River Restoration Case Study

“The rejuvenation of Ladywell Fields means the area is now an oasis of calm for people to socialise and relax in” – Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

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Ladywell Fields, looking north | by Andy Worthington

Ladywell Fields, London Borough of Lewisham, was a former featureless green space but following successful river restoration has become a riverside haven, for both local people and nature. The renewal of the park was specifically designed to make the space feel safer, and to focus on the park’s unique asset – the River Ravensbourne.  This case study is an output of QUERCUS – Quality Urban Environments for River Corridor Users and Stakeholders – a project financed through EU LIFE, the European Commission’s environmental fund. It was a partnership between the London Borough of Lewisham, Chester City Council in NW England and ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. Each city features a river corridor with similar problems but of varying size, environmental and social characteristics.

ladywell2The key features and changes:

The secondary river channel

This was created to enhance the visibility and accessibility of the river and provide a focus for the park.  As well as enhancing the landscape visually, the new river channel also provides huge benefits ecologically, flood storage capacity, an a place to play or paddle.

A new wildlife area

Formerly a fenced off and neglected ‘nature reserve’, the wildlife area is now part of the regenerated park, comprising coppiced woodland, meadow areas and deadwood habitats.  The old station ticket office has been re-opened as an environmental education centre, and a new path to the station has been created.

The design work was carried out by Landscape Architects BDP with construction costs of £1.8m.  The park, completed in 2011 was awarded a London Planning Award (Winner: Best New Public Space) 2013, Street Design Award (Winner: Urban Green Space Category) 2012 and a New London Award (Commendation) 2012.

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In order to make Ladywell Fields a more popular open space, the northern part of the park was re-landscaped to focus on its previously hidden natural asset – the River Ravensbourne. The vision was to create a well used and well loved park, focused on the river, which would be seen by local people as an important resource within an urban inner city environment. Prior to the project the River Ravensbourne ran along the edge of Ladywell Fields in an artificially widened and toe-boarded channel. The restoration has created a new river channel, bringing around half of the Ravensbourne’s flow into the centre of the park in a more natural V-shaped, meandering channel, to be seen and enjoyed by all. The previously formless landscape, lacking character and interest has thus been transformed by the new river channel, its banks and the use of the resulting earth on site to create terraces, views and improve accessibility.

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A new river channel featured new footbridges, a backwater with viewing platform, an ephemeral pool creating interest near the newly opened cafe, a copse of trees to provide shade and swathes of wildflower meadow providing splashes of colour in this vibrant, natural landscape. Innovative water play was also introduced using a series of boreholes to extract water out of the underground reserves. These are activated by a lever pump at ground level which splashes water into a dry rock ravine. An enhanced footpath network with new lighting, boardwalks and park furniture creates a safe environment and provides new links to surrounding areas connecting the local community to their parkland.

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