Sutcliffe Park River Walk (5th September 2004)

Sutcliffe Park River Walk (5th September 2004)

Councillor Barrie Anderson has been a supporter and member of QWAG since its inception. Here Barrie describes the walk on 5th September 2004.

On Sunday 5th September a straggly group of people (me among them) could be seen in Sutcliffe Park, Greenwich, strolling with a reconnoitrer’s air. And “Sunday” could plausibly double here as an adjective, for the star of day had control of the sky above the park and the temperature of the still air was being taken rapidly into the high 20s C.

The group were all enthusiastic environmentalists, keen to see how well the River Quaggy had been turned from running dead in a drain under a dull landscape into a real, vital waterway.

We foregathered shortly before 2pm at the park’s main entrance in Eltham Road, arriving from homes mostly in Lewisham, Greenwich and boroughs beyond.

Ready to greet us was walk organiser Matthew Blumler, chairman of QWAG. He is recognised as the undisputed, inspirational, local resident leader of QWAG’s Operation Kingfisher, with its declared aim to see (in time) all the River Quaggy – from Sundridge Park, Bromley, down to where it meets the river Ravensbourne in Lewisham town centre – restored to naturalness.

QWAG's chairman Matthew Blumler (second from the right) greets the walkers

QWAG’s chairman Matthew Blumler (second from the right) greets the walkers

Joining Matthew was engineer Martin Mathias, Halcrow’s project manager for the Quaggy scheme, on hand (as Matthew put it) to answer any difficult questions – i.e. those Matthew couldn’t answer! (The Halcrow Group Limited is the main contractor employed by the Environment Agency on the River Quaggy Flood Alleviation Scheme.

For everyone who, like me, hadn’t been free to get to the official opening a couple of months before, the unspoken question was: had the plan worked to lower the ground level of the park, landscape it and create anew the Quaggy’s natural meander?

You bet it had! And how.

On display midst burgeoning verdancy were a nature study area for schools, a wetland meadow, a “boardwalk”, a picnic site and a new riverside walk, which we perambulated. In place were all the dreams of 1992, when Operation Kingfisher was a fledgling and the Environment Agency was the National Rivers Authority.

Martin Matthias, one of the project managers of the scheme, describes how Sutcliffe Park now reduces the flood risk to properties downstream

Martin Matthias, one of the project managers of the scheme, describes how Sutcliffe Park now reduces the flood risk to properties downstream

Yes the football pitches have gone, but they went elsewhere with the consent of local residents for the better well being of the majority. And for more than just aesthetic reasons, too: the river is now able to extend in the park during heavy rain, rather than flooding houses and businesses downstream in Lewisham.

Walkers inspect the newly revitalised River Quaggy Young and old alike have clearly embraced the new configuration of Sutcliffe Park, which makes the scenery inviting to explore. Their presence in the park, despite our group’s invasion, showed that. Folk were walking relaxed in the new park area, were picnicking, were fishing in the Quaggy itself; children excitedly netting sticklebacks by the dozen.

There was some valid criticism by group members. Some thought the trees planted looked a little like regimented in layout; but broad sticks support slender young trunks at this time, and it’s these that give off that impression, I think. Once they can be removed all will look great, I’m sure. And why were there no litter bins studded along the new, snaking walk, someone asked. Sad it was to see bottles, etc thrown on to the bank side and even into the water for lack of this essential item to deter such behaviour. Greenwich Council has been politely written to. At the point where the drain has been opened to release some of the river water (*) to fall several feet into the new meandering section, a metal grille is set in the concrete at the pipe entrance to hold back flotsam from upstream: could not the debris collected behind this grille be cleared more regularly to dispel unsightliness? The Environment Agency will look into this.

The Quaggy’s new course, with its pleasant plantings, is gratifying on the eye, and is finding its depth levels, so that there is now present seemingly still water here, a contented babblement there in the shallows, soothing to listen to.

I thoroughly enjoyed my two hours in the park; if you have yet to make the trip, do so. And while you’re about it, why not visit Chinbrook Meadows at Grove Park, Lewisham – the story of regeneration is the same but it came here first. Both parks are now a recreational delight.

Operation Kingfisher remains a magnificent ongoing project.


(*) The rest of the river continues to flow as before in the concrete drain along the edges of the park, but open vents have been strategically placed within the park, allowing any overwhelming volume of water during heavy storms to collect in the park’s new flood plain.

Make a splash without getting wet!