Off the Beaten Track – Back from the Dead
When I was growing up in South London, the River Wandle was more like an open sewer than a river. It had been covered over for much of its length and breweries and factories had used it as a convenient way to dispose of their dirty water and the suburbs of London had all dumped their household effluence and sewage into it. The result was that in the few places where you could still see the river, it was a dark brown smelly liquid with nothing living in it or near it. It was considered to be the most polluted river in England. I always remember that, even as a boy who loved nature, it seemed a great shame that we had allowed the river to be totally killed off. True, you could see what it had been like if you went to Carshalton Ponds but that was where the river started and was nothing like the big river it becomes further down its course. To all intents and purposes the River Wandle was dead and buried.
So I had almost forgotten about the River Wandle and there wasn’t really much of its lower reaches that hadn’t been covered over or put into culverts. However, on a visit to South London recently, staying in a small hotel in Wimbledon, I decided that since it was a nice day, rather than walking back to the hotel in Wimbledon, I would walk around the area for a while and I headed off towards Colliers Wood. This is a route I have walked many times when I lived in Wimbledon years ago, so imagine my surprise to find, as I was walking past the Merton Bus station, that on the other side of the road there was a large river with vegetation growing along its banks, a recreation ground and park on the far side and there were people, adults and children, walking around and clearly enjoying the area. None of this had been visible there when I was last in the vicinity, just a rundown series of buildings and tired looking shops. All of this has been redeveloped and now there is even a nature reserve. I spent a very pleasant hour walking around and having good look at what had been achieved. The whole area is a very clever combination of housing and shopping development mixed into an series of wildlife and recreational areas. In my opinion, it deserves recognition as an example of how to re-integrate people and nature in a very urban environment and it is an outstanding example of how we can rescue a very polluted river and restore it to a clean waterway that supports a huge range of wildlife. It has been brought back to life in every sense of that phrase.
To have taken what was just a polluted sewer and transformed it back to a clean river where you can see all sorts of fish once more swimming, including Brown Trout I am told, where there are frogs and dragonflies and birds in what was quite recently a rundown area with no wildlife amenity, is nothing short of miraculous. I don’t know who was responsible for doing that, presumably Merton Council, but they have my sincere thanks and admiration.