Local resident and nature lover Valerie Weber, casts an eye over the thriving wildlife along the Ravensbourne river in Waterway Avenue
When I was at school, one of my friends lived in the house I now inhabit – I bought it from her parents. I remember her telling us about the flood of the Ravensbourne that had reached her house. It had been caused by storm water overflowing because of a fallen crane. The family received meals delivered by people in the boats from Southend Pond.
By the time I bought the house, the river was in a concrete channel, and insurance companies no longer charged inflated premiums to insure it because it was felt the council had done enough to make the area safe from floods.
With the redevelopment of Sundermead the now environmentally more conscious council decided to naturalise the river channel. First they dug an alternative and diverted the water from the concrete channel while they worked on excavating and naturalising it. When the river was diverted back into its proper channel, the new plan for flood control was the large dip behind Glassmill Leisure Centre.
From Loampit Vale to the pedestrian bridge the banks were sympathetically rewilded, and their care was in the hands of the council. Between the pedestrian and the road bridge care was given over to London & Quadrant. Clearly, putting in yuccas was not quite the native planting one might have expected. But brambles soon appeared, along with other wild plants.
Gradually the Waterway Avenue bank grew very wild. The L&Q employed gardeners who had no idea what to do and just hacked back the overgrown bank as they felt the need – usually when the amount of rubbish in among the tangles needed clearing away. I was unhappy that important habitats were being destroyed at sensitive times, and contacted Natural England, who told the contractors that one pruning in the autumn was all they should be doing.
The wildlife on the river soon began to thrive. Ducks aplenty appeared, with the occasional mandarin, ruddy and tufted ducks showing up with the mallards. One spring we even had a young swan, probably evicted from Blackheath by dad. Once or twice a white Jemima Puddleduck put in an appearance. The local mallards seem to have added a darker mutation with a pronounced white bib, apparently known in the US as manky mallards. The heron whose home was the mill pond in Molesworth Street still puts in regular appearances.
Our moorhens seem to mistime their efforts to breed. They build a small island for their nest, but if there is then heavy rainfall it is washed away. Nevertheless we have a chick or two most years. A kingfisher has been known to visit for a fishing trip. Interesting how women stop and look at the water birds, but men examine the fish!
Other bird populations have thrived. There are many sparrows. At times goldfinches, starlings, robins, blackbirds, chaffinches, wrens and pied wagtails can be seen or at least heard (turn off those headphones!) Opportunistic magpies join the pigeons to take advantage of food scattered by passers by, just as various gulls join the ducks. I’ve even seen crows mob the heron when they felt their homes might be under threat.
But sadly what there is in huge supply all along the river and it’s banks is rubbish, much of it plastic. People pretend to take notice of plastic pollution of the oceans, but it doesn’t seem to occur to them that the Ravensbourne (joined by that time by the Quaggy) joins the Thames as Deptford Creek, and the Thames joins the North Sea. The lack of litter bins throughout the borough, but particularly along this stretch of the river, is grievous. Keep Britain Tidy is fundraising to take their campaign into schools. I wish them every success.
If you can tear your eyes away from your phone, in the breeding season, look up at the top of the old Citibank building and you may spot one of the Peregrine Falcons that breed there every year. Last summer they had 4 chicks.
As the river flows alongside the DLR line, sometimes you can glimpse a family of swans. I hope it’s “our” male with his latest brood.
The miracle of this environmental improvement is about to be destroyed by our Council when building goes ahead in Silver Road. Almost certainly the river will become polluted, the birds will lose their territory, and even poor cyclists, trying to use the designated cycle routes in the area, will find themselves in danger from the builders’ lorries thundering along Elmira Street.
So look up from those phones while there is still time and enjoy what nature has to offer, just behind Lewisham Shopping Centre.