When I was a kid,” says 35-year-old David Mooney, “this reservoir had barbed wire all round it. There were guard dogs and nightwatchmen.” Today, as a development manager for the London Wildlife Trust, he is all set for the opening of Stoke Newington East Reservoir as a nature reserve from Sunday, allowing the public access for the first time in 200 years.
Now called Woodberry Wetlands, the site is entered through Rennie Mackintosh-inspired gates designed by Mooney himself. In fact, he pretty much single-handedly transformed this once-prohibited wilderness into a public but tranquil wildlife reserve of open water and 25 acres of ponds and reeds.
Stoke Newington’s two reservoirs were built in 1830 to supply drinking water to north London. They are fed by the New River aqueduct, which starts in Hertfordshire. The reservoirs came under threat from development in the Nineties but a campaign by local residents saved them. Hackney council acquired one of the reservoirs, the west basin, from Thames Water, turning it into a sailing and watersports centre.
Take a tour of Stoke Newington
Take a tour of Stoke Newington
1/9 The lowdown: Stoke Newington
Stoke Newington, with its independent shops, bars and restaurants, has a distinct character, its own annual literary festival and two beautiful reservoirs, built in 1833 and now home to a water sports centre and a leading climbing centre. Read our full area guide here
Images by Daniel Lynch
2/9 Average property prices in Stoke Newington
One-bedroom flat: £386,000
Two-bedroom flat: £485,000
Two-bedroom house: £590,000
Three-bedroom house: £990,000
Four-bedroom house: £1.22 million
3/9 Average rental prices in Stoke Newington
One-bedroom flat: £1,420 a month
Two-bedroom flat: £1,813 a month
Two-bedroom house: £2,115 a month
Three-bedroom house: £3,050 a month
Four-bedroom house: £3,289 a month
William Patten Primary School has an "outstanding" Ofsted rating. Three other local primaries - Grazebrook, Betty Layward and Grasmere - are judged “good”. Local comprehensive Mossbourne Community Academy is rated "outstanding".
5/9 ShopsIn Stoke Newington Church Street, Olive Loves Alfie sells chic baby and children’s clothes, there are Hub men's and women's boutiques, Meat London butchers and Bridgewood & Neitzert violin makers. Stoke Newington High Street has Turkish shops, hipsterish hangouts and Sutton & Sons for wet fish and fish and chips.
There are two Overground stations - Rectory Road and Stoke Newington - with trains to Liverpool Street. The stations are in Zone 2 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 costs £1,284.
Stokey Bears is a specialist burger bar, Victory Mansion is a cocktail bar and restaurant, and Black Pig with White Pearls does tapas. Cafés include La Duchesse and Sapid Coffee, while Le Parc Delicatessen has fine wine and French cakes. Rasa serves Keralan food.
8/9 Leisure and the arts
Rio Cinema is the nearest, in Kingsland High Street. The Castle Climbing Centre is in Green Lanes. Also in Green Lanes, Stoke Newington West Reservoir Centre offers sailing and kayaking. The Clissold Leisure Centre in Clissold Road houses the local council-owned swimming pool.
9/9 Open spaces
Victorian Clissold Park has an aviary, small zoo and butterfly dome, children’s playground, paddling pool and café. Listed Clissold House is a favourite local wedding venue. Abney Park, one of the "Magnificent Seven" garden cemeteries of London, is a local nature reserve.
The east basin, largely undisturbed for generations, had become a wildlife haven. In 2007, Mooney created a London Wildlife Trust nature garden on the north-east tip and led tours around the overgrown site. Exploring one day with Mathew Frith, the trust’s director of conservation, he came across a large ivy-covered building
AN INDIANA JONES MOMENT
“It was like something from Indiana Jones,” he says. “We cut through and revealed a limestone frieze on one of the walls, with a weathered inscription to the New River Company.”
At that moment, the inspiration to create a wetlands reserve came to him. He identified the ruin as a Grade II-listed coal house, part of the engineering system that pumped water between the reservoirs. It was on English Heritage’s “Buildings at Risk” register. “English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund came to see the frieze — they went mad for it,” Mooney says.
With the Lottery Fund on board, he pitched his wetlands concept to Thames Water. At first sceptical, the company eventually gave permission for a nature reserve and contributed more than £300,000.
Next, Mooney needed funding for a bridge and boardwalk to allow public access. Developer Berkeley Homes was regenerating the surrounding Woodberry Down estate and Mooney persuaded it that a nature reserve on the doorstep would add a premium to the price of the flats. Berkeley generously gave £250,000 for the two sturdy wooden structures.
The total cost of Woodberry Wetlands is £1.5 million, with £750,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund specifically to restore the coal house as a café and roof terrace.
There will be no entry charge — free access is a cornerstone of the wildlife trust’s long-term strategy. “Everyone, particularly the young, needs to experience nature hands on. We want them here volunteering and learning, in the heart of London,” says Mooney, pointing to the trust’s education centre at one end of the reserve.
A mosaic of silt beds has been created where growing reeds will form a future home for nesting birds. Fifty-two species of bird and six types of bat were spotted here last year. “We want to attract people who don’t think a wildlife reserve is for them,” says Mooney. “This is slap bang in an inner city — there are very few in the world.”
IT’S SUCH A PLUS: DEVELOPER’S PRIDE IN NATURAL HAVEN
Woodberry Down, near Finsbury Park, was originally an enclave of substantial villas built in the 1860s and bordered on three sides by the New River, an artificial waterway starting 40 miles north of London. By the mid-20th century, the houses were in decline and in multiple occupation.
They were replaced by a large council development called Woodberry Park Estate, with 57 blocks built between 1949 and 1962. By the Eighties, many were boarded up and others had become home to a large squatter and punk community.
In 2007 Hackney council appointed Berkeley Homes and Genesis Housing Association to develop the 64-acre site, one of the largest and longest regeneration projects in the UK and due to complete in 2040. The scheme will deliver 5,500 homes from studios to three-bedroom townhouses, with 41 per cent affordable housing.
To date, 1,300 homes have been completed, of which 520 are social rent, 206 shared ownership and the rest, in the Skyline and Residence Towers, for private sale. Berkeley Homes has a UK First policy but some have been bought by foreign investors. “We didn’t want a stalled regeneration,” explains Daniel Massie, Berkeley’s senior development manager.
One wonders what remote Asian buyers who don’t know Manor House from Mansion House think of their Zone 2 investment. Massie says Berkeley makes every effort to bring them in to see before they buy. Tenures are mixed, with no visible sign of difference.
The Woodberry Down Community Association has been very involved in consultations, with six out of 12 design committee members being local residents. Massie says most existing tenants have so far taken up the chance of a new home, and leaseholders can take a shared-ownership product. “It’s a private-public ownership that’s working really well.”
Prices in the towers, which have a gym and a pool, start at £425,000 for a one-bedroom flat, rising to £1.27 million for a 30th-floor penthouse with a terrace overlooking Woodberry Wetlands.
The new nature reserve is a major plus for the dense glass-and-brick development. “We’re proud of our involvement and can’t wait for it to open,” says Massie. “It’s such a feather in the cap for the area. Anyone who knew this place 20 years ago wouldn’t recognise it today.”
Woodberry Wetlands opens daily from Sunday, 8am-5pm. Entrance via New River Path, 226 Lordship Road, N16. Nearest Tube is Manor House (Piccadilly line).