A year away from its scheduled opening, James Cracknell reports on the development of a huge new nature reserve in the Lea Valley
Work to turn Walthamstow reservoirs into the largest urban wetland reserve in Europe is gathering pace.
The £8.7million London Wildlife Trust project will see ten reservoirs over 211 hectares in the Lea Valley, sandwiched between Lea Bridge Road in Leyton and the North Circular in Chingford, opened to the public to provide opportunities for learning, walking, cycling and fishing.
Being built there is a visitor centre, café, education space, viewing platform, four new entrances, one mile of new foot and cycle paths, and habitat enhancements. Work is due to finish early next year.
The site, now known as Walthamstow Wetlands, is internationally recognised as significant for wildlife, particularly overwintering wildfowl, and includes the largest fishery in London. The reservoirs will also continue to be an operational water supply site for Thames Water.
Work to create 1.8 hectares of new reed beds began in December. Bioengineering specialists Salix are constructing revetments and re-using dredged silt to create the reed beds, which will be filled with about 30,000 cubic metres of material dredged from the reservoir. The reed beds are expected to be completed by the end of March.
Richard Edwards, from Salix, said: “Reed beds provide an important habitat for a wide range of wetland wildlife, including mammals, invertebrates and birds such as reed bunting, reed warbler and bittern.
“They also help to clean the water by absorbing nutrients.”
Meanwhile, restoration work on the 122-year-old Marine Engine House in Ferry Lane is due to start this month. David Mooney, London Wildlife Trust’s regional development manager, said: “We will be working with [construction company] Rooff to sensitively refurbish this beautiful example of Victorian industrial architecture into a new visitor centre; with a cafe, exhibition space, viewing terrace and an educational space for visitors to Walthamstow Wetlands.”
Although now being managed by London Wildlife Trust, the Walthamstow Wetlands project has been spearheaded by Waltham Forest Council, which won £4.47m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create the nature reserve. This was further supplemented with another £1.84m from site owners Thames Water and £750,000 from the Greater London Authority, as well as £1m from the council’s own budget.
Councillor Clare Coghill, who has been heavily involved in the wetlands, recently visited the site. She said: “Preserving the delicate balance of biodiversity is central to this project.
“It’s really important that at the same time as encouraging more local residents to take advantage of this beautiful corner of the borough, we don’t lose sight of the fact this is home to a diverse range of wildlife.”
For more information on the Walthamstow Wetlands project led by London Wildlife Trust: