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Boats stopped in bid to halt spread of River Lea oil spill

PUBLISHED: 13:50 20 February 2018

The oil being cleared up by Millfields Park South in Lower Clapton. Picture: Andrew Northwood

The oil being cleared up by Millfields Park South in Lower Clapton. Picture: Andrew Northwood

Boaters have been told not to move their vessels as environment bosses work to clean up a major oil spill polluting the River Lea.

Swans contaminated from an oil spill in the River Lea are treated at The Swan Sanctuary. Picture: The Swan Sanctuary Swans contaminated from an oil spill in the River Lea are treated at The Swan Sanctuary. Picture: The Swan Sanctuary

Waterways are shut between Stonebridge Lock, just north of Tottenham, and the bottom lock of the Hertford Union Canal in Hackney Wick. Both sets of gates are locked.

The Canal and River Trust this week told boaters to stay put to avoid spreading the oil.

Continuous cruisers, whose licences normally require them to change moorings every fortnight, have been given leave to remain where they are for the time being.

The pollution is thick, black and described as “acrid”. Boaters and animal welfare workers believe it could be waste engine oil.

Oil on the River Lea at Homerton Bridge. Picture: Rose Keyes Oil on the River Lea at Homerton Bridge. Picture: Rose Keyes

It is not yet known where the spill originated, but it is believed to have entered the water near Tottenham and has now spread as far south as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Swan Sanctuary volunteer Gill Walker said yesterday the charity had rescued 15 swans from the water – and that 40 others needed treatment following a spill in the same area less than two months ago.

“Whatever this is – it’s certainly got a lot of diesel in it – it gets onto their skin and it’s corrosive,” she said.

“And where they’re constantly preening, it’s getting into their digestive systems and they are constantly exposed to it.

Oil on a piece of paper that has been dipped in the River Lea at Homerton Bridge. Picture: Rose Keyes Oil on a piece of paper that has been dipped in the River Lea at Homerton Bridge. Picture: Rose Keyes

“It isn’t just what you see. The oil strips them of their natural waterproofing, which makes them waterlogged, and spoils their insulation [so even in warmer temperatures] they can suffer from hypothermia.”

Andrew Northwood, who has lived by the canal in Lower Clapton for seven years, said that the spill was “far and away the worst pollution we’ve seen”.

“We normally have quite a lot of water birds here,” he said, “and apart from a couple of coots they’ve all gone.”

The Environment Agency said in a statement last week: “We received notification of an incident of oil pollution on the River Lee [the name of the Lea further north] near the Middlesex Filter Beds on February 11.

“Our officers have been working alongside a specialist contractor to clear up the spillage and we are investigating the source of the pollution.”

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