School children, residents and local dignitaries all came together to officially open Stanmore Marsh on Wednesday June 28.
Approximately 120 people thronged the Marsh Lane at a venue once known as Toad Pond, to take part in river dipping, a nature walk and to witness the cutting of the pink sash ribbon – hung between two garden forks. Cllr Margaret Davine, the Mayor of Harrow, performed the ribbon cutting.
Craig Stock and Alec Feldman, both 18, were among the crowd. They were very surprised at the huge turnout, saying: “We haven’t seen this place buzzing like this since Jeremy Corbyn visited!” They both expressed support of the restoration, acknowledging its role in helping fight the effects of climate change, especially protection from flooding.
Residents expressed delight about the restored meadows, wildflowers and the beautifully planted pond. “Passers-by and people on the bus were stopping to look at the huge sparkling red poppies, which were the best display I’ve ever seen,” said Linda Arden, who has helped with some of the planting over the past year.
The four hectare acre site on Marsh Lane has been re-landscaped, and the river brought out of its concrete channel so it can weave across the historic wetland site – which according to one local resident, dates back at least to the Domesday book.
Thames21’s Stanmore Marsh project officer Vicky D’Souza thanked the local volunteers who have helped plant up and look after the newly-landscaped area during a two-year project. She said: “The park is still developing. Without the support of schools, community groups, local volunteers, this would not have happened. We will continue to champion Stanmore Marsh for the community, for the schools, for children. We will continue to care for it,” she said.
Resident John Mair, reflecting on how the area has been transformed, said he remembered playing in the stream and creating little dams, as a young boy in the 1940s before the river was put into its concrete straightjacket. He was delighted with the project. “Thames21, in particular Vicky D’Souza, have been so encouraging to the local community and helping them get involved. Vicky has a lovely way of engaging people,” he said.
The area used to be full of wildlife and part of it was known as Frog Pond. However, over the years it dried up and became neglected, no longer acting as a green sponge – which meant the chances of local flooding increased. Now, thanks to the major regeneration project, the flood risk has been reduced as well as a beautiful new space created.
On the nature walk, another Thames21 project officer Paul Busby led a group of curious people through a wooded area bordering the marsh. He identified various trees and the associated butterfly with each tree. Many in the group mentioned that they come to the site to pick blackberries in autumn, and have been doing so for a long time.
Viren Shah, who has lived in the area for 30 years, loved the nature walk. “I saw parts I didn’t even know existed,” he said.
Marcia Linch, who has lived in the area for 45 years, said: “It is an amazing work of restoration. My husband and I are flabbergasted and very impressed by the improvements.”
Many other residents said they are extremely relieved the neglected site didn’t disappear under new housing. The project has created 400m of new footpath and 400m2 of wetland, providing 3,150m2 of additional flood storage – slightly larger than an Olympic sized swimming pool, which takes 2,500m2 of water. Several hundred metres of water environments – made up of a network of small wetlands and ditches – have also been restored.
Thames21 and Harrow Council have worked in partnership with a number of organisations to deliver this project. These include Thames Water and the Greater London Authority who both provided funding, as did the council, to help deliver the works.
Thames21, London’s leading waterways charity which puts healthy rivers at the heart of communities, is helping to establish a Friends of Stanmore Marsh group to champion and help continue to look after the space.
For more information about joining or forming a Friends of group, contact Vicky D’Souza at Vicky.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opening event was part of London Rivers Week, a new free festival celebrating London’s many rivers and encouraging the capital’s residents to discover them. Since 2008, more than 20.5km of rivers have been restored – the same length as 66 Shards. More than 30 events were run during London Rivers Week, co-ordinated by Thames21, who are one of the partners along with the South East Rivers Trust, London Wildlife Trust and the Zoological Society of London. More information can be found at www.thames21.org.uk/LondonRiversWeek