Restoration of the Mayes Brook in Mayesbrook Park, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, was an opportunity to create an ecological and community focal point within a broader environmental regeneration project. It was designed to produce the UK’s first climate change adaptation public park. This restoration of an urban river within a barren park landscape is a good example of an approach that combines flood storage, biodiversity enhancement and adaptation to climate change within a city environment. This study explores some of the key benefits of the planned river restoration and the wider park ‘greenspace’ improvements, in terms of their impact on ecosystem services. The urban setting means that restoration and improvements contribute to ‘regulatory services’ (regulation of air and water quality, microclimate and flood risk) affecting the local community. Enhanced recreation and tourism (cultural services) are also likely to bring benefits, since many people in the borough lack gardens or ready access to other green spaces.
Robert Oates, Executive Director of the Thames River Restoration Trust introduces a field visit. Source: Ecosystems Knowledge Network
The benefits for ‘supporting services’, which are hard to quantify but important in maintaining ecosystem functions, are significant in terms of nutrient cycling and providing habitats for wildlife. This latter ensures there are animals and plants capable of colonising the wider landscape as the habitat improves. These improved habitats also serve as ‘stepping stones’ for wildlife to move across and between limited and fragmented suitable habitat in the urban landscape. Due to the urban setting and lack of biodiversity in Mayesbrook Park and the Mayes Brook, restoring the river does not boost ‘provisioning services’ (things that can be taken from ecosystems to support human needs, such as fresh water, food, fibre and fuel, and so forth). Many of the more important benefits of the Mayesbrook Park restoration can be seen in social and health aspects, enhancing the quality of life in the borough and the wellbeing of local communities.
In fact, if the annual value of services to health, risk and culture are pooled, despite there remaining many unmeasured or possibly unquantifiable benefits, they will account for over 90% of the total annual ecosystem service benefits for the Mayesbrook Park restoration scheme. The overall benefits are substantial relative to the investment. The lifetime value of restoring the site across the four ecosystem service categories (provisioning, regulatory, cultural and supporting) yields a grand total of calculated benefits of around £27 million, even if ‘likely significant positive benefits’ for the regulation of air quality and microclimate are excluded. This is compared to the estimated costs of the whole Mayesbrook Park restoration scheme at £3.8 million including the river restoration works. This produces an excellent lifetime benefit-to-cost ratio of £7 of benefits for every £1 invested. Urban river restoration would therefore be of major public value, fully justifying the planned investment and providing firm evidence that investment in urban ‘green infrastructure’ is highly favourable for the health and wellbeing of local people and the economic improvement of deprived wards. Restoring the vitality and function of the natural environment tends to enhance or maintain benefits across all ecosystem service categories. This contrasts with traditional single element solutions, which tend to maximise only the targeted services and often are associated with unintended consequences for other interconnected services. The case for the application of ecosystem-based solutions to environmental management problems is thus substantiated.
View of one of the lakes to be restored. Source: Thames Rivers Trust
The study sets out a range of options for further enhancing public value from
the restoration scheme, through new or redesigned initiatives or in management
practices. These include:
- enhancing the hydrological function of the whole park landscape and infrastructure
- using reed bed filtration to improve water quality in a bypassed reach of river and at lake inflows and outflows
- improving climate regulation through energy-efficient building design, installation of renewable energy sources and reusing tree and other park trimmings as biomass fuel (or mulch) on site
- optimising park restoration design to provide health and educational resources to the local community.
Assessing the ecosystem service implications for all of these options, and others that may be identified in later phases of planning and research, would help to support the economic case for their implementation. This case study provides evidence to help improve the current scheme design and the greater integration of social, economic and ecological benefits in future initiatives. The results of this assessment are valuable not only in the Mayesbrook Park restoration project but are also applicable to wider urban river and urban area restoration initiatives and will support future research in this field. It will also help in achieving ‘good ecological potential’ for the Seven Kings water body as part of the Water Framework Directive.
Restoration of the Mayes Brook – Executive summary – full text
What is this initiative about?
This project illustrates how an assessment on the services that nature provides for people helped in the regeneration of Mayesbrook Park. The transformation allows the park to better serve the local community and also the city of London under a changing climate with increased flood risks.
The park is in the Borough of Barking and Dagenham, one of the twenty most deprived boroughs in the UK. It was previously under-used and had few amenities, whilst the river was confined to a concrete channel and lay behind a metal fence, providing little value to wildlife or people.
How does it reflect the ecosystem approach?
An assessment of the ecosystem services provided by the park both now and in the future identified its role in reducing flood risk, as well as its value for recreation and wildlife. The assessment illustrated that £7 of benefits will be provided for every £1 invested in restoration of the park, which provided the basis for a funding partnership worth £1.6 million.
In valuing the ecosystem services, the project reflects the ecosystem approach, in that “Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach”. The project also considers the long term effects of climate change and the associated risk of increased flooding and increased summer temperatures. As such it reflects the ecosystem approach, which states “consider mitigating actions to cope with long-term changes such as climate change”.
Progress so far
The first phase of the project includes re-routing the Mayes Brook along a more natural course, renewing the disused lakes and planting trees. The second phase includes the restoration of the two lakes, one for boating and one for angling, which will also improve habitat conditions for wildlife. A visitor and facility centre will be built, along with a café and permanent exhibition on what the park is doing to adapt to climate change.
Challenges and lessons learned
The project highlights how an economic appraisal of the benefits that an area of land can provide for people, can bring about significant change. The clear demonstration of the value of the project helped reassure and engage representatives of the local community.
It is also an example of partnership working, and of a scale of park regeneration that was only made possible by the combination of staff, funding and technical resources provided by the various partners involved. It illustrates the potential for such a project to cause a resurgence of public interest in nature and access to the outdoors. The involvement of the Environment Agency as a partner helped in the process of securing the numerous approvals needed (flood risk, contaminated land, soil disposal etc.).