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The centre of London's amateur sporting world


Football Pitches
Tree Nursery
Hackney Weekend
The Hackney Marshes are a region of grassland, formed by the periodic flooding of the River Lea. Thanks to the wet and unstable condition of the land, very few houses were ever built here. Pubs were even rarer, although there was one: the White House Inn. It was reputedly the haunt of thieves, muggers and highwaymen, like the infamous Dick Turpin. Even policemen were scared to go there.
That was a long time ago. In Medieval times, the marshes were drained. Then, after World War II, they were used as a dumping ground for the rubble of bombed buildings. This, however, had a surprisingly positive effect. These pieces of brick and stone became the foundations for dozens of sports pitches - a development that made Hackney a mecca for amateur players.
The marshes have a long sporting history. Cricket and football clubs were set up here before the turn of the 20th century. Today there are 88 full-size football pitches, where hundreds of games are played every week. Sunday is a particularly important day, as this is when the amateur leagues play their matches. Some young Londoners have cut their teeth here before breaking into the professional game. David Beckham and Bobby Moore are just two examples.
The marshes' sporting heritage will be extended in the summer of 2012, when part of the Olympic Park will open here. There will also be improvements to the amateur scene, including new pitches, changing facilities and cycle paths. The Hackney Marshes Centre is part of these changes, and it's open already. It has dressing rooms for sports players, and classrooms for school groups. There's a cafe too, with views across the football pitches.
Although the 2012 Olympics required that some of the marshland was tarmaced, plans are already in place for its restoration. New habitats for animals will be created, encouraging new species to set up homes here. Lots of trees and flowers will be planted, to ensure the marshes remain a green space London can be proud of.
Some of this good work is being carried out already, by a team of volunteers called the Hackney Marshes User Group. They're based at the Tree Nursery, an organisation that grows trees from cuttings or seeds until they're large enough to be planted in the wild. The site provides a home for many species of insect, bird and fox.
The group run weekly sessions for new volunteers, where anyone can come to learn a little bit about gardening, and conservation. They also do courses on subjects like herbal medicine and growing your own vegetables.

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