A close encounter with a kingfisher was the highlight of this year’s river walk.
“We were standing in the river, just downstream of a sharp bend, a short distance from Manor Park, talking about the plants that had colonised the old concrete wall. A kingfisher flew round the bend and straight into the group at thigh height. About halfway through the dense confusion of legs and bodies, and only inches in front of me, it must have realised it needed to get some height, went vertically upwards with a flick and twist and a flutter, revealed its dark red/brown and then, just above our heads and still within the group, levelled out, tipped over slightly to reveal metalic blue and wave us goodbye. Fantastic!” Matthew Blumler describes a magic moment on the walk.
This year QWAG decided to celebrate the completion of the River Quaggy Flood Alleviation Scheme by retracing the steps of our very first river walk in 1994. By the time that walk took place, four years into our campaign, the National Rivers Authority had agreed that our proposal, to use Sutcliffe Park for floodwater storage, was feasible.
It would take until 1998 to persuade the Borough of Greenwich to grant planning permission for the transformation of Sutcliffe Park and four further years for the Enviroment Agency to draw up and get approved the detailed plans for the works required between Sutcliffe Park and central Lewisham.
Initial construction work commenced in 2002. Sutcliffe Park and the less well known Weigall Road floodwater storage areas had been transformed by 2004. The focus then shifted downstream, with the final construction work completed by the end of 2006, followed by an official opening in Manor Park in June this year.
In those intervening years QWAG walks have roved along every accessible stretch of the Quaggy, and occasionally beyond, spreading the word about our vision for urban river restoration. Early in our existence we had adopted the kingfisher as an emblem, as the return of these beautiful birds to nest along the Quaggy would be a tangible measure of our success. That’s why our close encounter downstream of Manor Park, less than a kilometre from Lewisham town centre, and so soon after years of disturbance, is so encouraging.
Photos from the walk
Entry to the river is via a back garden
in Gilmore Rd. There is a stark contrast between the back gardens of the properties in Lee High Rd, which have a two metre high wall along the river’s edge and those in Gilmore Rd which have a natural, sloping river bank.
A curious diner listens from the terrace of Nando’s restaurant as QWAG founder Matthew Blumler explains how QWAG brokered a deal to add some in-channel improvements a few metres beyond the boundary of the flood alleviation works at Clarendon Rise bridge.
The properties at Nos 36-56 Lee High Rd back directly on to the river. These one storey shops will be replaced by a five storey apartment block, ‘canyoning’ the river and degrading the environment of the river corridor. And the developers plan to extend the block to Clarendon Rise.
The site at Nos 104-120 Lee High Rd
will host a supermarket and apartments. Thanks to QWAG’s vigilance and protest, a wall that was to have been built along the river’s edge has been recessed into the site instead, creating a large ‘reservoir’ for the wildlife of the river corridor.
Plants colonise the old concrete walls and, over time, create a surprisingly rich wildlife habitat. It was only seconds after this photo was taken that the group’s close encounter with the kingfisher occured, as it flew rapidly downstream (towards the camera).
The walkers exit the river at Manor Park via a ‘beach’ created when the park was regenerated, as part of the flood alleviation scheme. Before this, the river was totally inaccesible and largely invisible as it flowed around the edge of the park, hidden by dense vegetation.