A secret nature sanctuary nestles on the site of old coal yards, just beside one of the busiest urban developments in London Kings Cross. Camley Street Natural Park was supposed to be turned into a parking lot for trucks servicing the station, but plant life had overgrown the area and local birds and animals had made their home there. The London Wildlife Trust lobbied for the partially-reclaimed wetlands to be turned into a nature reserve.
Now the canal-side park draws 15-20 thousand visitors a year, mostly children on school and family trips. The visitor centre caters to young explorers, setting up scavenger hunts and pond-dipping expeditions for baby biologists.
This year the park held an Easter egg hunt in April, with facts about frogspawn and nesting habits instead of chocolate eggs.
Many, many species of waterbirds and bugs inhabit the ponds at the Camley Street Park. Kids are given trays to dip in the pond, inspecting the water for species of bugs that are listed on signposts around the park. Aside from moorhens and swans, we even saw a feeding blue heron.
The trees surrounding the ponds are full of birdsong, especially in the spring. We saw bluetits, blackbirds and other garden birds. Unlike in public parks, feeding is not allowed.
The nature reserve is also collaborating with biologists to experiment with creating new environments for wildlife to flourish. BiotA Lab is a design platform from the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, made up of architects, biologists and engineers developing 'biostructures' to provide points for mini-ecosystems to grow and sustain new life in the polluted city.
These 'living columns' and 'biowalls' will not need irrigation or maintenance, and hopefully reduce CO2 emissions and pollution in heavily populated areas. A nature reserve in the middle of a gentrifying commercial area is a perfect place to test it.
Aside from the biostructures, architects have also created a viewing platform and a small bay with floating islands right on the canal across from the former coal factories.
Visitors can sit quietly on the benches and watch birds fly in to land on the floating islands to rest, preen and hopefully socialise, creating a new generation of wildlife to live in this oasis of mutual effort between humans and nature.