Greening the Limehouse Cut


Home and dry: reed beds for nesting birds on East London’s waterways

Water-loving birds in east London have been having a rocky time recently, as waves from passing boats have disturbed their nests. Now, the charity that looks after London’s waterways, the Canal & River Trust, is transforming an urban stretch of canal into a green haven for wildlife and waterfowl.

The Canal & River Trust is planting reed beds along the Limehouse Cut for the benefit of native wildlife. Land & Water, the UK’s leading dredging company, is supporting the project and is donating £6,000 of materials and the manpower to install the reed beds. Natural England has also offered a grant worth £9,600. The works are taking place along 100 metres of the canal at Violet Road and heading south towards Limehouse Basin.

River Lea, Three Mills

R. Lee, Three Mills (Leela O’Dea)

The reed beds are particularly needed on the Limehouse Cut as much of the waterway has hard, metal edges (see photo above). The waves caused by passing boats bounce back off the walls and can overturn or flood the nests of birds which have chosen to make their homes on the canal. By building a thick wall of reeds, the waves will be absorbed and coots, moorhens, ducks and other waterfowl will be able to nest safely. The gabion baskets that form the platform and anchor for the reed beds also offer excellent habitat for fish, offering protection from predation. The vibrant and colourful reeds will shoot roots into the water to provide new habitat for insects such as dragonfly and damselflies, as well as feeding and spawning areas for fish, helping to increase the biodiversity of the waterway (see the photo of a similar scheme on the Lee at Three Mills left).

Installing reed beds on Limehouse Cut

Installing the reed beds (John Archer)

Leela O’Dea, environment manager at the Canal & River Trust, said:  “This is an excellent opportunity to encourage ecological diversity on the Lee.  The Limehouse Cut is one of our more urban waterways and it’s great to see it being greened up while providing a safe place for a whole host of birds to nest.  I’m delighted that Land & Water has decided to support the appeal and will be helping the Trust to install the reed beds.  Our canals and rivers need your support and there are many opportunities to get involved, whether it’s volunteering on your local stretch or becoming a Friend of the waterways.”

Jayne Hornsby, Business Development Manager at Land & Water, said:  “Land & Water helps the Canal & River Trust carry out some extremely important work looking after the nation’s canals and rivers.  We whole heartedly support the work they are doing to regenerate our waterways and I think it is great that we can offer free support in this way to encourage these projects.  Let’s hope others will pitch in too!”

The reed bed is a very simple design.  Gabion baskets are held in place by brackets welded onto the steel pile wall.  The uppermost basket supports the coir roll, a growing media for plants and comes with already established native reeds, grasses, sedges and flowers to ensure a colourful display in its first season.  The submerged basket offers protection to fish from cormorant predation.

This project is part of a large scale partnership programme including a range of habitat and access improvements along the River Lea from Luton to London and is supported by Defra, DCLG and Natural England.

Find out more about volunteering with the Canal & River Trust here or become a Friend here.

Header photo by John Archer


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