Camley Street natural park

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A walk on the wild side of Camden

Camley Street Natural Park, King’s Cross, N1


Camley Street natural park in June 2017

During the 1970s a disused coal yard north of St Pancras station evolved into a haven for wildlife – as well as favoured spot for fly tippers. This urban wilderness was scheduled to become a coach and lorry park until it was saved by the Greater London Council, following a campaign by local residents and the London Wildlife Trust. Aided by funding from several author­ities and agencies, the GLC bought the site in 1981 for £600,000, a relat­ively low price because in those days this was “the derelict back end of an area with a vicious reputation”.*

A further £120,000 was spent on clearance, ecolo­gical landscaping and the construction of a visitor centre. That work would have cost consid­erably more had it not been for the assistance of many volun­teers. Camley Street Natural Park opened in 1984. Two years later it became the first artifi­cially created park to gain statutory desig­nation as a local nature reserve, and soon after that survived the threat of redevel­opment.

Squeezed between Camley Street and the Regent’s canal, the park’s two elongated acres are a fraction of the size of the average London park, but there’s a lot going on in the under­growth and under the water. The central feature is a pond fed by the canal and surrounded by reedbeds and marshland. There’s a small wildflower meadow and plenty of trees screening the park from the road, primarily birch and willow.

A robin at Camley Street Natural Park
A robin at Camley Street in March 2013

The park’s most visible inhab­itants are amphi­bians and aquatic birds like mallards and coots. You may also spot reed warblers, kingfishers and reed buntings. I saw a robin too. There’s a plethora of plant life, including meadow flowers and marshland herbs, and tubs of fruit trees because of the park’s parti­cip­ation in the Orchard Project.

The visitors’ centre has various amenities, including lavat­ories and an activ­ities room that’s mostly used for children’s educa­tional work but is also available for private hire.

Kids are encouraged to do some pond-dipping, which means kneeling or lying down on a dedicated platform and using a tray or bowl to scoop up some water for close examin­ation.

Right from the start there’s been an emphasis on education here, so there’s plenty of inform­ative signage throughout the park.

There is a delight in the wonder of children as a dragonfly alights on the leaf of a water plant or a tiny tadpole swims beneath the surface. The cry of a young Londoner as he peered into the water that ‘blimey, there’s something livin’ down there’ will always ring in my ears.”

Michael Hough, Cities & Natural Process: A Basis for Sustainability, Routledge, 2004

The park is closed to the public until spring 2019 while a new ‘ecolo­gical knowledge hub’ is built with the help of a million pound grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Camley Street pond in June 2017

Camley Street Natural Park, 12 Camley Street, London N1C 4PW
Phone: 020 7833 2311
Email: camleyst@​wildlondon.​org.​uk
Website: London Wildlife Trust
Open: daily except Saturdays from 10am – until 4.30pm from October to March, 5.30pm from April to September
Admission: free
Nearest stations: King’s Cross and St Pancras (National Rail, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metro­politan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines), Mornington Crescent (Northern line)
* Marek Kohn, Turned Out Nice: How the British Isles will Change as the World Heats Up, Faber & Faber, 2010