Conservation and education

Over the years, a number of legal measures have been introduced to help protect the environment around Brent Reservoir. In addition, the Welsh Harp Conservation Group is just one of several bodies involved in conservation work and the promotion of environmental awareness in the area.

Protective measures

Open Space — In 1965 a large area around Brent Reservoir was designated as the Welsh Harp Open Space. This followed a protracted campaign, begun by Willesden Borough Council in the 1920s, to build a large cemetery on a 19.5 hectare (48 acre) site on its west side. (The proposal even got as far as consecration by the Bishop of Willesden in 1954 and the construction of buildings in 1956. A superintendent’s house, shelter and chapel remain today, but the site — which was never deconsecrated — is now occupied by allotments, woodland and a garden centre.)

Site of Special Scientific Interest — Along with as strip of its marginal habitat, of varying width, the reservoir was designated as a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1950 and subsequently renotified in 1985 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  A map of the SSSI, which  covers 68.6 hectares (170 acres), can be found here. Designation as an SSSI was mainly because of the reservoir’s breeding wetland birds — particularly its significant numbers of nesting Great Crested Grebe — but also because the diversity of wintering waterfowl and the variety of plant species growing along the water margin are of special note for London. SSSI designation is significant in that it imposes restrictions on the management of the designated area by identifying a range of operations that are considered likely to damage the special interest of the site. Before any of these operations are undertaken, written consent must be gained from  Natural England (unless the operations are  already permitted within with a management plan drawn up with Natural England under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000).

Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation — The Greater London Authority and the London Boroughs of Brent and Barnet recognise Brent Reservoir and much of the open space surrounding it as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.   This is the most important of three grades of site of “nature conservation interest” in London (the others being Site of Borough Importance for Nature Conservation and Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation). This designation is used for planning purposes, with both boroughs highlighting the need to enhance both the recreational and nature conservation interest of the area. For the boundaries of Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation please see the Planning websites of the respective Boroughs.

Local Nature Reserve — Along with much of the surrounding area, the reservoir is classed as a Local Nature Reserve, as a result of declarations made in 2005 by the London Boroughs of Brent and Barnet. The LNR covers a much larger area than the SSSI and includes  all the WHCG recording area apart from Silver Jubilee Park, the playing fields and sports grounds, and the allotments that are still in use.

LNRs are designated by local authorities in cooperation with County Wildlife Trusts or the equivalent — in this case the London Wildlife Trust. In 2016, the LWT appointed a part-time conservation officer to work at Brent Reservoir. A map of the area covered by the LNR can be found here.


WHEEC — The Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre (in Birchen Grove, London NW9 8RY) is a woodland site of 5.5 hectares (14 acres) with classrooms, adjacent to the Welsh Harp Open Space. It offers schools the opportunity for curriculum-linked educational experiences outside the classroom (suitable for Early Years Foundation Stage up to Key Stage 2). The aim is to provide a hands-on outdoor experience that gives children a greater understanding of the natural world, allowing them to develop new skills and build confidence while exploring and discovering their role in creating a healthy environment for people and wildlife.

The WHEEC was established by Brent Council and is now run by Thames 21, an organisation dedicated to restoring the health and vibrancy of London’s rivers, canals and open water and rebuilding the relationship between urban communities and their waterways.

Site maintenance

Much site maintenance work is carried out by the Canal & River Trust, which owns the reservoir, and the London Boroughs of Brent and Barnet, which own the surrounding land. Their work is supplemented by voluntary work organised by other bodies.

WHCG — Outside the breeding season, the Welsh Harp Conservation Group organises working parties to carry out conservation work. (See News page.)

London Wildlife Trust — The LWT now has a conservation officer for Brent Reservoir, Catherine Cullen (, who organises conservation and educational projects.

WHEEC — In 2016, Thames 21 established a Friends of the WHEEC group. This normally meets on the third Sunday of every month to carry out conservation work, mainly within the WHEEC site.

Litter-picking — Litter is a major problem at the Welsh Harp, and volunteer litter-picking sessions are regularly arranged by Daniella Levene (“Daniella Litterpicker”) . Anyone willing to take part in these events should contact Daniella on 07501 697096.

© Welsh Harp Conservation Group 2019