Wildlife award winner Gideon Corby on his about-turn from animation to ecology

Gideon Corby by the Kingsland Basin

Gideon Corby by the Kingsland Basin - Credit: Gideon Corby

Gideon Corby’s passion for nature prompted him to jack in his job as a university lecturer to study himself. Emma Bartholomew speaks to the man who won a European award for greening up the Regent’s Canal

"I would be lying in bed waiting to go to sleep and in my mind I would be picturing one of the beds we'd just made and putting in the logs and planting, and I thought this is what I should be doing. This is what I enjoy."

Gideon Corby had been teaching animation at the University of Kent but gave that up in 2014 for a brand new start re-educating himself studying a masters in theoretical ecology.

"I thought it would be about how to knock a stake into the ground, but the research almost killed me - but I loved it," Gideon told the Gazette speaking on a mobile while hunting for oak processionary moth pests in an Essex wood.

He discovered a love for nature when he lived in Lower Clapton and spent his spare time planting up a communal garden with native hedging and walking on Lea Marshes. Then in 2012 he moved to a flat overlooking Haggerston's Kingsland Basin and began the project for which the group he founded - the Wildlife Gardeners of Haggerston - won a European award last month.

Gideon and his partner Esther began planting bulbs, trees and a wildflower meadow, and seven years on have come to completely transform the whole waterside enclave from Whiston to Haggerston Bridge with aquatic planting and yellow flag irises.

"There were 1,000 people at the award ceremony," said Gideon. "I don't think I've won anything since I was 11 at school. It was a really nice feeling.

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"The idea is to transform the Regent's Canal into an ecologically functioning river, so that the plants clean the water, and provide habitat below the water level for invertebrates and small fish and above the water level the flowers and plants provide forage and habitat for insects and birds," said Gideon. "The only creatures we found were a fly and a slug at that first stage. It was so hard and barren, and now we had a kingfisher visit two weeks ago.

"The vegetation provides food for insects, and the fish and the birds eat the insects and maybe eventually the dream would be to have otters eating the fish."

Gideon would like the strip of canal to become as famous as New York's High Line nature reserve.

"Then people who live in Hackney won't have to spend the time going out of the borough to feel they are in the countryside, which we recognise more and more is important for our wellbeing," he said.