Kings Dyke Nature Reserve, Whittlesey Brick-Pits

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Case Study: Kings Dyke Nature Reserve, Whittlesey Brick-Pits

Site History

Kings Dyke Nature Reserve, located on the A605 in Whittlesey (Cambridgeshire), was formely a clay extraction pit for the London Brick company.

Brickmaking has been taking place in Whittlesey and the rest of Peterborough since the end of the 19th Century, utilising the band of clay which runs from Peterborough to Oxford.

Originally, all of the extraction was undertaken by hand using shovels, pick-axes and working off ladders. The typical work attire was flat gaps and braces (see gallery photo below).

Extraction in the nature reserve, which was known as Central No.1 pit, started in the 1920’s. Clay was placed into buckets on aerial rope-ways to be transferred from the base to the top-edge of the pit. From there, it was then loaded onto trucks to be taken via a tramway into Central Brickworks (which was located to the south of Peterborough Road – A605).

In subsequent years, extraction became mechanised through the use of a shale planer, which scraped the clay off the side of the pit leaving its characteristic sheer cliffs.

In 1995, Hanson (now Forterra), who had taken over the site from The London Brick Company, took the decision to develop this part of the brickworks into an educational Nature Reserve for the benefit of the local community, under the guidance and designs of Philip Parker Associates Ltd.

Design of the Reserve

Prior to work commencing, Philip Parker Associates undertook a comprehensive ecological survey to determine key habitat and wildlife features that were already present. One of the key aims of the design was to preserve the existing interest and develop it in such a way that the existing biodiversity could be enhanced. However, as a community resource, it was also important that local people were able to access the site without disturbing the wildlife interests, so carefully thought out routes were designed. The layout of the reserve was also developed with the assistance of local primary school teachers, to ensure that it provided facilities that they could utilise.

The reserve has been extended on a regular basis and now covers approximately 70ha.  It includes a wide range of habitats from open water, marsh, a large reedbed, grassland, old hedgerows, ponds and open bare areas.  It is due to more than double in size in the coming year with the inclusion of the restored Bradley Fen site


Through the work and habitat management undertaken by Philip Parker Associates, a diverse range of wildlife has been recorded on the nature reserve to date – a selection of which is shown in the gallery above;

  • 157 bird species (including a wide range of scarce breeding and wintering species);
  • 24 mammal species (including otter, water vole and harvest mouse);
  • 3 reptile species (grass snake, common lizard and slow worm);
  • 4 amphibian species (including one of the largest populations of great crested newts in the UK);
  • 19 dragonfly species (including scarce chaser and variable damselfly);
  • 26 butterfly species (including wall brown, brown argus and green hairstreak);
  • 252 moth species (including goat moth and a range of hawkmoth species);
  • 2,000 + other invertebrate species (including Chrysomela saliceti – a beetle new to Britain);
  • 263 plant species (including 10 species of stonewort for which the site is nationally important);

In addition, the reserve also supports a number of unusual plant communities (including salt marsh and Breckland type heath) plus county important plant populations.

Community Access

Access to the general public is by a free permit that is renewed annually.  Currently, 1700 permits have been issued and visible use of the reserve has been increasing on an annual basis. However, it is still possible on many days to visit and have the reserve completely to yourself.

Educational Visits

The educational facilities have been so successful that Philip Parker Associates runs school visits for approximately 1,000 school children at the reserve each year, as well as universities and other educational establishments.

Further Information

Please visit the Kings Dyke Nature Reserve page on this site, or the Nature Reserve’s own site, for further information.