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Camley Street Natural Park set for £1 million revamp

Campaigners fear King’s Cross haven could lose its ‘charm’ as centre is closed for at least a year

03 January, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

How the nature reserve could look after its makeover

THE Camley Street Natural Park is set to close for at least a year as a £1million rebuilding project starts this spring.

The reserve, set in the heart of the former railway lands in King’s Cross, is based on land that was once used to store coal alongside railway lines and the Regent’s Canal. For the past 33 years, it has become a haven in an area that has seen huge construction projects take place and is now undergoing one of its own.

The Greater London Council (GLC) bought the site in 1981 with plans to turn the site into a lorry park. But a campaign led by nearby residents persuaded the GLC – backed by its deputy leader and former New Journal books editor Illtyd Harrington – to use the land, by now boasting a flower-rich meadow, into a nature reserve. Work began in 1983 to create a visitors’ centre for staff to provide environmental education which was opened in 1985.

Site managers the London Wildlife Trust (LWT) have been awarded a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and will use it to build a new visitors’ centre. The current centre is based in a former cricket pavilion and staff say it is no longer fit for purpose. With visitor number soaring – they estimate footfall has increased by 50 per cent in the past five years – the London Wildlife Trust say the nature reserve needs investment to continue to provide a haven for wildlife and a tranquil escape from the hustle of King’s Cross.

It includes new classroom spaces, studios, better access and a small café for visitors. The reserve, which is around the size of a football pitch, has a number of different habitats, including a wetland, meadow and woodland. The new building will be built on the same footprint as the current one.

Architects have included super-insulated walls and roofs and it is heated by heat pumps using solar energy. Rainwater will be used to water plants throughout the park. The site is currently home to creatures such as frogs, the orb weaver spiders, bats and kingfishers. Plants include the hairy buttercup and the rare earthstar fungus.

But not everyone is happy with the changes. Campaign group The Friends of Regent’s Canal have called on the Trust to ensure the work does not dilute the charm of the space. Chairman Ian Shacklock said: “When the new visitor centre is open, the park will become much more accessible, its facilities will be greatly enhanced and its views of the canal will be opened up. But will it lose part of its charm as a secluded woodland that offered a welcome contrast to its harsh, modern surroundings? Will it still feel like a nature reserve or will it feel like an extension of the King’s Cross development?”

The LWT say the work will “celebrate the site’s industrial heritage and transformation into an award-winning nature reserve”. The Trust’s director of visitor engagement, Leah McNally, said: “We want to ensure the nature reserve continues to provide a remarkable space for visitors, introducing children to nature and offering a natural haven for many more decades to come.”

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