Working for Nature
River and waterways conservation, London
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.