Islington Ecology Centre and Gillespie Park LNR

Volunteers cutting grass in Longmead meadow

Wildlife pond
Nearest town or settlement: Islington
Contact details
Contact name: Sally Oldfield
Organisation: Islington Council
Email: ecologycentre@islington.gov.uk
Tel: 020 7527 4374
Website: Islington Ecology centre
Project description

Gillespie Park is both a nature reserve and a public park. It is a place for both nature and people to mix. The reserve is 2.8 Ha in size. Over 90 species of bird, twenty species of butterfly and over 500 species of plants have been recorded on the site. These numbers are very good for an urban nature reserve of this size. People also use the park for a wide variety of uses including dog walking, picnicking, playing ball games and just siting and relaxing. Also once a year there is a community festival with over 2000 people attending.


Gillespie Park is situated 6.5km from the centre of London and is next door to the Emirates Stadium, in the London Borough of Islington.

The site is a Site of Metropolitan Importance for nature conservation. It was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1996. The site is owned and managed by the London Borough of Islington.


Gillespie Park consists of a mixture of naturally established and created habitats. Habitats created during the landscaping phase 1981/82 within the park at the lower level include wetland, deciduous and evergreen mixed woodland, hedgerows and summer meadows. Pockets of original vegetation, which have evolved on site and were retained during landscaping include neutral grassland, bramble, scrub and secondary woodland dominated by Goat Willow, Silver Birch, Aspen and Plum.

All created habitats have matured well and now support a diverse range of species. The woodlands in particular are now show a developing woodland structure, following planting to improve ground flora and under-storey, along with some natural regeneration and colonisation.

Although the land itself is entirely made up as a result of excavations for railway tunnels (1873 - 1894), the grasslands have evolved spontaneously and include naturally occurring rarities. When surveyed a total of 244 plant species were found. Species occurring in the grassland which were new to the borough included:, Grass Vetchling, Narrow leaved Birds Foot Trefoil - no other north London site, and Narrow-leaved Meadow Grass. In July 2000 a Pyramidal Orchid flowered also new to the borough. In June 2002 another orchid was found flowering, four Bee Orchid plants were discovered in one of the meadows.

There are two developing areas of secondary woodland, one at either end of the site. A small copse of Silver Birch has developed at the southern end and is slowly spreading north as the saplings appear. At the northern end, a linear wood parallel to the railway line is dominated by Sycamore with some Ash, Apple and scrub.

Resident amphibians include Common Frog, Common Toad and Smooth Newt ,well established populations make use of the main pond within the old park boundaries and are colonising other ponds in the vicinity aided by additional conservation measures. In addition the parks first reptiles have been introduced: over sixty slow-worms were rescued from a development in another part of London and re-located to a new home.


Sidings were laid along the railway for coal depots in 1878 and covered most of the site. In 1872 the factory, H C Stephens, was opened on the north-east corner of the site. They manufactured inks, carbon papers, gum and office utensils.
The raw materials reaching the factory by rail from the London Docks.
Aerial photography (18.6.69) also shows allotments on land not covered by track at the back of houses on Gillespie Road.

The demand for coal steadily declined due to The Clean Air Acts and the introduction of gas as a means of heating peoples' homes.
The use of the railway sidings for coal, therefore, lessened and finally became redundant when the ink factory closed in the late 1960's.
The land lay derelict until 1980 when there was public consultation about the creation of a wildlife park.
In 1981 Islington Council took out a ten year lease agreement with British Rail for the 1.6 Ha site.
After a landscape and habitat creation programme, Gillespie Park was opened to the public in April 1983.

The Park proved to be popular with local people and, from the outset, links were developed with local primary schools who were involved in many planting schemes.
The surprise announcement by British Rail in December 1986 that they were to sell the site by auction in February of the following year for housing development precipitated the formation of the Gillespie Park and Sidings Campaign.
The firm resolve of local people and schools to retain the park assisted the Council in its protracted negotiations with British Rail.
Eventually an agreement was reached which provided an extension to the park of 1.2 Ha of grassland, gained the freehold of the park and extension and granted outline planning permission for housing developments on 0.4 Ha of existing allotments and approximately 1.6 Ha of grassland.
The eventual purchaser of the land was New Islington and Hackney Housing Association and the developer, London Building Company.
After public consultation, involving a variety of layouts, a scheme was chosen which achieved the desired number of housing units and enabled an additional 0.5 Ha of grassland to be given to the Council for educational use (see Figure 1).

Page last modified on Wednesday 20 of March, 2013 13:25:49 GMT