I really value the opportunity to learn more about projects that improve our rivers for the benefit of wildlife and the local community. It is even better when I get to visit the site and speak to those involved. I can really get a feel for how things have been achieved and the positive impact that has been made. I am also keen to bring ideas back to Essex and make improvements here too. That is how I ended up at Mayesbrook Park between Barking and Dagenham on a wet May day…
Mayes Brook, like many of our urban rivers, had become rather unloved. Increasingly polluted from road run-off, misconnections and sewer overflows. It was hidden away in a concrete channel, behind tall fencing and isolated from the park and the community. Out of sight, out of mind. The park itself had become increasingly known for anti-social behaviour rather than being a space for people to enjoy. Something had to change.
The Mayesbrook Park project is a great partnership between London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, the Environment Agency, the Mayor of London, Thames Rivers Restoration Trust, RSA, Natural England, London Wildlife Trust, and the SITA Trust. The aim was to bring the brook back into the park and make it a valued feature, as well as reducing flood risk by creating an expanded flood plain and boosting ecology by creating new habitat. By achieving these aims, hopefully the use of the park should increase and anti-social behaviour reduce. Click on the image below to open a pdf leaflet summarising the project to date.
The benefit of seeing the park and Mayes Brook on a rainy day was that we could really see the scheme in action. One area (shown below), that really impressed me, was where the old channel had been replaced by a wonderful, meandering and gently banked landscape. Fantastic for flood storage, ecology and safe access. This is something we could replicate at several location across Essex and changes the character of a park from a large, flat green field to something really alive. Brilliant!
It was also great to see simple sustainable drainage (SuDS) techniques being used for the surface and roof drainage from the impressive new sports centre nearby. Water was held in a series of fenced, grassy pond areas to reduce the rate of run-off and reduce pollutants heading to Mayes Brook. These were working really well on the day of my visit.
In other parts of the park where space was restricted the fencing was removed from Mayes Brook, the concrete channel liner taken away and one of the banks reprofiled to increase capacity and habitat. This was a huge improvement in itself and at least brought the brook out from its isolated hiding place.
The other distinct part of the project was the nature reserve at the upstream end of the park. This stretch of Mayes Brook had been reprofiled and improved, but was fenced off to allow wildlife to have a quiet haven. Although public access is important, this provided a good compromise and allowed different species to flourish.
All this work to get Mayes Brook to be a part of the park and local community has been really successful. By raising awareness of the importance of our rivers and streams we start to care more about pollution and misconnected drainage that would otherwise not seem as much of a problem. The momentum we can build with these projects is staggering.
The most exciting thing about my visit to Mayesbrook Park was that I could straight away think of locations in Essex where we could adopt at least one of the techniques or approaches above. Anywhere a brook or river flows through a park or other open space, we could do something positive. The scale of improvement will depend on what the stretch of water needs, local support, partners, funding and willing volunteers.