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Help Islington’s wild oasis celebrate 20th year as a nature reserve

Islington Ecology Centre, opened in 1993 in Gillespie Park

Islington Ecology Centre, opened in 1993 in Gillespie Park

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Residents are being invited to celebrate the wonder of the wild on their doorstep in Islington’s Gillespie Park this weekend.

Sunday (May 22) will see an afternoon of crafts, music and adventure for all ages to mark the 20th anniversary of Gillespie Park’s official designation as a Nature Reserve – the first in Islington.

The event, part of the council’s Love Islington Parks campaign, will offer lots of fun for the whole family, including a live musical performance by a local children’s music group, fascinating educational sessions by The Garden Classroom, a penalty shoot-out with Arsenal FC, a bug hunt, pond-dipping, bee and butterfly crafts run by the Octopus Wildspaces Project.

Children can help dress a special tree during the event, which will become the symbol of the anniversary.

The regular volunteer-run café will offer refreshments all afternoon and stalls will sell artist’s T-shirts, plants, jams and other produce cultivated at an allotment near the site.

Cllr Claudia Webbe, Islington Council’s executive member for environment and transport, said: “I am so pleased to be marking this anniversary for such an important natural asset in Islington, home to more than 240 species of plants and key to preserving the biodiversity of our borough.

“The story of Gillespie Park is really about transformation – from ex-industrial land to the present-day haven for wildlife – and what we can all do to foster natural habitats in urban locations.

“Whether you are a regular visitor or have never set foot in this beautiful oasis, do come down on Sunday and celebrate this happy landmark.”

Since being designated a nature reserve, a new pond has been excavated and is now home to newts, toads and dragonflies. Hundreds of trees have also been planted.

Originally railway land, the park was established by Islington Council in 1981 when it took a 10-year lease, and residents and schoolchildren helped with landscaping and planting.

The Ecology Centre was opened in 1993, the same year a successful community campaign warded off the threat of the entire site being turned into housing.

In 1996 the seven-acre Gillespie Park was officially designated a nature reserve, and the 20th anniversary celebration event takes place on Sunday, May 22, from 12noon to 4pm.

Sue Jandy, chair of the Friends of Gillespie Park, said: “With the population in this area having increased so greatly, and with Islington having the least amount of open space in the country, Gillespie Park is vital for our physical and mental well-being.

"Thank goodness it was saved from development in 1993, as we all need green spaces in a crowded city. It was a battle worth undertaking, even if it took many years of tremendous effort.”

The Gillespie Celebration is one of the main events in the Love Islington Parks campaign, which raises awareness of Islington’s 120 parks and small spaces – all vital green havens for residents.

It encourages people to enjoy and respect Islington’s parks and also explains how residents can get involved in supporting and developing our parks through Friends Of Parks groups.

Love Islington Parks Events include pond dipping for children, a Top Dog show and gardening days. For more information see – more events will be added throughout the summer.


+ More than 240 species of plants can be found in Gillespie Park, while 94 species of bird have been spotted, including regular visits by herons and woodpeckers. Kingfishers and a rare reed bunting have also been seen, making it a regular haunt for twitchers.

+ Two-dozen species of butterfly have been recorded and 11 species of dragonfly, alongside a roll-call of newts, frogs and toads.

+ A small community of slow worms is also flourishing – the closest point to central London they have ever been recorded.

+ Over the last two years, volunteer Matthew has scooped more than 2,500 goldfish out of the pond in Gillespie Park – and rehoused every single one. He visits twice per week to look for the fish, who eat all the wildlife and the first were probably introduced by a resident looking to get rid of their pets.

+ Gillespie Park is managed entirely by a pool of around 20 volunteers, who between them put 2,000 hours a year of free labour into maintaining the nature reserve.

+ The reserve hosts 60 school events per year, welcoming around 900 pupils in to learn about nature. Beehives have recently been set up by not-for-profit organisation The Garden Classroom, which runs sessions teaching schoolchildren about bees.

+ Gillespie Park is one of three nature reserves in Islington, alongside Barnsbury Wood and Parkland Walk.

For more information contact:

Stephen Moore
Senior Media Officer
020 7527 3224

Pond 2016.jpg

The pond in Gillespie Park today

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Pond under construction.jpg

The pond under construction in Gillespie Park

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St Thomas's meadow by Simon Carroll.JPG

St Thomas's Meadow, Gillespie Park

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