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London's Green Games: biodiversity

Kingfisher [10KB]

When we imagine the capital city of London it is likely that most of us will think of a sprawling metropolis packed with large buildings, busy pavements, traffic jams and well-known historical landmarks.  Few people will associate the nation’s capital with nature and wildlife.

Historically, the Lower Lea Valley, where the main Olympic activity will take place, has been home to an abundance of animal and plant life, but the years of industrialisation, followed by neglect, has had some serious impacts.  Despite this, the Lea Valley’s post-industrial landscape is still has patches of biodiversity.  

Species found in the Lower Lea Valley include:

  • Bats
  • Common lizard
  • Water Vole
  • Woodpecker
  • Starling
  • Kingfisher
  • Black redstart
  • London planes
  • Pear trees
  • Cherry trees
  • Weeping poplar

A number of projects are currently underway to ensure that wildlife is not harmed by the construction process, and that when the Games are finished, biodiversity is actually improved. These projects include moving fish from the river around the construction site to free flowing and clean water a couple of hundred miles further up up the Lea, and ensuring that ground-dwelling creatures such as newts, frogs and toads are relocated pending the end of the building phase. (ODA, 2007)

Eventually, the Olympic Park will be planted with native species, including oak, ash, willow, birch, hazel, holly, blackthorn and hawthorn, providing another home for wildlife in the middle of the city. 

There are concerns that despite the ODA’s efforts, constructing the Olympic site will have some negative consequences.  The London Natural History Society is particularly worried about the impact of the new car and coach parks on the area’s trees, some of which are over 100 years old. 

Global biodiversity

In our globalised world, a 'big build' in London could have repercussions for biodiversity thousands of miles away. Augmented demand for timber can result in unsustainable logging, with devastating consequences for ancient forest areas and other valuable ecosystems.

Responding to this, the ODA have promised that only sustainable timber will be used during construction of the London 2012 Games. However this pledge has itself caused controversy amongst environmental groups who have criticised the ODA’s decision to use the government’s Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) as proof of sustainability (ODA, 2007). According to Greenpeace UK CPET is a 'license to wreck ancient forests and has been an utter failure at stopping illegal timber flooding into Government building sites'.

The London 2012 sustainability plan has this to say:

Getting ready

The Olympic Park site is mainly former industrial land which was badly degraded and highly polluted. However, there are still areas of important natural habitat which will be conserved where possible and which will form key parts of the future landscape of the Park. They will be linked to the wider countryside through natural corridors.

Enhancing biodiversity is central to the programme. Land and waterways will be improved, and the most valuable natural resources will be enhanced where they are found. Where areas are cleared, wildlife will be relocated temporarily and re-introduced at a later stage.

Games time

During the Games themselves, a focus on biodiversity will be maintained through:

  • safeguarding habitats and wildlife at outdoor venues by careful venue layout planning, fencing and signage;
  • endorsing and implementing special projects as part of a London 2012 Biodiversity Strategy; and
  • ensuring that biodiversity information is part of the London 2012 One Planet Education Programme.

Legacy

The Olympic Park Masterplan provides for 102 hectares of open space making the Park the largest new urban green space in Europe. The area will benefit from:

  • enhanced water and land habitats;
  • open water and wetlands; and
  • species-rich grasslands.

The types of plant used will be native to south east England (and ideally of locally-grown stock), which are suited to predicted future climates. This will help the whole site to be better adapted to climate change, through its ability to cope with heavy rainfall as well as providing greenery to provide shade.

Getting started with the BL collections

Gibson, C W D.  Brownfield : red data; the values artificial habitats have for uncommon invertebrates. 
English Nature, 1998. 
Shelfmark    3775.106070 273 DSC

Shipp, Diana.  Usborne spotter’s guide: urban wildlife
Usborne, 2006. 
Shelfmark    YK.2007.a.13062

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