Sutcliffe Park’s transformation from wasteland to wonderland has won another award. Ray Manchester reports.
Since its transformation in the summer of 2004, walking through Sutcliffe Park has been a constant pleasure. But today was special. I was on my way to meet the Mercury’s photographer for a photo-shoot. The reason – Sutcliffe Park has been awarded the prestigious Living Wetlands Award for 2007. Or rather the Environment Agency has, for bringing about the restoration.
The award, sponsored by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environment Management (CIWEM), was created in 2003 to recognise the work of those ‘who seek to repair damage to wetlands, to promote community involvement, boost the numbers of breeding wading birds and restore functioning wetlands that bring benefits for people and wildlife’.
There is no doubt that Sutcliffe Park meets all these criteria, especially that of community involvement. For it was the community itself, in the guise of QWAG, that first promoted the use of the park to store stormwater and alleviate flooding downstream. The National Rivers Authority opposed the idea at first. But to be fair, once convinced of its merits, its successor – the Environment Agency – developed an exciting and innovative scheme, that has been magnificently realised.
Commenting on the project, Justin Taberham (CIWEM Director of Policy) says “This is a fantastic example of an urban restoration project that has multiple benefits for biodiversity, flood defence, recreation and leisure. The judging panel was unanimous in its support for this project to be this year’s winner. What was a fairly degraded site has become an urban oasis for wildlife.”
As if in celebratory mood the park looks stunning, bathed in crisp winter sunshine that seems to intensify the shades of blue and green. Walking across the boardwalk it’s hard to believe that the whole landscape dates back a mere 2½ years. In summer, significant numbers of dragonflies and damselflies surround the wetland pools, the lake and the River Quaggy itself. Emperor dragonflies (Europe’s largest species) have colonised the park and the rapidly growing marginal plants are also home to the attractive red common darter and black tailed skimmer. We can only imagine what riches these wetland pools will hold as the habitat matures.
A stroll around the lake reveals similarly spectacular results. Recent surveys have shown that the lake, wetlands are surrounding meadow are now home to, or visited by, a variety of birds including grey heron, swan, moorhen, coot, little ringed plover, common sandpiper, grey, pied and yellow wagtails, linnets and jack snipe. And in the wildflower meadow around the lake and along the river all the key wildflower species have now grown, including birdsfoot trefoil, sorrel, yarrow, ox-eye daisy and knapweed.
I’m not the only person taking advantage of the park on this brilliantly sunny day. Recreational walkers – with and without dogs – parents and toddlers, cyclists and joggers are among those present. In August 2005 QWAG reported the increase in ‘green exercise’ – that is physical activity within a natural environment – shown by a survey of Sutclifffe Park users. Asked why the park was special, the main reasons given were presence of water and the wildlife. Sound judgement, now endorsed with this new award.