London's secret rivers

Community groups across London are receiving grants to restore our lost rivers. Anthea Masey joins the fun
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The River Wandle, Merton
Tranquility at Merton, on the River Wandle, which takes a long course through south London and is now widely restored
London’s rivers are a source of wonder. The river Thames runs through the city dividing north from south.

The walk along the south bank from London Bridge to Westminster Bridge is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions taking in such delights as Borough Market, the Globe theatre, the Oxo Tower, the National Theatre and the London Eye.

London’s second greatest river, the River Lee, runs for 26 miles between Ware in Hertfordshire and the Thames, and was designated the country’s first regional park by act of parliament in 1967, with its most southerly section getting a makeover for the London Olympics in 2012.

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Yet the capital’s other rivers are more hidden, running through and under our streets and popping up in many secret locations - rivers such as the Fleet, the Westbourne, the Ravensbourne, the Crane, the Effra, the Wandle and the Roding. Now community groups, developers and conservation groups have decided to unveil these waterways to the delight of local residents.

Proposed housing beside the River Wandle
Plans have been submitted for 450 new homes in two new glass towers beside a restored stretch of the River Wandle that runs through Wandsworth

Wander the Wandle

Along the river Wandle in south-west London there are plans for a second regional park while other recent restoration schemes have transformed dull, underused parks into rich habitats where wildlife flourishes.

The biggest opportunity exists in London’s outer boroughs where the recently launched London Rivers Action Plan ( sponsored by the Major of London and the Environment Agency has unveiled plans to rescue 12 miles of neglected rivers.

The Quaggy warriors

Heroic community groups such as the Quaggy Waterways Action Group have pioneered new thinking on how we should treat London’s rivers.

The River Quaggy runs through the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley in south-east London. The action group was formed in 1990 to fight a flood-prevention plan that would have driven the river through yet more concrete channels.

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The group’s chairman, Ray Manchester, says it took years to get the plans changed. “If you put rivers in concrete channels you push the risk of flooding elsewhere.” The group’s alternative plan opened up the river to provide places where flood waters can gather.
Houseboats on the River Roding
Houseboats on the River Roding that flows from Dunmow in Essex via Buckhurst Hill, Redbridge Wanstead and Ilford entering the Thames at Barking Creek
This change of policy has resulted in the renovation of two parks, Chinbook Meadows at Grove Park near Bromley and Sutcliffe Park, between Eltham and Kidbrooke.

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Both parks now have an attractive river meandering through them and a flood plain that, as well as providing a haven for wildlife, has rescued many nearby houses from the risk of flooding.

Other recent projects have included work on the River Brent in Tokyngton Park in west London, while removal of concrete channels has improved a mile-and-a-half stretch of neglected river, at the cost of £1.4 million, on the river Hogsmill in the Bonesgate area of Kingston.

Now the river has a sweeping curve and a fishing lake; and on the river Wandle in Mitcham ditches have been improved on the National Trust-owned Watermeads Island for the reintroduction of water voles.

What’s on its way

In Croydon, Barratt Homes (020 8688 0688) is spending £1 million uncovering a section of the River Wandle for its New South Quarter and Wandle Park scheme. When finished this development will have nearly 800 flats. Homes can be reserved at prices from £173,995 for a one-bedroom flat.

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New South Quarter, Croydon
From £173,995: one-bedroom flats at Barratt Homes's New South Quarter by the River Wandle in Croydon. Call 020 8688 0688
Shared-ownership flats will be available later this year. Call Wandle Housing Trust on 020 8682 1177 or Notting Hill Housing Association on 020 8357 4444.

River Roding at Barking Riverside will get 10,000 new homes under a Thames Gateway scheme awaiting approval. A long stretch of river will be restored. Visit

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Moselle Brook, at Lordship Recreation Ground in Tottenham, is to be uncovered and landscaped under a £400,000 grant from the Mayor’s Help a London Park scheme.

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The local council, Haringey, also hopes to win a £4.5 million improvement grant for the park from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an important local amenity.

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