Work­ing for Na­ture

River and wa­ter­ways con­ser­va­tion, Lon­don

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

Frances Dis­more co-or­di­nates a wa­ter­ways clean-up group in Lon­don

All over the world, de­voted in­di­vid­u­als are do­ing their bit by vol­un­teer­ing to be in­volved with wildlife. Jill Shearer meets the leader of a wa­ter­ways clean-up group in Tot­ten­ham, north Lon­don.

Ur­ban north Lon­don is not known for its thriv­ing wildlife pop­u­la­tions or flour­ish­ing ecosys­tem. Decades-old prob­lems – fly tip­ping, road runoff, in­dus­trial pol­lu­tants, sewage leak­ing from in­ad­e­quate plumb­ing – have con­tam­i­nated large sec­tions of wa­ter­way in this densely pop­u­lated area. In ad­di­tion, wide­spread es­tab­lish­ment of colonies of float­ing pen­ny­wort ( Hy­dro­cotyle ra­nun­cu­loides – a rapidly grow­ing, densely mat­ted aquatic plant now listed on Sched­ule 9 of the Wildlife and Coun­try­side Act’s re­stric­tions on plant­ing) has re­duced wa­ter oxy­gen to crit­i­cal lev­els, threat­en­ing fish, am­phib­ians and in­ver­te­brates and the crea­tures that feed on them.

It could be all too easy to see the prob­lems as over­whelm­ing, but a mo­ti­vated com­mu­nity of vol­un­teers is be­gin­ning to make a dif­fer­ence. Since set­ting up the Stone­bridge Lock Coali­tion in 2017, north Lon­doner Frances Dis­more has led 18 clean-up events, with some 218 vol­un­teers con­tribut­ing 642 work hours. To­gether they’ve col­lected 580 bags of rub­bish plus a ver­i­ta­ble moun­tain of fly-tipped waste in­clud­ing two mopeds, five mat­tresses, 17 lorry tyres and two 55-inch flat-screen TVs from the River Lee Di­ver­sion, Lee Nav­i­ga­tion and Pymmes Brook.

And the group doesn’t just re­move rub­bish. “We have un­der­taken botan­i­cal and mam­mal sur­veys, in­stalled nest­ing and bat boxes, and con­verted a one-tonne bag of fly-tipped rub­ble into a hi­ber­nac­u­lum us­ing na­tive tree logs do­nated by City of Lon­don

Any­one, any­where can im­prove the qual­ity of their lo­cal green space

Cor­po­ra­tion Ep­ping For­est,” Frances says.

An ef­fec­tively func­tion­ing ecosys­tem with a broad di­ver­sity of flora and fauna is the ul­ti­mate aim. “If you don’t have an abun­dance and di­ver­sity of plants and in­sects at the bot­tom of the food chain you will have no wa­ter voles, no fish, no king­fish­ers or ot­ters,” Frances ob­serves.

The Coali­tion is one of a num­ber of lo­cal groups sup­ported by Thames21, a char­ity es­tab­lished to con­serve and im­prove Lon­don’s wa­ter­ways, and to ed­u­cate and em­power lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to get in­volved in con­ser­va­tion and river ecol­ogy. There are now 22 such ‘badged groups’ in­volved in lo­cal projects along the cap­i­tal’s wa­ter­ways.

The re­wards – a king­fisher sight­ing, a pre­vi­ously un­recorded wa­ter-vole pop­u­la­tion, glimpses of barn owls, weasels and ev­i­dence of the pres­ence of ot­ters – make the hard work worth­while. “There is noth­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary about our group,” Frances adds. “Any­one, any­where can pro­tect and in­crease the bio­di­ver­sity of their lo­cal green space.”

Frances Dis­more’s ( cen­tre) group has col­lected 545 bags of rub­bish from north Lon­don wa­ter­ways.

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