The Healthy Rivers project (HRP) was started in March 2020, in partnership with the Quaggy Waterways Action Group (QWAG), two months after I left Thames21. My role at Thames21 had changed from a catchment role along the Ravensbourne to a broader, Thames-wide, post covering catchments from the Mardyke in the East to the Crane in the West and most in between. This change also meant that I would be working with corporate groups, with their own sustainable volunteering strategies to meet, rather than local communities. It was also very hard work, I have the long-term injuries to prove it, and a lot of driving through rush-hour traffic in Central London. I wanted to get back to the Ravensbourne, where I grew up and where I live now, and a community I had a growing connection to.
During 2020 the HRP ran unfunded and many river events were run, often with QWAG, throughout the catchment. We are especially busy from May to September when the Himalayan Balsam is growing fast and when the days are longer and warmer.
My relationship with QWAG goes back to 2010, when I was a member and through the years I’ve been vice-chairman and committee member, which is where I am now. QWAG has steered through a number of restoration projects along the Quaggy, most notably at Sutcliffe Park, which is generally seen as the most successful restoration and flood alleviation scheme in London.
Healthy Rivers was granted funding for River and Wetland Community Days (RWCD) in March 2021, which allows the project to run events with Event Support staff and enables the purchase of much-needed equipment. The project is also run with the help of Jess, Eszter and Jordan of Lewisham’s Parks/Enviro/Greenscene team, we share gear and ideas while at the same time park contractors, Glendale, grant the project permission to access the parks and provide a service of picking up the rubbish after a river-cleaning event.
The HRP does a number of things, firstly we run river clean-up events throughout the catchment, mainly with park community volunteering groups, such as Friends of Brookmill Park, Friends of Sutcliffe Park and the Ladywell Fields User Group. Schools often join us for citizen science sessions, using the Riverfly methodology, and neuro-diverse groups also work with us. We also run INNS events, Invasive Non-Native Species, where we remove Himalayan Balsam, as it grows into a monoculture and is therefore destructive, we treat Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed, most of the latter two are done by Mike Keogh (QWAG) and Vic Richardson (Thames21).
The project also supports the Ravensbourne Riverfly, a citizen science initiative that has been running along the catchment since 2016, I run the Riverfly project with Julia Grollman, a local ecologist with a long-time connection to the Friends of Sutcliffe Park. We work with community groups and school groups and our citizen science leaders are experienced and DBS-checked.
Lastly, where does the funding come from? The RWCD funding actually is Thames Water’s money, administered by the Wild Trout Trust and the Environment Agency, who both decide which projects are worthy of their support, thanks to Sam Meredith of the EA here as he keeps the connection open and conversational. Also, the project is grateful to the aforementioned Lewisham team for granting us Ken White Legacy funding, which enabled us to get off the ground. Ken White was a friend to QWAG and a lovely, gentle, man who sadly passed away in 2012. He has written a beautiful self-drawn book on the Quaggy, this is available from QWAG. Ken actually wrote many books, most of which are in the Lewisham Library Local History Archive, accessed by appointment.
The Healthy Rivers Project is run by Lawrence Beale Collins with an amazing support team consisting of: Julia Grollman, Tim Pottage, Donna Davis, Sam Dhedi and occasionally Vic, if he’s not too busy.
LBC – Nov 2021