We’ve had just over a week to recover from London Rivers Week 2019 and what a week it was!
London Rivers Week is a week long campaign and festival inspiring the public to discover and celebrate London’s 600 km (373 miles) of river network. This year it highlighted the benefits of rivers, and the rewilding work that has taken place on more than 30 km (20.5 miles) of them. All across London, important rewilded sites were showcased, visibility and access to these spaces was increased, and awareness was raised about ways that restored rivers benefit Londoners. All thanks to the work of local Catchment Partnerships.
In total, 45 events took place across London! We were busy on the Hogsmill, Beverley Brook. Wandle and Darent, providing opportunities for local communities to discover more about their local river and get involved with improving it for people and wildlife.
On Tuesday we were cleaning up the Green Lanes Stream; a tributary of the Hogsmill which is one of only 200 chalk streams in the world. Most of the rubbish we found was plastic pollution, threatening wildlife with entanglement and ingestion. Thanks to the 30 volunteers who attended, a huge amount of plastic has now been removed from the river for good. We totalled over 35 bags of rubbish from a 900 m stretch of the river – a fantastic result from a few hours work!
Wednesday was spent Wombling on Wimbledon Common with 25 enthusiastic volunteers. Many of the new habitat features in this 1.3 km of restored river were catching litter as the current carried it downstream, intercepting plastic and other rubbish before it reaches the sea. Gathering this litter and allowing us to remove it from the environment is just a convenient added bonus of this ambitious restoration project on the Beverley Brook. Read more about what we have done along this stretch and why in our previous blog. Our brilliant volunteeers removed 48 bags of rubbish, plus some larger items including a pallet, a bicycle and a golf bag! Thank you to Neighbourly for supporting this event through its grant programme.
27 people came to hear the Beverley Brook’s restoration story at our guided walk through Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common. Attendees were keen to glimpse behind the deer fencing and see the well-established restoration work we completed in Richmond Park in 2016. It was lovely to see how the wildlife has settled in; with banded demoiselles perching on the flourishing marginal vegetation, a heron poised and ready to catch the fish taking refuge between the pieces of woody material and a few ducks paddling along with ducklings in tow.
We then walked along to Wimbledon Common to see the project that only reached completion in March of this year. Changes are already starting to occur with the gravel bed being cleaned of silt in the fast-flowing areas and the babbling noise of the Brook being heard. We’re excited to see how these changes develop in future and create a natural and varied habitat for wildlife.
Since last summer, we’ve been working with Merton Council to tackle the invasive species that had taken over Wandle Park in Colliers Wood. With the amazing help of our volunteers, we’ve seen a massive improvement in water flow through this backwater habitat by getting floating pennywort under control.
The Friday of London Rivers Week 2019 was spent bashing Himalayan balsam along the banks. Himalayan balsam grows fast; out-competing our native flora and, as each plant can produce 1,000 seeds, it has a tendency to grow densely and spread quickly. The shallow roots mean that when Himalayan balsam dies back in winter there is nothing stabilising the river banks, leading to increased soil erosion. But it’s these same shallow roots that make it easy to pull up by hand! The 18 pairs of hands that came along to help us on Friday made light work of removing this pesky plant!
While some of us worked on the Wandle, a small group of intrepid volunteers were also working hard on the River Darent in Sundridge. A channel was installed to bypass a large weir there in 2016, allowing fish to pass along the river freely. The team on site carried out some maintenance tasks and pulled Himalayan balsam from along the channel.
Our final event of the week was our Highlights of the Hogsmill guided walk with other organisations from the Hogsmill Catchment Partnership. The Catchment Partnership is a group of organisations, working together to improve the health of the river and overcome the problems it faces. The walk was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the work we’ve all been doing along the Hogsmill in recent years.
We started off at the Berrylands Nature Reserve in Surbiton and heard about the work of the Environment Trust and local volunteers to improve access to a once neglected local nature reserve along the Tolworth Brook (a tributary of the Hogsmill). We saw newts and dragonflies in the newly installed ponds, and spotted a woodpecker in the woods which can now be explored thanks to the installation of a new bridge across the stream. Thank you to Elliot Newton from Citizen Zoo for sharing your expertise with us on this first leg of the journey.
From here we made our way to the main Hogsmill River and walked upstream to admire the many improvements to fish passage that have been installed since we began our Hogsmill Connectivity Project in 2012. Look back through our blogs to see some of the barriers we’ve removed or eased to help fish migrate up and down the river unimpeded.
We marvelled at the wonderful Malden Manor Community Mosaic which was unveiled earlier this year and aims to brighten up the path leading to 6-Acre Meadow and encourage local residents to make more use of the valuable green space.
After a stop at the site where Millais painted the background for his famous painting of Ophelia, we met with Stewart Cocker from Epsom and Ewell Borough Council and continued upstream. We learnt so much about the history of the river and the work the council is doing with partner organisations to improve the river and surrounding green spaces.
Where the Green Lanes Stream meets the Hogsmill we met with our dedicated Riverfly monitoring volunteers to take a glimpse of the kinds of critters we get living in this precious chalk stream. Their enthusiasm was contagious and we soon had the whole group of walkers searching for cased caddis larvae in the sample tray as we heard about the importance of this initiative for building a picture of the pollution problems our river faces.
After learning of the low flow problems the Hogsmill is currently experiencing, we ended our walk at Bourne Hall ponds and met with Thames 21 to hear about their INTCATCH Boats and the work they are doing to monitor water quality on London’s rivers.
Thank you to all who attended the walk and for the partner organisations who contributed and made this walk such a success. I learnt a lot along the way and I hope you all did too!
We couldn’t have done any of this without all the volunteers who gave their time during London Rivers Week! So a massive thank you to everyone involved for helping to improve our amazing urban rivers.
We’d also like to thank the London Rivers Restoration Group, organisers of London Rivers Week 2019, and the generous sponsor – Thames Water.