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'Nature is not a luxury': Sir David Attenborough opens Woodberry Wetlands urban wildlife site

PUBLISHED: 08:26 03 May 2016 | UPDATED: 08:27 03 May 2016

Sir David Attenborough at the Woodberry Wetlands. Photo Emma Bartholomew

Sir David Attenborough at the Woodberry Wetlands. Photo Emma Bartholomew

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A nature reserve on the site of a reservoir which has been fenced off for nearly 200 years was re-opened to the public by none other than the legendary nature guru Sir David Attenborough on Saturday.

The naturalist and TV presenter spoke about how nature is “not a luxury” at the opening of the Woodberry Wetlands, an 11-hectare wildlife oasis in Stoke Newington.

Surrounded by Woodberry Down’s dense mix of social housing estates, new development and Victorian terraces, the London Wildlife Trust has heralded the site as a “new bar” for 21st century nature conservation, providing a “showcase for the value of nature to people living in the heart of high-rise London”.

Sir David - who is about to turn 90 next Sunday - walked around the outskirts of the reservoir accompanied by David Mooney, who has been instrumental in launching the wetlands.

He was introduced to a handful of what the trust has dubbed a “new breed of young, urban, conservation volunteer” which it claims the site is attracting, who have been managing the reed beds come rain or shine, cutting them back with a scythe during the winter months to ensure they flourish.

Sir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke NewingtonSir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke Newington

He then sat down on a chair alongside the reed beds to answer questions.

Sir David said: “It’s not a luxury this you know, if it’s not there it’s a great deprivation, it is what human beings deserve.

“We are part of the natural world, if you lose contact with the natural world you lose touch with a great source of pleasure and delight which is your birth right.”

Sir David has been a supporter of the London Wildlife Trust for the last four decades, described how he “made a point” of visiting every single one of the wildlife trusts in the country whilst he was president.

Sir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke NewingtonSir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke Newington

He spoke about how urban wildlife trusts are extremely important and “perhaps more needed in London than almost anywhere really”.

“It’s not just the gorgeous landscapes that some lucky people live in but an awful lot of people live in towns, and to get a real glimpse of real wildlife, of beautiful birds, the visitors that come here from Africa, or other birds which come down in the winter to Southern Europe is a great pleasure,” he said.

When asked how he felt about his upcoming birthday, Sir David replied: “If I tell the truth about it I feel unbelievably lucky, I have friends and relatives who are approximately my age, and they can’t walk about, so I’m unbelievably fortunate.

He was asked what he believes is the main what’s the main barrier to young people experiencing nature.

Sir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke NewingtonSir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke Newington

“Give a young person half a chance,” he said.

“You watch kids of six or eight years old watching pond dippers and being riveted to see these extraordinary things right at their feet.”

“In fact you’re treading on a newt,” chipped in David Mooney, before telling the concerned looking journalist he was “just joking”.

Mooney was asked what he believes is the “star, headline-grabbing species” which the public can view here.

Sir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke NewingtonSir David Attenborough at the Launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new flagship nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands in Stoke Newington

“Not the Cetti’s Warbler, you can hear it, it’s got an amazing song but the Cetti’s Warbler is very difficult to see,” he said.

“If you come very early in the morning particularly on the dawn chorus walks there is every chance you will see kingfishers.

“Kingfishers for me say everything about a wetlands, say everything about British nature and early morning walks with an apple in your pocket, it harks back to my memory when I was a kid, yesterday morning there was a male kingfisher in the reed bed which is an indication they may be breeding.”

Mooney, who grew up a mile and a half away from the wetlands, described how elated he was to see it finally open to the public.

"We are part of the natural world, if you lose contact with the natural world you lose touch with a great source of pleasure and delight which is your birth right."

Sir David Attenborough

“It’s quite surreal sitting on a path underneath a willow tree that we’ve been worrying about falling down with Sir David opening Woodberry Wetlands.

“I used to come here as a kid cycling past looking through the barbed wire fence, when I was eight years old this reservoir used to be a barren wasteland, it was a utilitarian space and you weren’t allowed in it, there were Alsatian dogs and watchmen in the evenings and they wouldn’t let you in.

“To be sitting here opening it to the public is pretty surreal and really exciting and I can’t quite believe it’s happening.”

Sir David added: “It’s not only you were kept out but Thames Water was processing this water here, putting in things like chlorine and ammonia to sterilise it for use, that means the annihilation of all the wildlife.”

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