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Rewilding Urban Sewer

River Wandle, in south London, is undergoing a renaissance. The waterway, which lends its name to the London Borough of Wandsworth, had become little more than an urban sewer, but is slowly being revived and restored as a free-flowing chalk stream.

In 1805, the river was described as “the hardest worked river for its size in the world.” It was an urban sewer, poisoned by bleach and dyes from the 90 mills along its length. It was later straightened and canalised to speed water away from homes and businesses.

But in this urban rewilding project, the Wandle Trust is restoring the river to its former glory as a beautiful chalk stream. Almost all the world’s chalk streams are found in England. They are rare and threatened habitats.

The Trust has been putting back features that harboured life in the river, which had been pulled out by overzealous engineers. It runs community clean-ups every month, enlisting local people to remove the junk dumped in the water. It has been creating passages through the weirs to enable eels to migrate upstream. Children in local schools have been raising trout to restock the river.

The children’s involvement has encouraged them to see the Wandle as part of their landscape and to start playing in it once more. The project is rewilding children as well as the natural world. And it provides a valuable wildlife corridor right into the heart of the city.

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