The L&Q residents bringing the ‘countryside into the capital’

Published on 22/02/2022

The Wildlife Gardeners of Haggerston, led by Gideon Corby and Esther Adelman, have been planting green areas and floating islands in and around the Kingsland Basin, transforming part of the Regent’s Canal into a friendly environment for wildlife to thrive.

L&Q residents, Gideon and Esther moved into their new home overlooking Haggerston’s Kingsland Basin in 2012.

At the time, the De Beauvoir town area was a neglected industrial site, described by the Greater London Authority as ‘deficient in access to green space’.

Taking matters into their own hands, the couple established the Wildlife Gardeners of Haggerston, cleaning and greening the canal and helping to create a haven for nature.

What began as two people picking up rubbish, quickly became a community of like-minded neighbours mobilised by a shared love of wildlife and their local area.

Together, the group planted bulbs, trees and a wildflower meadow, and seven years on had transformed the 350m waterside enclave from Kingsland Road to Whitmore Road Bridge.

Increased biodiversity has seen birds, insects and plants flourishing above water. New species nesting in the rejuvenated patch include sparrows and starlings, with kingfishers, herons, sparrowhawks and four different types of bats also visiting the site.

Below water level, the basin has also become a wildlife breeding ground, with schools of fish and invertebrates sheltering and feeding in their new home.

Mirroring their efforts above ground, the gardeners addressed the missing aquatic planting in the basin through a grant from their social landlord, L&Q. Stretching over 175m2, the new floating islands create shelter and forage for wildlife, filter the water of excess nutrients and pollutants, all whilst creating a more attractive area for locals and visitors.

The floating islands are also helping to connect the dots in London’s National Park City movement, leveraging the capacity of the waterway network to help make London a Living Water City.

Inspired by the venture, Gideon decided to switch career part way through the project, leaving his job as a lecturer to study a masters in ecology at Imperial College.

Reflecting on the last ten years, Gideon said:

Wildlife gardening has proved itself as a way of enhancing the interesting but harsh industrial and modern landscape in inner cities. Bringing a bit of the countryside into the capital, it is fantastic to see a cleaner and greener canal for everyone to enjoy.

Sophie Leedham, Resident Involvement Manager at L&Q, said:

Sometimes, a new garden can bloom from a single act. Not only have the Wildlife Gardeners of Haggerston created a thriving ecological reserve, but their actions have also reaffirmed the importance of green spaces for community spirit, physical health and mental wellbeing. Gideon and Esther are examples to us all and show what can be achieved through hard work and positive action.”

The group’s horticultural pursuits were recognised when they received the European Award for urban ecological gardening in 2019. Held in Austria, The Wildlife Gardeners of Haggerston beat out 67 entrants from across the continent to top the ‘Urban Gardening’ category in the biennial awards.

Thanks to their intervention, Hackney Council’s new nature recovery network plan now recognises the ecological value of the canal, which Gideon describes as having the potential to be an amenity “as transformative as the Highline Park has been for New York”.

Capturing the art of the possible, the stretch of the waterway is a pilot scheme to demonstrate the change community action can create. The gardeners’ long-term plan is to connect the entire canal with all the parks and green spaces along its route, creating a blue and green corridor for wildlife to travel from the Lea Valley into inner London.