London’s most voracious worms

I’m very excited about Crossrail. The tunnelling started last week. Over the next two years Phyllis & Ada (pictured), Victoria & Elizabeth, Sophia & Mary and an unnamed couple will bore 21km of twin tunnels through the centre of London. The 148m long machines will pass below Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Whitechapel and Canary Wharf at depths of up to 35m.

It’s not just the eye watering ambition of the tunnelling that appeals. I was rather taken by Boris Johnson’s likening of Phyllis & Ada to ‘voracious worms nibbling their way under London’. Thought of in those terms, Crossrail is a fantastic invisible spectacle for the urban safari-goer.

What about the spoil? Can we expect vast squiggly mounds of digested soil to spring up at intervals across the capital, like the miniature worm casts you see dotted about lawns? The reality, though less sculptural, is just as wild. Over 4 million cubic metres of excavated London earth will be loaded on barges bound for Wallasea Island in Essex. There it will be used to create a wetland habitat for avocets, redshanks and one day – the RSPB hopes – maybe even spoonbills!