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Rubbish tip to nature reserve

By John Brierley
Project co-ordinator, St Nicholas Fields

St Nicholas Fields
St Nicholas Fields was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 2004

St Nicholas Fields is celebrating it's 10th anniversary in 2010. It was once York's rubbish tip. Now it is a unique green space, home to a huge variety of wild plants and animal life.


During the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, St Nicholas Fields was the site for clay extraction and brick works, making the bricks for thousands of houses, including the nearby Tang Hall estate.

From 1950 to 1974, it was used as a landfill site and the clay pits were filled with York's waste. During the 1980's a successful campaign was launched by York Natural Environment Trust to develop St Nicholas Fields as an urban nature park.

Since then, thousands of volunteers have cleared rubbish, planted thousands of trees and shrubs, sown wildflower meadows and constructed new paths.

Habitats and wildlife

In February 2004 St Nicholas Fields was designated as a Local Nature Reserve - just 30 years after it was closed as a rubbish tip. This green lung in the heart of York now provides a wildlife haven amidst housing and industry.

Volunteers at St Nicholas' Fields
Thousands of volunteers have helped at the nature reserve

There is a specially created butterfly walk and over twenty types of butterfly have been seen on the site including common blue, orange tip, ringlet and meadow brown and even the much rarer brown argus.

The western area of the site has been planted as a community woodland, known as John Lally Wood. In time this will form an impressive woodland experience less than a mile from the City Centre.

Blue tits, coal tits, great tits and long tailed tits can be seen feeding on the mature willows and alders by the beck along with a regular kingfisher.

The nature reserve has a rare urban population of willow tits which nest in the stumps of old elder bushes. The willow tit is now listed as a Priority Species for conservation in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is declining very fast in the UK.

The young woodland contains apple, pear and plum trees - grown from seeds and cores once dumped into rubbish bins by the people of York and transported here by waste trucks.

St Nicholas Fields
York's very own 'Stonehenge' was built using stones dumped on the site

There is also York's very own Stonehenge, constructed from stones dumped on the site when it was a tip.

St Nicks, as it is commonly known, is managed by York's leading environmental charity, the Friends of St Nicholas Fields.

The Friends are based at York Environment Centre, which was opened in May 2000, towards the southern end of the Fields. The Centre is designed as a model of sustainability and is also home to the St Nicholas Fields Community Recycling scheme and York Rotters.

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