Monday, 17 April 2017

The Dead Coots Mystery and other stories from the river

Often, when working along the river I have a song running through my head. I prefer to work in a silent environment, but still, I have a song running through my head. This week it's all about early REM and the week started with their song Little America and when that was all played out it moved on to Seven Chinese Brothers. On Monday morning a good friend working for another river NGO emailed me to ask if I'd heard of the seven dead coots in Bromley? And had I specifically been dealing with the oil spill at Glassmill, an old millpond in a valley to the west of the town centre. I hadn't, so I started to. In between trying to track down the substitute Environment Agency Officer, the original had gone on holiday the day after taking the call, while also trying to have a chat with the Thames Water officer, who was actually on site, positioning his absorbent booms and nappies, I got another email from someone 'very concerned' in Bromley, also reporting seven dead coots and an incident involving 'barrels' of oil. It seems that the coot story emanated from the same person who had seemingly pressed the 'send to all' button. So, along with the Chinese brothers, I headed off to Bromley. I was giving a talk to the Friends of the Earth in the evening so I decided to go up there late afternoon to check the coots out. Also ringing in my head were two phone conversations I'd had that afternoon. First, the Thames Water officer who had been on the ground said that a) he thought it was about three litres of oil and b) its source would be impossible to determine as there were many pipes leading up to the outfall into Glassmill. They had pumped out what they could but the culprit, probably doing an oil change in their Corsa, would remain on the run.
Thames Water pontoon & mats, Glassmill 4/4/17
Second phone call was from the Agency. The Agency chap said that they did not attend the Glassmill incident. OK. This means that they did not attend but took a call to their Incident Line (0800 807060), gave it an Incident number and called Thames Water, as it was their infrastructure through which the oil had passed.
People call the EA, and they should more often, when they see anything weird in the river, and oil is weird and shouldn't be there. Anyway, they didn't attend. Which is unsurprising as they are training-up new officers for the area so remain short-handed for the time being.
On arriving at Glassmill I had a walk around the site and noticed a couple of morehens on nests, a Canada goose having a gentle stroll through the island within the pond and a good number of in-channel booms and pads designed to mop up the oil. There was a small amount of surface oil within a backwater, just enough to give off that distinct whiff of fuel, and not much else so the Thames Water estimate had been near to the mark. A couple of lads walked past with skateboards tucked under their arms, they peered into the pond next to me so I asked about the seven dead coots. One said that there had been a moorhen upside-down a week before the oil went in. A woman with a pram suggested I go and talk to Barry at No.2, as he loved birds. I do too so I went and knocked on Barry's door. He answered, clearly mid-meal, and reeled off all the species he'd seen at Glassmill over the last month. He wasn't in the least bit worried about the coots, or the moorhens, on the pond. I left Barry to his dinner and headed off around the surrounding streets to see if I could spot any oil around roadside drains, I couldn't see anything so I jumped back into the van and headed up to the Quaker Meeting House, where I was seeing the Friends of the Earth group. I talked for an hour before a lengthy Q&A session and at no time were coots, or moorhens, mentioned, however, they were very keen to find out if Tideway, who are constructing the Thames Tunnel to take sewage from West to East London, were going to build a biomass energy plant down at Beckton. I couldn't answer this and assured them I would ask Tideway, who come and do river clean-ups with me along the Ravensbourne and generally have a strong connection with Thames21, my employers. My talks to FoE was entitled 'Caddisflies and Car Parts' and was an edited and updated version of last year's presentation 'Mayflies and Mattresses'. This gives some idea of the kinds of things that find their way into the river. I'm working on "Eels and Emulsion Paint' at the moment. A few weeks before the mystery coots I helped out my Thames21 colleagues in a morning's clean up of the foreshore at Purfleet, which is a short hop over the sea wall from Rainham Marshes RSPB bird reserve.
Plastic bottle counting at Purfleet (Daily Mail)
We were highlighting the abundance of plastic that is thrown away and now litters the entire Thames foreshore, this is a campaign that Thames21 is now driving with the support of the Mayor's Office and the EA, whose chairman Emma Howard Boyd joined us in this rubbish clearance. As a measure of just how much plastic was along this 100m stretch we set out a 30m square quadrat and counted over 160 plastic bottles: single-use still and carbonated water, fruit juice and milk cartons. If we had tried to pick up all the tiny pieces of plastic we would have been there all week, as there are now 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the world's oceans, or 46,000 per square kilometer of sea. We had a good deal of help on the day from the RSPB and the whole thing was covered in the Daily Mail.
I suppose I am becoming fixated by what gets thrown in the river, whether it be the Thames or the Ravensbourne in South East London, where I work, because most of my job is to remove it. All along the Ravensbourne, and its tributaries the Pool and the Quaggy, there is a growing band of community activists, park users, individuals and the generally concerned, that help me remove skip-loads of waste every year. We are a team, we are a club and the only requirement needed to join is a passion for cleaner rivers. Some are painters and some are musicians, no doubt with some other tune going through their head, and some are candlestick makers but together we are the river cleaners and we like nothing more than getting filthy, and tea and biscuits. So, nothing died at Glassmill and today I have just the intro to a piece of music, not the whole thing, by Wishbone Ash. Now I know where this comes from and it is my schooldays so I always try and quickly replace it with something that really should be there, like Marquee Moon or anything from Hatful of Hollow. If you fancy a bit of volunteering along the river then follow the above link to Thames21 or help us out during the 3 Rivers Clean Up this summer between June 3rd to the 24th and follow us all @Thames21 and @3RCU - Lawrence