Everards Meadow in Leicestershire is one of the country’s first new nature reserves, seeking to return water and wildlife to the city. The privately owned site has been developed by Everards in parallel with the building of its new Brewery and Tasting Rooms.
Everards Meadow features 70 acres of green space, intersected by pedestrian walkways to allow for public access. Situated on the southern outskirts of Leicester, south of the Soar Valley Way, the Meadow provides a link to the Grand Union Canal as well as the Great Central Way creating an interlinked set of natural spaces providing access to blue green infrastructure.
As the environment and climate have changed, the existing formal path network no longer provide the access or amenity required to maximise the potential of this wonderful natural asset. The Meadow has started to flood far more frequently and more dramatically leaving the site completely inaccessible to people and wildlife, especially for families and those with mobility differences.
As the challenges associated with flooding increase across the city, the addition of natural flood management interventions and increased flood storage within the Meadow provides a hugely important mechanism to reduce flood risk whilst also improving the natural environment for people and wildlife.
The objective at Everards Meadow was to kickstart wilding efforts by creating more space for water and more space for nature, all whilst making the site more accessible in a more extreme climate.
As the country’s leading environmental contracting specialist, Sanctus were delighted to be asked to deliver a series of environmental interventions to make this ambition a reality. In partnership with Leicester City Council and Everards Brewery, discrete areas within the Meadow were excavated to create shallow drainage basins, helping to reduce flood risk. Soil from the excavations was be used to create hibernacula and habitat mounds on site to provide shelter for wildlife and reducing the need for offsite disposal reducing costs and the environmental impacts of the works.
In addition, tree planting and planting of wetland plants helped to create new a woodland, while helping new wetland habitats to become established welcoming new species of insects and birds ahead of the completion of contracting works.
This project forms part of a wider programme of environmental improvements being completed along the River Soar and Grand Union Canal corridor by Sanctus and is very much the partner project to our works at Aylestone Meadows.
The 12-week contracting programme had three key phases; natural flood management, habitat creation to increase biodiversity and woodland and wetland planting.
Natural Flood Management
Sanctus are commitment to working sensitively, safely and sustainably and this approach informed our contracts works in close proximity to the River Soar and within the nature reserve site itself.
All earthworks on site, from drainage improvement to wetland creation and pond excavation, were sensitively designed to reduce material handling and machine movement.
The final network of drainage channels, shallows, scrapes and ponds has achieved in significantly increasing the storage capacity of the Meadow as well as creating wonderful news spaces for nature. These works will allow the areas of natural beauty to be appreciated to their fullest extent even in the wetter seasons of the year.
A large multi-level pond was excavated in the area on site most prone to flooding. Material from this area was retained on site and used to raise the level close to the pond creating wildflower banks that will help to attract increased populations of insects and pollinators vital to the ecological biodiversity of the Meadow.
Habitat Creation Increasing Biodiversity
Prior to Sanctus’ works on site, there were few trees with vast expanses of grass fields split by neglected hedgerows. The overall habitat was homogeneous and lacking in the heterogeneity necessary to support higher biodiversity.
Wilding of the site was kick started by planting 1,800 trees and 300 smaller plants accompanied by 4 differing types of seed including varieties intending to attract pollinators and birds. These seeded areas include two ‘bee banks’ with large quantities of pollinator loving plants to increase the bee population in the area. These banks compromised a sand / clay mix to allow for burrowing bees to enter the piles and contribute toward the campaign to create safe spaces for urban pollinators.
Woodland and Wetland Planting
Tree planting on site included multiple birch species (Betula pendula/pubescens & nigra), alder (Alnus glutinosa), willow (Salix chermesina), Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) and Giant Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in four separate zones. Both alder and willow are water loving trees, which are well suited to the location adjacent to the River Stour and will enjoy increasingly frequent flood events. Birch is an attractive pioneer tree species that is a haven for insects, supporting up to 334 species of insect (and the birds and animals that feed on them).
Planting occurred in multiple differing locations with the main objective of increasing niche availability and therefore boosting biodiversity and wildlife abundancy. A secondary objective of planting was to help improve drainage / reduce standing water within the site, achieved through the progressive growth of the trees as they require vast quantities of water to grow to their full potential.
