Olympic Park’s transformation from industrial wasteland to stunning wetlands
- Credit: photo: Arnaud Stephenson
It’s easy to forget, amid the constant chatter about the sporting legacy of London 2012, that there are other legacies being tended to as well.
One of these includes the single largest bioengineering project undertaken in the UK – the creation of wetland habitat along 8km of riverbank within the 560-acre Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Led by the Canal and River Trust and Salix River and Wetland services, the park’s once contaminated industrial waterways have been transformed into a lush mosaic of wetlands, restored river banks and rare wet woodlands over the last five years.
Some 400,000 wetland plants, including 30 species of water plants from reeds and rushes to wild flowers, have been planted into 11,000 man-made beds stretching back up to 20 to 30 metres from the river’s edge at a cost of £50million.
Leela O’Dea, ecologist for the Canal and River Trust who has worked on the park’s waterways since 2007, said: “It was just unbelievable, the state of the waterways before. I’m still blown away whenever I come down to the park now.
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“The transition in such a short space of time – I’m gobsmacked to be honest and awestruck with the place. It’s so difficult to describe that transition when I see the site now, it’s unrecognisable.”
She said one of the first tasks after a successful Olympic bid in 2007 was making the waterways navigable. Dredging brought up old tyres as well as four cars and several motorbikes.
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The next step was stopping raw sewage draining into the rivers from a nearby sewage plant whenever its storm surges overflowed.
Now, four years after planting began, the banks are well established and wildlife has begun to call the area home. Everything from dragonflies – a sure sign of water quality improvement – to herons and kingfishers can be seen on the rivers.
The ultimate aim for Leela and her colleagues would be to see otters, who are known to live in the Upper Lee, to be seen in the park’s waterways – though she admits this may still be some years off.
“It would be amazing if otters came in,” she said. “To have otters in the heart of our city would just go to show that we were doing something right.”
Boat tours are available along the park’s rivers until the end of the year.
Tickets for the 45 minute tour cost £8 for adults, £4 for children or £20 for a family of four, including two adults and two children. Visit queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk to book.