s Bat, Natterer’s Bat and Brown Long-eared Bat. Other mammals presumably include Red Fox, Grey Squirrel and various small rodents.
The website does not mention any reptiles, but it says that amphibians include healthy populations of Smooth Newt, Common Frog and Common Toad.
Invertebrates The reserve’s website says that butterflies found at the reserve include Essex Skipper, Large Skipper, Purple Hairstreak, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Speckled Wood and Meadow Brown.
Moths mentioned on the reserve’s website include Leopard Moth, Large Yellow Underwing, Small Magpie, Red-tipped Clearwing, Clover Seed Moth, Holly Tortrix and micro-moths of the Eriocraniidae, Gracillariidae, Momphidae and Oecophoridae families.
Dragonflies include the rare Small Red-eyed Damselfly. Hoverflies, such as the Marmalade Fly, are also frequent visitors.
Directions The west entrance to the reserve is a 10-minute walk from Manor House station on London Underground’s Piccadilly Line. The east entrance is a similar distance from Stamford Hill station on the London Overground network. Alternatively, Harringay Green Lanes Overground station (on the Gospel Oak to Barking line) is about 20 minutes walk.
Motorists should note that Woodberry Wetlands has no designated car park. There is limited unrestricted parking on Bethune Road to the east and Fairholt Road to the south, but most of the surrounding area is controlled parking. Street marked Blue Badge parking bays can be found outside both entrances to the reserve.
Cyclists will find cycle stands at both entrances. Cycling is forbidden within the reserve.
Access The reserve is open daily from 9am to 4.30pm, with early and late opening for organised events. Special access arrangements have been made during times when rarities are on site (e.g. Black-necked Grebes in June 2016). The reserve has two entry points: the West & Coal House Entrance is approached via the New River Path from Lordship Road, London N16 5HQ; the East & New River Studio Entrance is at 1 Newnton Close, London N4 2RH (off Bethune Road)
The reserve’s main paths are wheelchair accessible and have no steep gradients. The Coal House Café (see below) is accessible except for the roof terrace, which can only be approached via steps.
To prevent disturbance to the wildlife, no dogs are allowed except for registered assistance dogs.
Facilities The site has a boardwalk through the reed bed, a woodland walkway and a visitors' centre with toilet facilities. This is located in the 1833 Coal House, a Grade II listed building, reached via the main entrance boardwalk. Also in the Coal House is a café, which is open daily from 9am to 4pm, serving breakfast, lunch and light refreshments.
Baby changing and disabled accessible toilet facilities an be found at both the Coal House Café and the New River Studio.