The Ravensbourne River Corridor Improvement Plan

The Ravensbourne River Corridor Improvement Plan

The Ravensbourne catchment in south east London contains 41miles/66kms of rivers and streams with a total catchment area of 111miles2/180 km2.

The rivers Ravensbourne, Pool, Quaggy and Kid Brook flow through the London Boroughs of Bromley, Lewisham, Croydon and Greenwich. From chalk spring sources at Keston, Locksbottom and Croydon the rivers join the Thames at Deptford. The catchment contains a broad diversity of land-use from farming, woodland, parkland, regenerated urban green space, urban residential, commercial and industrial use.

The catchment supports a population of around 1.25million people who face challenges of housing stock, overcrowding, inequality, public health, low income and unemployment.

This part of London is earmarked for the largest regeneration project in Europe over the next 20 years with 120,000 new homes and 180,000 expected to be created.

However the river that runs through the area has gradually altered since the 1960’s from an open green river corridor, rich in natural habitat, to a hidden away, artificially straightened concrete channel that was intended to convey water as quickly as possible downstream and away from the conurbation.

The Ravensbourne River at Brookmill Park – before

But instead of solving the potential problem of flooding, the concrete channel has simply displaced and exacerbated it. Concrete needs costly maintenance and is incapable of supporting vital plant and animal life that can help alleviate floodwater damage. Rainwater drains rapidly into the Ravensbourne from the extensive hard surfaces of this highly urban catchment  – making river flows volatile, fast running and liable to flash flooding.  Water quality suffers from pollution carried by surface water running off roads and from household overflows.  And with so many new houses planned, the situation can only get worse.  Something had to be done.

However the area is lucky because the locals love it – the Ravensbourne runs through or beside many public parks and open areas creating natural spaces for them in a crowded city.

And there is a long history of the community taking an active role in caring for and improving their river, with locals working hard to raise awareness of issues such as environment, natural wildlife, cultural inspiration, flooding and water quality – many physically taking on the challenges presented themselves .

The Ravensbourne River at Brookmill Park – after

Future urban regeneration in this area will need to restore its relationship with its rivers to support long term sustainability given its context, future vision and the likely impacts of climate change and flood risk. To this end, two action groups were established.  The Ravensbourne Catchment Plan to consider and embrace the wider remit of the geographic area and the Ravensbourne River Corridor Improvement Plan which looks at a specific part of the catchment.

The Ravensbourne Catchment Plan

The Ravensbourne Catchment Improvement Group was set up as a collaboration between Thames 21, the Environment Agency, London Wildlife Trust and the four Borough Councils through which the river runs. It also involved local people, interest groups, organisations and businesses in order to learn together from previous successes, share ideas and resources and agree actions to improve the catchment.  According to their Catchment Plan they have the following objectives:

VISION – to have a catchment where

  • New development enhances the river and allows nature to thrive.
  • Opportunities for leisure, education and discovery are commonplace.
  • Community and volunteer groups are well supported in their work along the river
  • Enhancement and education programmes benefit local people.

And to create a natural place where

  • Species and habitats thrive along clean-water river corridors.
  • A diverse natural environment attracts people to the rivers.
  • A mosaic of habitats and green corridors allow species to move freely throughout the catchment.
  • Public access to nature is widespread rather than an exception.
  • Nature is both respected and protected.

In order to provide a future where

  • The threat of flooding is vastly reduced for local communities.
  • A strong partnership between Local Authorities, Local Flood Authorities and developers ensures that communities are protected against the impacts of climate change.
  • Communities are encouraged to become stewards of their local river through citizen science programmes and are fully supported with education, equipment and funding.
  • The catchment partnership listens to the public and identifies key enhancement and improvement opportunities for our rivers.
Signage in Ladywell Fields Park – description of the new river channel and the wildlife it attracts. Photograph kindly supplied by Andrew Holmes.

Activities have been wide ranging over the last seven years with an annual 3 Rivers Clean Up during the summer months – the 2015 Clean Up involving over 300 volunteers at 35 locations removing debris and invasive plants from the river.

This in itself is an achievement of community engagement and returns to our central question concerning riparian zones – who are the custodians of the UK rivers? Those that own them, those who build on them, those who work them or those who live with and care for them?

See link:

The Ravensbourne River Corridor Improvement Plan

Similarly, the Ravensbourne River Corridor Improvement Plan has been created as a partnership between the Environment Agency and Lewisham Borough Council with respect to their specific geographic remit.

Their vision is to ‘bring the Ravensbourne River back to the heart of Lewisham, becoming a distinctive and attractive focal point that brings together not only wildlife but also local communities promoting healthy living whilst reducing flood risk and the impacts of climate change.’

Like the Catchment Plan Group, they have three main objectives:

  • To enhance and maintain the unique image and identity of the Ravensbourne
  • To reduce and manage flood risk and deal with a changing climate
  • To ensure an attractive, safe and secure river corridor for people and wildlife

It is interesting to note that this group put flood risk centre stage in their priorities.

They have good practice examples of successful river restoration projects at Ladywell Fields and Cornmill Gardens, and intend to roll out similar activities into ‘character areas’ along the River Ravensbourne; Riverview Walk, River Pool Linear Park, Catford Railway Stations, Lewisham Town Centre, Brookmill Park and Broadway Fields and Deptford Creek.

See ravensbourne_river_corridor_improvement_plan_-newformat_feb-2012 for details.

We asked Lawrence Beale Collins, of Thames 21, who he thought are the real riparian custodians of our UK rivers in light of his experience with Ravensbourne –   those that own them, those who build on them, those who work them or those who live with and care for them?

He says: “Often those that own the rivers also live with and care for them too. But I don’t see any nurturing going on with those that build on our rivers. Yes, developers may offer attractive in-channel work to go with a new development but the development itself will offer no affordable housing and will utilise the river for an obscene capital gain. ‘Riverside living’ is big now but the developers contribution to keeping the river attractive is minimal. On the nurturing side, the London Borough of Lewisham own a good deal of the riparian green-space in the borough and, therefore, are responsible for the upkeep of much of the Ravensbourne river catchment. They do a superb job, along with partners such as Thames21, of keeping the rivers clean, leading the way with restoration projects and scheduling regular habitat management events and much more.

But nothing could be done along the Ravensbourne without volunteers. As a resident of Lewisham and employee of Thames21, I work almost daily with volunteers throughout the catchment. Volunteers do a lot of hard graft (see attachment from this week at Ladywell), they engage with Citizen Science, monitor for pollution, keep the river clean and help out with public consultations. The volunteers are the most important factor in the success of the Ravensbourne and therefore I would suggest that they are the real custodians.”

Here are some great short films of the work that has been undertaken by the Quaggy Waterways Action Group. In 2012 the group made four in-stream wade films along the River Quaggy.  Thanks to Lawrence Beale Collins for this link.