Olympic green legacy takes root

With less than one year to go until the Olympic flame is lit, the environmental improvements in the Olympic Park and surrounding areas have already delivered impressive results, according to Environment Agency Chairman, Lord Smith. He highlighted five projects as key indicators of the green legacy pledge of the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, and paid tribute to those from the Environment Agency, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and other partners who have worked together to deliver on this promise.

The projects, which help to set a new environmental precedent, include habitat creation in the form of 256 hectares (the equivalent of 276 football pitches) of land that has been transformed from a largely polluted industrial area to create areas of new green space and a haven for wildlife. In the Lower Lea Valley regeneration, the replacement of concrete walls and metal sheeting with natural banks and the removal of invasive species, such as Japanese Knotweed, is giving native plants and animals the best possible chance to flourish.

Work to improve river management has also reduced the flood risk for nearly 3000 properties, virtually taking Canning Town out of the flood plain and in addition 45 hectares of the Olympic Park have been designated as species rich habitat, with reedbeds, wet woodland, grassland and ponds created to attract roosting and breeding birds, otters, water voles and amphibians.

Recycling is key

Waste management is also a key area with more than 95% of demolition material being recycled in construction on the site and more than 1.5 million tonnes of contaminated soil being treated and about 90% being reused on the site.

Key to the creation of this has been the improvement of the river banks and cleaning up the River Lea which flows right through the site. With the help and advice of the Environment Agency, more than one kilometre of concrete walls and metal sheeting have been removed and replaced with natural banks, and 300,000 new wetland plants have been planted by the ODA with the creation of backwaters, reed beds, frog ponds and wildlife refuges.

Upstream of the Olympic Park, a metre-deep layer of sediment has been removed from the River Lea, improving water quality and flow and encouraging breeding habitats for aquatic life. Through the improvements it is hoped the area will attract species including eels, grey heron, kingfisher, sand martin, bats, water voles and otters.

Different challenges

The North and South Parks have posed very different challenges in terms of delivering on the green legacy. With the focus in the North Park on creating a natural environment and habitats for wildlife, and the South Park, which is home to the Olympic stadium, needing advice and action on sustainable buildings, waste minimisation and flood risk management.

This work hasn’t been limited to the main Olympic site. The Environment Agency has also carried out work at venues for rowing, canoeing and sailing to manage the water quality, and access for competitors, whilst maintaining the public right of access.

Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, said: “The Environment Agency has worked with the ODA over the past five years to create an outstanding green legacy for the London 2012 Games.

“With less than a year to go, we have already made huge improvements to the local environment and are beginning to see wildlife thrive. Once completed, more than five miles of river and hundreds of hectares will have been created or rejuvenated, providing a refuge for wildlife for years to come.”

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