River Lea voted fourth worst river

Street pollution and dumping blights otherwise beautiful river

THE “very dirty, very sad” River Lea has been voted the fourth worst river in England and Wales - because of pollution from our streets.

The Our Rivers campaign, backed by the RSPB, WWF-UK, the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association, found the river, which runs from the edge of Luton and Stratford, was not valued and instead used as a dumping ground for everything from motorbikes to shopping trolleys, in an online survey run since August.

One voter said: “Parts of the River Lea are beautiful, but in Hackney a combination of neglect, rubbish and pollution have taken their toll. This is saddening on any river, but to me it seems sadder still because the Hackney stretch of the Lea provides a window onto wildlife and the countryside in central London - something rare that should be treasured.”

Cormorants – a larger sea bird - have also devastated the fish stocks, according to anglers.

One surveyed said: “As an angler, whatever bait you use, you just catch crayfish. It’s just not looked after, not valued, and things that don’t belong there just get thrown in, from motorbikes to shopping trolleys. There used to be swans on it, but they have all been eaten now. It’s very dirty. It’s very sad.”

The campaign also found that banks were eroding and public access was “often poor.”

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A report out earlier this month from the Environment Agency showed that 72 per cent of rivers in England and Wales are now failing European targets. And while last year there were just five pristine rivers left – there are now only four.

The figures showed 26 per cent of rivers in England and Wales are assessed as ‘good’, 56 per cent are ‘moderate’, 14 per cent are ‘poor’ and two per cent are ‘bad’. The European Water Framework Directive has set a target for all rivers to be ‘good’ or better by 2015.

Ralph Underhill, from Our Rivers, said: “We know what pressures our rivers are facing, but the Environment Agency needs to properly investigate the sources of these problems and what can be done to put them right. They need to bring together conservationists, anglers, farmers, landowners and other interested groups so that we can work in partnership to ensure there is a healthy environment for the wide range of wildlife species which rely on our rivers.”

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: “During its history, the Lower Lea catchment was written off as an area that would be too difficult to clean up. But in recent years the river was identified as an area that can and should be cleaned up. We and our partners have started the clean up, which is likely to take many years.”

For more information visit www.ourrivers.org.uk.