Towards the end of January 2012 the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) together with the National Trust announced an increase in capacity at Box Hill for the Olympic Road Cycling Race to 15,000 spectators. To accommodate such a large number of people, it was also announced that the National Trust would be clearing a substantial area of scrub land, thickets and trees along the Zig Zag Road.
In addition, the London Mayor, Mr Boris Johnson announced a cycling marathon for up to 30,000 participants which is expected to mirror the Olympic Road Cycling route.
I see this in two ways. Firstly for those who are interested in the event and the spectacle that is the Olympic Games it is:
- A chance to see a free Olympic event (for the most part anyway)
- Probably the one and only chance most people will get to be a part of the Olympic Games
- More people will mean more money for the local economy
- It’s a great advertisement for British sport and cycling, particularly to young people
- It promotes exercise and good health
For those who are not interested, it will mean:
- More congestion and traffic during the event(s)
- A dramatic change to the landscape at Box Hill, which many will find unwelcome
- Significant increase in visitors to Box Hill and the erosion of the chalk scrub land and more litter, possibly to the detriment of wildlife
- More cyclists impacting on the roads in and around Box Hill
With regards to the works being carried out on Box Hill it would appear that LOCOG, together with Natural England and the National Trust have carried out a comprehensive ecological survey.
Many of the trees along the route are self-sown natural regeneration, probably from the storm of 1987 and could be thinned out to allow more light into the woodland edges which would increase the bio-diversity in the area.
The event will be staged at a time of year when the ground is hard and any disturbance will be minimised. The chalk soil is also more resistant to compaction than the surrounding clay soils in Mole Valley.
The event is for such a short time that the natural habitat will recover and should thrive with the ‘tidying up’ of the landscape.
I would hope to see a sustainable approach to the works including:
- Cut branches and tree stems can be stacked into ‘habitat piles’ which could form an important natural habitat
- Wood chips could be spread along the chalk edges to lessen the impact of pedestrians on the soil
- Felled trees could be left as they fall to prevent access to more sensitive areas
If the event(s) inspire even a few people to take up cycling and more active exercise, or simply encourage more people out into the countryside then it must be a good thing for people’s health and indeed the NHS.
Picture courtesy of Sean Harrison