Built on reclaimed Thames marshlands, the Thamesmead area features 7km of canal and five major lakes, all owned and managed by housing association Peabody. This network is part of a complex drainage system that protects local residents and businesses from flooding.
Beginning in 2017, Thames21 has been working with the community, in partnership with London Wildlife Trust and Peabody, on the Thamesmead Canal Habitat Enhancement Project.
The canals are man-made and concrete-lined, meaning opportunities for natural vegetation to grow at the margins are limited. The canals suffer from issues including poor water quality, litter and plastic pollution, and invasive species including floating pennywort which can choke the waterways.
The project aims to improve the local environment for the people who live and work in the area, and transform the waterways through involving them in installing floating reedbeds in the canals. These bring colour and boost biodiversity, increase wildlife habitats and they can also boost the water quality around them by helping filter pollution. This approach builds on the success of our Project Reedbed work on the river Lea where Thames21 has installed more than than 100o square metres of reedbed.
The floating reedbeds consist of native flowering plants such as marsh marigold, purple loosestrife, flag iris, as well as the common reed Phragmites. They attract invertebrates such as damselflies and dragonflies, provide wildlife habitat for wildfowl and places for fish to hide and spawn. Reeds filter pollution by taking up nitrates and phosphates, overly present in polluted urban rivers.
An area totalling over 280m2 of reedbed islands has now been installed in Thamesmead since March 2017. Between July and October 2018, 264m2 of floating reedbeds were installed by Thames21, London Wildlife Trust and volunteers. The Harrow Canal between Windrush Primary School and Abbotts Close now contains a combined length of 150m of reedbed within a stretch of 350m of canal.
Thames21 and London Wildlife Trust worked with Peabody throughout the process of planning and delivering the reedbeds. The Peabody canals team assisted with logistics and installation of each reedbed. Community groups including Thamesmead Town Angling Club, who are based at Birchmere Lake, were also consulted throughout the process, and helped to build and install the Birchmere islands.
The project also offers those participants free accredited training in how to maintain these natural habits for wildlife such as birds and fish.
The project is funded by the GLA, the Environment Agency, Enovert Community Trust and Peabody.
The Enovert Canal Habitat Enhancement Project
This initial project in Thamesmead, begun in November 2016, runs alongside the Habitat Enhancement Project above. It is a partnership between Thames21 and Peabody, one of London’s oldest and largest housing providers. The project has the support of Peabody, the London Borough of Bexley and substantial funding from Enovert Community Trust (formerly The Cory Environmental Trust).
This project is enhancing the Thamesmead Canals, focusing on the Harrow Canal in Arnott Close and Crossway Canal in Crossway Park. This work is being achieved by creating more natural habitats along the canal edges, helping wildlife to flourish and improving the space for the local community to enjoy.
It is providing opportunities for volunteers to get directly involved and learn how to carry out activities to create and restore natural habitats.
The Canal section at Walsham Close
Education is a key part of the project. Local schools will be introduced to these outdoor surroundings as teaching tools linked to their curriculum learning. Youth groups will also be encouraged to use and take ownership of a unique loved part of Thamesmead’s landscape.
South view from the central footbridge at Crossways Park
Thamesmead’s canals and lakes are a valuable natural resource and defining feature for the area. Thames21 wants to ensure we involve as many local people in the care and improvement of these canals.