In North London, Enfield Council and environmental charity Thames21 have protected communities from extreme weather by bringing new life to neglected waterways.
Local volunteers are at the heart of the action, restoring rivers and creating new woods and wetlands.
This approach means that as well as dealing with flood dangers and pollution, the scheme brings residents better health and access to nature.
Enfield is home to Salmon Brook, Pymmes Brook and Turkey Brook – three waterways feeding the River Thames, which cut the danger of local flooding by absorbing and carrying away rainfall. Heavier downpours are one consequence of climate change, so these defences will become even more important in the years ahead.
But over decades these brooks have been narrowed and channelled through pipes and concrete. This means they are less able to defend communities from flooding. In response, Enfield Council and Thames21 have helped communities to restore these waterways to their natural state, and create new natural features that will lower the risk of flooding even more.
Work to restore the brooks has included removing artificial materials and bringing them back to surface level. This allows these waterways to wind to across the land, and creates floodplains that can be safely submerged after heavy rain. Restoring the brooks has also created benefits for local plants and animals.
13 new wetlands have arrived too, introduced by digging ditches and boosting vegetation in local parks. And planting more than 130,000 trees has created 80 hectares of publicly accessible native woodland, bringing further protection from extreme weather.
The partnership sits alongside the council’s other green projects cutting flood risk, like its work installing raingardens – small areas of planting – among the borough’s streets.
Big benefits for people and wildlife
The flood threat in Enfield is greatest in the less well off, eastern side of the borough. But all residents can benefit from the scheme, which began in 2021 and has involved more than 5,500 volunteers.
Thames21 gives volunteer groups tools and training to work independently and organises recruitment days across the borough to encourage more people to get involved.
The project has created cleaner waterways, which are monitored more closely. Some of the new wetlands, for example, have bathing quality water. Rich habitats have been created for wetland plants, insects, fish, amphibians, and birds.
The project has also led to more than 3km of new public footpaths, and new or improved green spaces. These are used by everyone from schools and scout troops to anglers and local dementia support groups. Areas that once saw frequent anti-social behaviour have become much more inclusive.
Enfield resident Andrew Walls first became involved with the scheme as a volunteer tree planter, and is now a paid events support contractor. His work has ranged from cleaning up canals to pond dipping to check on local wildlife.
He says: “Personally, I’ve seen a massive improvement of the area. The fact that Enfield put so much resource into it means we have a lovely big wide path running through the valley of the Salmons Brook – it’s such a lovely place to be, there are loads more people using it so makes a massive difference to their lives.”
Eamonn Cannon is co-chair of the Pymmes Brookers, a volunteer group that maintains and monitors the brook. He says: “In the summer of 2021 I saw on Facebook that there was a community project about installing wetlands on the brook. I walked along the brook and saw the state of it and thought I could do something positive.”
He adds that it’s satisfying to encourage others to enjoy their environment. “When we work in parks people often say thank you and ask if they can join.”
1 November 2023
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