The Quaggy at Grove Park Hospital is in desperate need of some tender loving care.
QWAG’s latest river walk started at the point where the Quaggy now flows under Marvels Lane. But a hundred years ago the lane used to cross the river some 25 metres to the north by the still standing Sydenham Cottages. (photo, left) A line of mature trees snakes across the adjacent Sydenham Cottages Nature Reserve, marking this earlier course. But in an all too familiar story the meander was cut off when the river was straightened and channelised between the wars.
The walk, led by QWAG founder Matthew Blumler, included three contrasting stretches of the river. The upstream limit was Chinbrook Meadows, once a bland, uninspiring park, which has matured spectacularly over the four years since its restoration with the river at its heart. The downstream limit was a riverside meadow, with its rich diversity of wildlife. How unfortunate that these two oases are linked by an oversized, ugly concrete channel, parts of which were constructed as recently as the 1970s.
Photos from the walk:
This access ramp to the river is directly opposite Sydenham Cottages Nature Reserve. QWAG believe that this short stretch of the river is an ideal candidate for restoration. With imagination a naturalised river could be integrated into the reserve, with the earlier course revived as a marginal pond or backwater. Stepping stones or a boardwalk could provide direct access from the Capital Ring / Green Chain footpath on the opposite bank.
The Grove Park Ditch empties into the Quaggy from a hole in the side wall. The source of this small tributary is a spring in Lower Marvels Wood, about 1½ kilometres away. It follows a natural course around the edge of a receation ground before it disappears into a culvert under a housing estate. It is next seen emerging here. Its fate is typical of many small streams in urban areas.
The state of the river at Grove Park Hospital illustrates many of the problems of channelisation. The four metre high wall completely cuts off the river from its surroundings and drastically reduces light levels, inhibiting plant growth. The three metre channel width slows the water flow and makes the river extremely shallow, discouraging fish. The motley collection of rubbish shows that if you make a river look like a drain then people will treat it as one.
The riverside meadow at the downstream limit of the walk. The difference between the diverse, thriving ecosystem of the river corridor here and the dank, cavernous channel just 100 metres upstream could hardly be more marked. Matthew talks about the successes of QWAG to date, but also warns about new threats facing the Quaggy, such as the massive Lewisham Gateway development in the town centre.
The abundant and diverse wildlife of the natural riverbank is evident from this view. Although native species dominate this stretch of the river there are clumps of less welcome invasive colonists such as Japanese Knotweed.
The Quaggy also holds a final mystery. Why has this stretch of the river, running through open fields, been ‘improved’ by the installation of a concrete base?