Love the Lea

East London’s rivers are some of the most polluted in Britain, running with high levels of e-coli sewage bacteria, waste water from people’s homes and poisonous oils and chemicals from our roads. This polluted water flows down the Lea Valley past the homes of thousands of people, reducing the quality of the rivers they enjoy. Rivers of the Lea Catchment which fall within the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Haringey, and Enfield are being impacted daily. To address this challenge Thames21 has launched the Love the Lea Campaign.

What is happening in the Lea?

As an urban waterway the River Lea and its tributaries receive pollution from a variety of sources within the catchment. Right now polluted water enters the Lea through three main avenues:

  • Plumbing Misconnections: up to 10% of homes have incorrectly connected dishwashers, washing machines, showers and toilets to drainpipes that lead directly to rivers instead of the sewer.
  • Road run-off: when it rains, oil, fuel, dirt and grit from roads is washed down the drains and directly into rivers.
  • Sewage overflow: in some areas sewer pipes and storm drains are connected (a combined sewer) meaning that when it rains, rainwater enters the sewage pipes along with household waste. If there is too much water in this system it will overflow, adding human waste into the waterways.

Polluted outfallThis pollution impacts animal and plant life and discourages people from enjoying the river.  Phosphates in laundry soap add the essential element Phosphorus to the river, which in large amounts can lead to the explosive growth of algae, thereby outcompeting other plants in the river system.
To learn more about the sources of pollution click here.

What is Thames21 doing?
Thames21 has recognised that one way to stop polluted water from entering a river and take pressure off aging sewers is to create a natural drainage system or SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems). These direct rainwater off roads or car parks onto vegetated green space, so water goes into the ground instead of the drain! This reduces the amount for water in the sewers meaning that the wastewater will make it to the treatment plant to be cleaned instead of overflowing into local watercourses during times of heavy rain.

Roadside Rainscapes


Education and awareness is also a big part of what Thames21 does and we pride ourselves on making sure all our projects in the Lea Catchment include outreach to local schools and communities. Contact if you are interested in having our educator team come to your school.

To improve water quality ‘Project Reedbed’ introduces new vegetation into the waterways which breaks down pollutants, and provides habitats for wildlife.

Learn more about our current Love the Lea projects by clicking on the pictures below.







Thames21 also offers training to people like you to host waterway clean-ups in your local area or to become a Citizen Scientist and monitor water quality. Thames21 relies on data collected by volunteers to inform our projects and campaigns, identifying areas to target.

What can you do?
Thames21 relies on volunteers for most of what we do, get involved today!

Become a Citizen ScientistHostCleanupVolunteer








For more information please call the Love the Lea team on 0207 515 3337 or email







Click to see what else is happening in the Lea Catchment:River Lea Catchment Partnership