Science & Environment

Project to turn grey Britain green

The dock lies at the lower section of the Lea Valley
Image caption Cody Dock lies at the lower section of the Lea Valley

Sitting on a bench in the April sunshine, Al Cree is listing the birds he has spotted recently.

"There's a kingfisher that flies past now and again," he says. "We have herons and cormorants regularly around here."

He points to the river, where he lives on a houseboat.

"Reed beds have been put in to clean water and attract wildlife," he explains. "When we first got here, the site was desolate, there was no green and hardly anyone came here. Lately more wildlife is coming into the area, and people can see it."

Al is one of an army of volunteers who have regenerated Cody Dock in east London.

Unlike the traditional bucolic setting, it stands under the gaze of the sky scrapers of Canary Wharf, accessed through a grey industrial estate on the outskirts of Canning Town.

Image caption The dock's main gate - arched with metre-high metal letters - proudly proclaims its name
Image caption The site has views of Canary Wharf

Built in the 1870s, Cody Dock was once an industrial heartland, employing thousands of people at gas and chemical works.

But in the past 25 years it lay abandoned, blocking people from walking the length of the Lea River.

The effort of volunteers and local businesses has created a green space where once there was concrete and piles of industrial waste.

"Since we began the project, the site has gone from being a dumping ground for 10ft-high piles of industrial waste, to a green, living haven for kingfishers, cormorants, reed warblers, teal and redshanks," says Simon Myers, who leads the Gasworks Dock Partnership.

Wildlife corridors

To mark the final step in the project, the Royal Horticultural Society has donated hundreds of plants in raised beds to provide habitat for birds, bees and butterflies.

It is campaigning to turn 6,000 grey spaces green over the next three years, involving everything from planting along public walls, to sewing wild flowers on roundabouts, to creating community gardens.

"Plants play a number of different roles with positive environmental benefits," says Andrea Van-Sittart, head of communities at the RHS. "The more green the better in providing connecting spaces to form corridors for wildlife."

The RHS says gardens account for about 25% of the land in most cities, and domestic gardens contain about 25% of all the trees found in the UK outside of forests and woodland.

According to its science team, practical tips to encourage wildlife and "fight the concrete jungle" include:

  • Ensure that every available space in front and back gardens contains planting
  • Minimise/avoid paving over large areas of the garden
  • Plant a variety of plant types and species to support wildlife
  • Consider reducing the area of lawn to replace with permanent planting.

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