The river Quaggy in Lewisham, South East London, was forced underground when the area urbanised, with most of the river’s 17 kilometre course now artificially channelled underground.

But the Environment Agency has now brought a section of the river back to the surface as part of a local flood alleviation scheme, using historical data to cut its channel through Sutcliffe Park in Greenwich.

Replacing the traditional solution of further widening and deepening artificial channels, the project turned featureless playing fields into a park complete with river, lake and wading birds, winning its initiators the CIWEM/RSPB Living Wetlands Award.

Apart from attracting herons, wagtails and dragonflies as well as human visitors the new river and lake help protect 600 homes and businesses in Lewisham and Greenwich from flooding. The park itself has been shaped to form a flood plain designed to take access water if the lake exceeds its capacity, equivalent to 35 Olympic swimming pools.

While most of London’s watercourses now run along underground pipes and culverts, the Quaggy project shows the potential for alternative flood alleviation schemes in the capital, despite space limitations.

Justin Taberham of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) said: “This is a fantastic example of an urban restoration project that has multiple benefits for biodiversity, flood defence, recreation and leisure.”

“What was a fairly degraded site has become an urban oasis for wildlife,” he said.

Richard Copas of the Environment Agency said: “As one of our flagship projects Sutcliffe Park is one off the most dramatic examples of how a flood alleviation scheme can not only reduce the risk of flooding, but also create significant recreational and environmental benefits. We are very proud of it, and thrilled that it has been recognised in this way.”

The Living Wetlands Award aims to promote the role England’s increasingly rare wetlands play in reducing flood risk and pollution.

Goska Romanowicz

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