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Work complete on new riverside park and nature spot

Published on 13 September 2016

A NEW wildlife park has been created on the banks of Leicester’s River Soar as part of a major scheme to improve flood defences.

Final touches are now being made to Ellis Meadows, a 20-acre park and nature reserve that has been created within the grounds of the former John Ellis School, in Belgrave.

The project has been carried out by the Environment Agency, in partnership with Leicester City Council, as part of a wider scheme to reduce the risk of flooding to over 2,000 homes in the city.

The area has been landscaped to provide a large grassed area for informal sports and ball games. Over 600 new trees have been planted to create a new woodland and green boundary to the park, and an attractive wildflower meadow will also help attract and support pollinating insects, bats and insect-eating birds such as swifts and swallows. 

At the heart of Ellis Meadows is a new pond area and wetland habitat, bridged by boardwalks to encourage people to explore the aquatic wildlife for themselves.

‎A picnic area has been created between the new wetland area and the river banks. A new path and cycle track has been constructed along the raised, western boundary of the park, which is lit by rows of solar powered floor-mounted lights.

New signs have been installed, including information boards that explain the park’s importance as a natural environment and tell the story of John Ellis, a local landowner who was instrumental in the development of Leicester through farming and engineering in the 18th century.

As part of the landscaping, areas of ground have been lowered to create more open space capable of holding floodwater and keep it away from nearby properties.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “The River Soar is a wonderful riverside habitat, and by working with the Environment Agency we’re making the most of this natural asset as part of a major programme of work to tackle flood risks facing the city.

“Ellis Meadows is a great example of what we are trying to achieve. The new woodland, wildflower meadow and wetland habitat will help attract wildlife into the city, and the excellent new cycle track, seating area and green space will hopefully encourage more people to take time out to enjoy some of the beautiful riverside that Leicester boasts.

“Perhaps most importantly, the work that the Environment Agency has carried out will provide an important flood defence for hundreds of homes in the nearby community.”

Paul Lockhart, Area Flood Risk Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “This innovative scheme is a great example of how through partnership working, flood risk can be reduced in an urban area to protect homes and businesses, whilst achieving benefits for the environment and local community.

“We are delighted with the works completed so far and are currently working with Leicester City Council to design the third phase, which will reduce the flood risk to even more properties.”

Leicester City Council nature conservation officer Helen O’Brien said: “Ellis Meadows is a new haven for wildlife. The wetland area is already attracting grey heron and little egrets, which we just wouldn’t have seen here before. Environments like this play a really important role in maintaining and improving biodiversity and natural habitats along the river corridor.”

The Environment Agency was awarded up to £33milllion of Government funding for a six-year programme of flood risk management at key locations across the city.

Leicester City Council has been working closely with the EA on the project to manage flooding in the city by using sustainable green methods that have multiple benefits rather than a more traditional practice of building barriers to stop the water.  Using these new techniques is helping transform open spaces and create better access along the river, improve cycle links and create new nature habitats to develop local biodiversity.

Along with the creation of Ellis Meadows, the Environment Agency is also close to completing improvements to the Co-op sports pitches on land between Birstall Road and the river, north of Watermead Way.

A wildlife area and new footpaths is also being created between Bath Street and the River Soar, along with improvements to the cycle path next to the Melton Brook.

The Ellis Meadows project was supported by £164,000 of Local Growth Fund cash, following a successful bid by the Leicester and Leicestershire Economic Partnership for up to £1.5million to support The River Soar Grand Union Canal Access Project.