I built a reedbed!

By Guest Blogger Sheila Ozeer, Volunteer at Thames21

It was the event description that lured me in – it read: ‘Come down and help us install a new floating reedbed into the Lea Navigation at Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow!’. Before I knew it I was standing on the banks of the River Lea; raring to go!

Up close - the coir mats made from coconut used to make the floating reedbeds
Up close – the coir mats made from coconut used to make the floating reedbeds

Donned in steel-toe caps, protective gloves and a high-visibility vest, I joined Ben from Thames21, a small team from Frog Environmental and fellow Thames21 volunteers Jan, Nathaniel, Kassandra and Dominic, to help install a 30 metre floating reedbed. Fixing floating reedbeds is part of the charity’s ‘Love the Lea‘ campaign, which aims to improve the rivers of the Lea catchment.  The reedbed we installed was funded by the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Reedbeds are just one way to break down pollutants in our rivers. These beautiful long grasses also provide habitats for birds and wildlife and markedly help improve the look of urban rivers.

Reedbeds are vital in helping to improve water quality
Reedbeds are vital in helping to improve water quality

With Thames21 telling us what to do and us volunteers doing it; we worked together beautifully as a team to put together the floating pontoons.

Putting them together required threading the chain bolts through the pontoon to enable it to be attached to the wall, filling the planter holes with compost soil, before finally laying down the vegetation mats (made of coir, coconut husk!) on top. Ben from Thames21 explained that the reeds are then grown in nurseries in Norfolk where it’s really flat and there’s lots of water – the perfect environment.

Before: Getting muddy planting the reedbed
Before: Getting muddy planting the reedbed

A fence or garden mesh was then placed around the reedbed to protect the young plants so the birds don’t eat them while they grow. Meanwhile Frog Environmental drilled holes in the river walls for the pontoons to be attached to.

The high pile of stuff that would make up the floating reedbed was moved either by manpower or womanpower alone or with the help of two wheelbarrows and a hand truck.

The lack of a good strong pair of arms delegated me to do very little compared to the other strong and hardworking volunteers and was the perfect opportunity to have a chat with some of the other volunteers!

Dominic started volunteering with Thames21 after learning of

Rob St. John’s ‘Surface Tension’ project which is a field recording, photography and writing project that explores pollution, life and biodiversity along the River Lea. A 50/50 split of profits from the limited edition sales of the book, CD and downloads is donated to Thames21.

Kassandra is an intern working as a data analyst but considers it ‘cool to be hands-on’ as well! She is studying environment and climate change at Queens College.

Nathaniel enjoys ‘working outdoors, seeing new places and experiencing new things’. He first heard of Thames21 through London Wildlife Trust, who he’s also worked with.

After: Today the reedbed flourishes on the River Lea
After: Today the reedbed flourishes on the River Lea

Volunteering to install a reedbed not only gave me that feel-good factor of doing something good for nature but I got to meet a group of dedicated people, who like me, are passionate about the environment; which was a real privilege!

It was an experience that was indeed amazing. Perhaps the best thing I’ve ever done; I definitely recommend it!

I’d like to thank Ben and the wonderful dedicated team that I met who all have a common goal in protecting the environment; it literally opened my eyes to the fact that creating a better environment is possible if we all did our bit to help, both as individuals and as a team.

Fancy volunteering with Thames21?