A couple of months ago, you may remember that I blogged about a makeover planned for Pymmes Brook, and asked for volunteers.  Well, that went ahead, and was a great success, and was soon followed by another session of litter picking.  After that, things went quiet for a while, and you might have assumed that was it.

However, that is very far from “it”, as there’s still plenty to do down at the Brook.  Thames21, who organised the sessions, published a report in December which was partly based on their findings from tests on those days.  They found very low oxygen levels in the water.  They’re determined to keep going, and are gaining support within Enfield Council .

Now the year has turned and the weather is starting to improve (at least, that’s the theory) they should have the right conditions for another go,  and they’ll be back with another session, followed by a session in the pub, on 21 January.  To find out more about what they’re going to all this trouble for, I spoke to Aimee, the organiser of these events…

First of all, can you say who you are, what you do for Thames21, and what Thames21 is?

Hi, I’m Aimee Felus and I work for Thames21, primarily on projects in the Lea Valley.  Thames21 is a waterway action charity. We work with communities across Greater London to improve our rivers, canals, ponds and lakes for people and wildlife.  I work mainly on Love the Lea: our vision is for the rivers of East London to be as healthy as possible and for pollution to be challenged and prevented.

Why is Thames21 interested in Pymmes Brook?

We’re interested in all the waterways in London, but those of the Lea Valley are particularly close to our heart.  They are some of the most polluted in the country and have had a raw deal for centuries.  But those of us who live in east London and the rivers themselves deserve better.  Pymmes Brook gets pollution from lots of sources and needs some TLC.  Pollution comes from road run-off, phosphates from dishwasher tablets and sewage from misconnected homes.  It is in a very poor state.  But the Pymmes also has great potential to be better, and we want to help it reach its potential.

How much rubbish have you found in the Brook so far?

So far we have removed 4 truck-loads of rubbish from the Brook which has kindly be taken away by the council.  That was just in one small area off Tanners End Lane.

You’ve also tested the water quality there.  What did you find?

We conducted a study with students from Queen Mary, University of London.  As we suspected we found that the rivers of the Lea Valley are in a truly dire state.

How much difference can litter picking make to the water quality?

Litter picking is important for several reasons – when it forms rubbish dams like it had on the Pymmes it stops the water flowing and further reduces any oxygen in the water, making it hard for animals to survive.  Also chemicals from the rubbish can leach out into the water, increasing the pollution levels.  We want to take a holistic approach to improving the rivers.  If they look unpleasant and unsightly it will be harder to get people to care about them as they won’t enjoy being near them.  We want people to love and nurture their rivers in every way.

Isn’t the Brook always going to be polluted because it runs under and alongside the North Circular?

The Pymmes suffers from run-off pollution from the roads, like all our urban rivers.  This is one of the reasons it will always be harder to ensure urban rivers are clean and healthy.  But there are ways to minimise the pollution.  Many countries such as Australia and America are ahead of us on this one.  We can have wetlands and water features that take the storm water off the roads, slow it down and filter it before discharging it into local rivers.  They don’t have to be great big schemes and will improve many aspects of our environment, not just the waterways.  We’re looking into creating these wetlands in parks as part of our Love the Lea campaign.

What’s the most unusual thing you ever found in a river?

A colleague was presented with a hand grenade by a volunteer on the Thames foreshore.  Not to be recommended!  We do try to urge volunteers to leave any explosives in situ so we can call the police!

What’s the best thing you ever found in a river?

A newt!  Unfortunately the rivers in east London are so polluted that not much can survive, so it’s great and heart-warming when we find pockets of thriving habitat.

Can you paint us a picture of what the Brook might be like, a few years down the line?

Our vision for the Brook is of a healthy river free of pollution, with good flow to oxygenate the water, interesting habitat, a robust native plant population fringing the brook and wildlife in the water and the bankside.  We’d like to create wetlands to absorb storm water and filter it before it gets to the river, which would act as a buffer and provide great wildlife habitat too.  A thriving river corridor –  somewhere for people to enjoy and cherish!

Where can people find out more, and get involved?

Please do give me a call on 07554 402727 or email aimee.felus@thames21.org.uk.  You can also visit our Love the Lea website or find us on Facebook.

Our next clean up event is on Saturday 21st Jan from 10am at Tanners End Lane [Map].  Afterwards we’ll head to the pub [Map] to draw up an action plan for improving the Pymmes.  It’ll take time, but we will get there!

Full details of the event can be found in on Love the Lea’s flyer, reproduced in the previous post.