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Gold medal for Olympic waterways

Following the largest single bioengineering project ever seen in the UK, new wetland habitats are establishing well in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

As part of the work to prepare the 560-acre Park, we helped transform the area's rivers from contaminated industrial waterways, into a mosaic of wetlands, restored river banks and rare wet woodlands.

These waterways are once again providing important wetland habitats for fish, amphibians and birds, including reed buntings and kingfishers.

New wetland habitats

Ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we worked with Olympic delivery agencies to build a new lock at Three Mills to control the water levels on this network of rivers, and create an environment where new wetland habitats could establish.

Leela O'Dea, ecologist for the Canal & River Trust, explains: “Over the last decade the Canal & River Trust has transformed its engineering approach and has been at the forefront of applying soft bioengineering techniques to repair its waterways, including the Olympic waterways. Soft bioengineering solutions were incorporated into the major dredging scheme as a sustainable way to re-use clean material, create new wetlands and help tackle water quality naturally.”

Salix River & Wetland Services planted 400,000 wetland plants into 11,000 pillows and rolls made from coir fibres, and positioned them alongside 8km of riverbank. Thirty species of water plants, including reeds, rushes, irises, grasses, sedges and wild flowers, were grown at the company's Thetford Forest nursery in advance.


The reed beds are now well established and reed buntings have been recorded nesting in the reed beds. Grey heron and kingfishers have been sighted in and around the islands.

The waterways of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park became a key part of the London 2012 Games, from bringing in construction materials by barge to David Beckham's famous journey into the Opening Ceremony.

The rivers now host all manner of activities, from recreational boating and tour boat trips to canoeing and rowing in the shadows of the iconic sporting venues.

Leela adds: “The Trust's role in the sustainable delivery of the Olympic Park was so much bigger than the building of Three Mills Lock, dredging and habitat work we led on. Throughout the planning stages we supported numerous authorities with technical engineering and environmental advice to ensure that there was no detriment to the navigation and improvements in habitat and water quality were made.

"The transformation of these interconnecting waterways is apparent for everyone to see and we look forward see them continually evolve and mature.”

Last Edited: 29 September 2014

photo of a location on the canals
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