Lost and damaged rivers to get new lease of life

Hidden rivers that wind their way under London's grey streets and green spaces are to once more see the light of day thanks to a plan to restore them to their natural state.

The action plan was launched on 8 January to restore the capital’s buried and neglected rivers.

The London Rivers Action Plan (LRAP) aims to restore 15 kilometres of Thames tributaries to their natural state by 2015.

The planned restoration of rivers such as the Wandle, the Crane and the Lee is intended to create havens for wildlife, increase public access and reduce flood risk in the light of predicted climate-change impacts.

Historically, urban planning has seen rivers as a problem to be overcome with hard engineering and has led to waterways being forced into channels, covered and built over.

Current thinking sees them as a potential asset that encourages wildlife and enhances the quality of life for those living and working near them.

Dave Webb, Project Manager at the Environment Agency, said: ‘We are striving to improve London’s most damaged rivers, and we believe we can create important habitats and improve every Londoner’s life with new open spaces.”

The LRAP is produced in partnership by the Environment Agency, Greater London Authority, Natural England, the River Restoration Centre, the Thames Rivers Restoration Trust, London Wildlife Trust and WWF UK.

Its main aim is to provide a forum for identifying stretches of river to be restored.

The plan will help government agencies, local authorities, private developers and voluntary groups work together to improve rivers by providing habitats and removing or modify flood defence structures, where that can be done safely, as well as to reclaim ‘lost’ rivers currently buried in concrete culverts.

So far, nearly 100 projects have been identified. An interactive website, maintained by the River Restoration Centre, contains maps, a database of completed and developing projects, detailed case studies and links to best practice and policy documents.

The Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), which has been calling for the active promotion of de-culverting in national and regional Government planning guidance, said that they welcomed the LRAP and hoped it would lead to similar initiatives elsewhere.

CIWEM’s executive director Nick Reeves told edie: “The health of local environments has direct benefit to the health of individuals and local communities, a fact that continues to be under-appreciated, and this is a positive step forward in this context.”

In Greenwich, southeast London, a section of the River Quaggy has already been unearthed from its culvert. The river can now be seen flowing across Sutcliffe Park, attracting wildlife such as kingfishers and dragonflies.

Isabel Dedring, director of environmental policy for the Mayor of London, said: “This plan will deliver aesthetic benefits but will also help us prepare for our changing climate. Restoring our rivers will play a part in making London a more attractive place for people to come to live and invest.”

Emma Waghorn

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