London 2012: Park life

12th July 2012


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Learn how environment professionals ensured that the Olympic park met its goals to conserve and promote biodiversity at the site

Biodiversity and ecology comprised one of five overarching sustainability aims for London 2012. The message was clear: “To conserve biodiversity, create new urban green spaces and bring people closer to nature through sport and culture.”

It was also one of the 12 themes in the sustainable development strategy, with the objective of protecting and enhancing the biodiversity and ecology of the Lower Lea Valley and other venue locations.

Much has been achieved since these stated aims were launched in 2007. Around 4,000 smooth newts, 100 toads and 300 common lizards have been relocated from the park, while specific wildlife installations, including nest banks for kingfishers and sand martins, otter holts, bat roosts and bird nest boxes have been installed.

At the same time, more than 4,000 trees, 60,000 bulbs and 374,000 plants (300,000 in wetland areas) have been planted, and post-games the area will include 45 hectares of habitat, most of it created from scratch, to replace what was lost by the construction of the park.

Plans and people in place

The ODA developed an Olympic park biodiversity action plan (BAP) in 2008 with assistance from Natural England. The BAP was a requirement for planning permission and covers the construction, games and legacy phases of the park.

The plan, which was incorporated into planning conditions for the park through a s.106 legal agreement, included specific targets, such as establishing 5.05 hectares of brownfield habitats, including log walls, stone-filled baskets and native tall herbs suitable for attracting lizards, birds, moths and linnets; and 23.69 hectares of species-rich grassland for invertebrates, flower beetles, ground bugs and bees.

The BAP contains species action plans (SAPs) for 28 species and species groups. The SAPs contained their own targets, of which examples include creating two kingfisher nesting banks, four ponds for amphibians, four grass snake egg-laying sites, 50 nest boxes for black redstarts and 150 bat boxes.

The ODA was also quick to embed ecologists, such as senior ecologist Kim Olliver, in the design and construction teams to ensure that it achieved the biodiversity and ecology goals set for the park.

Olliver, for example, first came on-site in December 2006, and managed ecological mitigation during the enabling works phase. She says the scale and complexity of the Olympic park development meant that close collaboration between all those involved was crucial.

On the ground

Prior to the construction of the park, 245 hectares of land had to be cleared. Although this was largely industrial development, much of it derelict, the area was not devoid of biodiversity. The ODA was keen to retain existing ecologically valuable habitats where possible, but some habitat translocation was necessary.

Pre-clearance surveys on the site for the aquatics centre, for instance, revealed a habitat for invertebrates such as brocade moths. It was relocated intact to a site at the nearby Old Ford Nature Reserve.

Elsewhere, new habitats were created using materials found on-site. When possible the ODA also used seeds and cuttings from plants found at the park site to recreate lost habitats. These were collected and stored prior to clearance.

Almost 1,700 smooth newts were found at Bully Point Pond near the old Eastway cycle track in the north of the park, and translocated to the newly created WaterWorks Nature Reserve in Lea Valley park. And although the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the site had not identified other suitable locations for newts, another sizeable population was discovered adjacent to Pudding Mill River, which was part of the canal network in the south of the park that needed to be infilled ahead of construction of the main stadium.

“The area was canalised and was full of rubbish, including at least one car, so was written off in the EIA as being unsuitable for newts,” explains Olliver. However, a contractor doing some utility work by the side of the river discovered a newt. Further investigation revealed a population numbering around 2,000.

In with the new

Much of the park’s new infrastructure accommodates habitat. Bat and bird boxes are built into many structures and bridges. Overall, there are 66 bat habitats and 178 bird habitats created on bridges in the park.

Innovative and sustainable solutions were developed, such as using cut-offs from utility pipes from the site as bird boxes. There are more boxes installed on the various park venues, bringing the total number to 635; an additional 40 will be installed by 2014.

Olliver is hopeful that the new habitats will encourage bats to populate the area, as no bat roosts were discovered at the site, although plenty use it for foraging. “There are watercourses throughout the park, and bats use these as navigation corridors for foraging as they are also where insects congregate.”

The creation of a continuous dark corridor along the watercourses, by limiting the impact of lighting, should help bats.

The roof of the main press centre provides another example of innovative design to support ecology. It boasts a 2,400m2 “brown” roof of gravel, moss and logs reclaimed from other areas of the park. There are also 130 bird and bat boxes installed on it.

The photovoltaic (PV) panels on the centre are designed to enhance the ecological value of the roof. The “patchwork” of PV panels will provide sheltering habitats, and should be particularly attractive to the black redstart bird, one of the species the park aims to encourage.

Going forward

The long-term biodiversity objectives and ecological gains of the park will not be realised until the legacy transformation is complete in 2014. At the start of the games, 25 hectares of new habitat had been installed. The transformation phase will see the size of habitat almost double to achieve the 45-hectare target.

A 10-year maintenance and management plan ensures regular monitoring and maintenance going forward. There are plans for the park to become a site of importance for nature conservation.

The trees – mostly native species, such as ash, London plane and poplar – have been carefully selected to ensure they are “future proof” against climate change. And while the wetland bowls and rare wet woodlands situated in the north of the park create habitat, they will also help manage floodwater, protecting new housing and venues and 5,000 existing properties from a one-in-100-years storm.

Kim Olliver
Environment monitoring coordinator, CLM

Kim Olliver first worked on the Olympic park as a senior ecologist with responsibility for ecological mitigation on the enabling works project. She is now CLM’s environmental monitoring coordinator for park operations. “My role has changed quite a lot over the past five and half years,” she comments.

Her original role was with Atkins and lasted from December 2006 to June 2009. It involved putting in place processes and plans to protect and enhance various species and habitats.

Olliver explains that she was responsible for the initial surveying of the site to identify species and for the translocation of, among others, bats, invertebrates, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and water voles. She also helped to develop plans to retain and manage areas of existing ecological value as well as create new habitats and hibernacula – “safe havens” – both inside and outside the park.

“There was an ecology chapter as part of the environmental statement from the impact assessment, and that set the baseline for ecology,” she explains.

“It told me where different species were located, including the protected species. I also had some recommendations from the original consultants. My initial role was to manage ecological issues, whether that was getting contractors to put fencing round retained trees or instructing specialists to translocate a species.”

In June 2009, Olliver was seconded to CLM, the ODA’s delivery partner, as ecology manager in the environment and sustainability team (see p.18). In keeping with the working model for the team adopted by CLM, Olliver spent half her time on site-wide management of ecological issues and the remainder as the single point of contact for landscaping and the Eton Dorney rowing lakes.

From June 2010, Olliver worked part time solely for park logistics as its ecological expert, before returning to a full-time role in January 2011, as environment manager with Thames Water, to work on the water main replacement project at the site.

“That involved ecology to a certain extent, because I had to manage a replacement planting scheme, as well as more general environment-related work, such as writing the environment management and waste management plans,” explains Olliver.

In October 2011, she moved to her current position, which involves managing all environmental monitoring operations across the park.

Olliver is an AIEMA, a member of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, associate auditor and CEEQUAL assessor.


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