Leicester City Council and Everards Brewery are both committed to maximising the social value of their investment which aligns perfectly with Sanctus’ commitment to leave a positive skills legacy wherever we work. At Everards Meadow this included creating opportunities for four full time assistants provided by Leicester City Council and a local charity, Leicestershire Cares, as well as opportunities for school visits and involvement in the ecological aspects of the programme.
Working within an Active Flood Plain
In planning for the delivery of works at Everards Meadow, Sanctus recognised the need to prepare for adverse weather conditions and corresponding fluctuations in river levels expected when working in a floodplain. This challenge was only increased due to the time of year that works would be undertaken with conditions such as snow, ice and frozen ground anticipated and experienced.
Through the selection of specialist plant and equipment and by working sensitively and with precision we continued to operate our plant-based works during extreme weather conditions, demonstrating our ability to work to a high standard even when the weather works against us.
Sanctus employ several emergency procedures and protocols whilst working in high flood risk areas. The site’s welfare facilities, and storage areas were situated away from areas of flood risk on higher ground to prevent any flood damage to equipment.
Any plant machinery used on site used HVO fuel and biodegradable hydraulic fluids to ensure that environmental impacts of machine work on site would be minimised if there was to be a spill, this would also work in conjunction with the use of spill kits. All works we realigned with upstream trigger levels specifying when action should be taken to leave working areas.
This approach was supported by Sanctus ensuring that all heavy plant movements, mobilisation activities and deliveries occurred during specific time windows when the Meadow would be less busy.
Water Quality and Environmental Protection Measures
Sanctus are committed to maintaining the highest standards of environmental protection and as such operated continuous water quality monitoring procedures throughout our works. In the first instance, water quality readings (Dissolved Oxygen, pH, Temperature, Turbidity) were recorded to establish a baseline condition. To further manage any risk associated with sediment mobilisation, sedimats and silt curtains were deployed through out our works. All contracting works were also supported by our in-house ecology team monitoring aquatic receptors and surveying for any potential protected species that may have resided within the site limits, although none were discovered we adopted these measures in place to ensure that no species, protected or otherwise were at risk.
Managing Public and Contractor Interaction
Everards Meadow is a hugely popular site especially during COVID travel restrictions. As such careful communication, public notices and effective signage were vital in helping to inform people of the planned works and our progress. A support team of local volunteers who knew the Meadow and understood local concerns, ensured clear communication with visitors, neighbouring residents, and commuters alike.
A highlight of the project was a group of people with mobility differences stopping our site team and saying a highly emotional thank you for making the site accessible for them as often much of it was unpassable due to elevated water level.
By using expert machine operatives, Sanctus were able to move material safely around Everards Meadow without the closure of any footpaths or cycleways. This also ensured that fencing could be kept to an absolute minimum and was only used for demarking discrete working areas, reducing impact on the site and costs to the client. This initiative was also agreed with the clients health and safety representative to ensure the best possible safety on site whilst not degrading the aesthetic of the site with extensive and non-essential fencing.
Sanctus operate to strict biosecurity controls on all our sites and appreciate the ecological harm that the introduction and / or spread of Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) can cause. Virkon S Aquatic was used if we entered a watercourse to help reduce the spread of diseases and fungus such as that carried by the North American Signal Crayfish (Pascifastacus Leniusculus) to our own native species.
There has never been a more important time for people to have access to the natural environment, especially in urban environments where social and economic inequality is greatest and physical and mental health are frequently challenged the most. There is an increasing body of evidence to show that natural factors such as biodiversity and abundance of wildlife and the presence of trees and water bodies or “blue space” can all enhance the psychologically restorative potential of green space. Given that this is a popular site for the public, maximising its restorative potential is simply the right thing to do for people and wildlife.
Sanctus are delighted to have helped create one of the country’s only new urban nature reserves and in the process kick started the process of urban wilding. We are confident that our work at Everards Meadow has created space for people, nature and water at the very heart of Leicestershire helping deliver environmental, ecological and social value for many years to come.