Cleaning up

by Ian Tokelove
Kayaker cleaning up the Lea Navigation

Kayaks allow us to get into the shallow water where rubbish collects. We tried to catch this large piece of yellow plastic, but it kept getting away from us.

Thames21 is one of the country’s leading waterway charities, working with communities across Greater London to improve our rivers, canals, ponds and lakes for people and wildlife. Last Sunday I joined Regents Canoe Club and Thames21 to clean up a section of the Lea Navigation near Bow Docks.

With all the rain we’d had, I could have headed down to Dartmoor as my friends Mike and Andy did, to paddle the Dart. If you want to check out their high water adventures, check out Upper Dart High Water.

At the Bow Docks Lock Office, Tim Fenton, who works with Thames21, ushered us in from the rain and pressed tea and biscuits upon us as the rain pelted down outside. With 14 on the water and three bank staff, Tim explained what we’d be doing, including the risks (such as Weils) which we might encounter.

Armed with protective gloves, litter pickers, nets, bin bags and buckets we set to work collecting the rubbish that finds its way into the waterway. There were plenty of plastic bottles and lots of foam, footballs and take-away containers. The local drinkers seem to favour small bottles of cheap vodka, and cans of strong cider.

The job was smelly and dirty, with lots of grimacing and laughing. The nastiest parts were the occasional dead birds and animals, which could smell pretty bad. We generally left them to rot – they were hard to grab and better left in the water.

In two hours we collected over fifty large bags of rubbish, all thrown into a barge like skip provided by British Waterways. I hadn’t realised what a good job we had done until I paddled back to the Docks. The entire section of waterway was suddenly clean – except for a generous circle which we had left around a nesting swan. She sat there alert, and it looked as though she had surrounded her nest with all the rubbish herself.

After a quick scrub down at an outside tap we scoffed on cakes, tea and soup – happy that we’d got a paddle in and helped to clean up a little bit of London. Once back home I’ll admit that I needed a long, hot shower, and my kit got the best clean it’s ever had – but it was worth it.

For more information on Thames21, see They are always looking for volunteers to help clean up London’s waterways – it might be messy work, but it is rewarding and fun.

Image credit: Sean Clarke


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