Volunteers needed for Outfall Safaris this spring

Do you see drains – known as outfalls – spilling pollution into rivers when out on riverside walks? Do you know why this happens and would you like to help sort out the problem?

Our rivers should be healthy spaces for wildlife, but need protecting from many forms of pollution. One of them is household plumbing that is misconnected, meaning that foul water goes straight into the waterways through drains that should be connected to the sewage system.

This spring, river lovers along the Wandle and the Cray and Shuttle are being given the chance to train as citizen scientists to help rectify the problem in the latest roll out of the Outfall Safari programme.

What are Outfall Safaris?

Volunteers are trained to carry out surveys in rivers, looking for pollution from misconnected drains. These misconnected outfalls (drains) often go unnoticed and can become a chronic source of pollution along our rivers.

The Outfall Safari method was developed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in 2016 to survey the capital’s rivers for the presence of misconnected outfalls. Before this, there was no method for surveying and prioritising polluting outfalls and the scale of the issue was completely unknown. Now they are carried out nationwide.

It was estimated that across London’s 600km of rivers there could be as many as 1,483 misconnected outfalls caused by thousands of appliances being plumbed incorrectly. With more households than ever choosing to renovate rather than relocate, the chance of more misconnections occurring is high.

Volunteers are given training by the Zoological Society of London on how to spot pollution incidents and report them on an App to the Environment Agency and Thames Water.

Reports of pollution will allow the water company to take up the problem of misconnected drains – or appliances – with property owners. Drains are connected to multiple properties.

At the South East Rivers Trust, we have helped ZSL find volunteers across the Hogsmill, Beverley Brook and Wandle for Outfall Safaris, which are funded by Thames Water and supported by the Environment Agency.

Badly polluted outfall © South East Rivers Trust

What difference has it made?

Your findings help indicate the true scale of sewage and other pollutants that are being sent into rivers by homes and businesses that have misconnected plumbing.

Since the programme began, Thames Water has traced and helped homeowners to rectify more than 400 misconnected appliances.

When the last Outfall Safari was last conducted on the Wandle in 2019, 23km of river was surveyed and 48 outfalls assessed. Since then 34 properties have had misconnected pipes rectified.

During on-going work on the River Cray and Shuttle, 15 misconnected properties were identified from work so far at Foots Cray Meadow outfall.

You will be helping to stop pollution reaching the whole river system because the safaris assess the whole river.

Volunteers recording a polluting outfall during an Outfall Safari Picture by ZSL

What’s involved and where do I sign up?

When you sign up for the Outfall Safari programme, you’ll learn how to carry out bankside surveys along a section of river of your choosing.

Volunteers will gain an overview about water quality issues in the catchment, learn how outfalls become polluted and be given full instructions on how to assess them and report them.

Training takes place on Wednesday 8th March from 10.30am to 12.30pm at Grove Park, Carshalton for the Wandle.

Residents wanting to sign up for the river Cray and Shuttle outfall safaris need to be available for training Wednesday 15th March at 10:30am to 12:30, at 175 Town Hall Square, Crayford, Kent, DA1 4FN.

Volunteers must be aged 18 or over, able to attend in person and must be able to commit to carrying out Outfall Safaris in March and April. Specifically, you will need to be able to conduct Outfall Safaris 48 hours after wet weather. This is to ensure accurate readings, so flexibility is required.

Sign up to the River Wandle training

Sign up for the River Cray and Shuttle training

If you have further questions email Sam Facey, ZSL’s training co-ordinator.

Outfall Safaris picture by ZSL