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 ear­ly 2020 while a new vis­i­tor and learn­ing cen­tre is built with the help of a mil­lion pound grant from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund. Dur­ing the con­struc­tion peri­od the ponds are being desilt­ed, oth­er areas enhanced and access to the nature reserve improved.

Camley Street pond in June 2017

Camley Street Natural Park, 12 Camley Street, London N1C 4PW
Phone: 020 7833 2311
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