London 2012 was always going to be the ‘green games’, restorative ecology was at the heart of the winning bid, but have they kept their promise?
Before work on restoring the site of the future 2012 Games even begun it was met with criticism and cynicism by many, phrases such as ‘they’re just going to concrete over everything’ were being thrown around. As well as this, historic allotment sites were due to be bulldozed to make way for the Olympic park and local holders were understandably outraged, with them went little relics of an old London, rich in patches of woodland and wildflowers, along with the wildlife they supported. For many, it seemed impossible to combine modern sports venues with a rich and green landscape.
Work begun by cleaning 2 million tonnes of contaminated soil, poisoned by old industrial workshops and depots long since abandoned. Once the landscape was clean, work could begin creating a landscape and habitat. As much as possible of the existing plant life and wildlife was removed, saved and reintroduced; alongside existing elements, many new components were added. Overall nearly 700 bird and bat boxes, 4,000 trees and over 400,000 plants and bulbs have been carefully installed, planted or replanted to create a densely woven mix of habitats. These include reed beds, wet woodlands, annual and perennial wildflower meadows, and even manicured lawns, designed to be home to everything from kingfishers, herons, linnets and swifts to grass snakes, lizards, bats and honey bees. A river has also been resurrected from the original site. The northern part of the site is now a rich nature reserve, and the southern part – although more urban – still has its emphasis on biodiversity with many bird species happily nesting in the grounds; kingfishers, pipits, wheatears and stonechats are among the many birds to have made an appearance, and a short-eared owl was even spotted winging its way between the stands in the main stadium.
The fact that so many mainstream conservation groups have got behind the wider Olympics biodiversity plans reflects the sheer amount of talking that went on between everyone involved. “We had to convince people that we really meant it,” says David Stubbs, LOCOG’s Head of Sustainability, “and that it wasn’t just something we put in the pitch to boost London’s chances.” It wasn’t easy. “A lot of people were pretty cynical to start with”, he admits. “They assumed we’d start dropping our commitments once we’d won the bid. So it came as a surprise when we kept producing targets, action plans and so on.”
It remains to be seen how the long-term plans for the country after the games have gone will be realised. However, it is undeniable that the Olympics have done what they said they would do: providing a games that has supported, improved, and celebrated biodiversity and green spaces in London and beyond.
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