Ninth annual 3 Rivers Clean Up to focus on plastic awareness as well as blitz on balsam


Date of release: May 19 2017

The damage plastic is causing to the environment, particularly waterways, will be one of the themes of the ninth 3 Rivers Clean Up, the annual three-week blitz to remove litter and invasive species in the Ravensbourne river catchment.

Plastic litter is a big problem on waterways

Running this year from June 3-24, the intensive series of about 30 clean ups attracts hundreds of volunteers to help remove Himalayan balsam, in particular, plus rubbish from the rivers Ravensbourne, Pool and Quaggy.

The event concentrates on about 20 sites in four boroughs – Lewisham, Greenwich, Bromley and Croydon – and is run by Thames21, London’s leading waterways charity, the London Borough of Lewisham and The Quaggy Waterways Action Group.

Last year, about 600 volunteers removed 6,000 Himalayan balsam plants, injected 2,500 giant hogweeds and took away 500 bags of rubbish.

Volunteers tackle Himalayan balsam on the Ravensbourne catchment

Much of that rubbish is plastic, something that Lawrence Beale Collins, Thames21’s catchment partnership coordinator for the Ravensbourne, is keen to emphasise.

“This year, we will be raising awareness about the damage plastic does to our wildlife and waterways,” he said. “There has been a public groundswell of interest in this topic, reflected by the London Assembly’s environmental committee quoting Thames21’s research, including that our citizen scientist volunteers found 2,500 plastic bottles in the River Thames in one day.

“Plastic bottles are just one of the top 10 types of items found. We want to make our rivers great places for people to enjoy and where a huge diversity of wildlife thrives, which is why we have the 3 Rivers Clean Up to try to rid the Ravensbourne catchment of Himalayan balsam, because it stops other wild plants from growing.”

Groups and individuals tackle Himalayan balsam

Himalayan balsam, introduced to Britain in the mid-19th century as a garden plant because of its beautiful pink-purple flowers, has become widespread along urban rivers. It spreads solely by seeds and out-competes native species, particularly along river banks.

The Ravensbourne catchment, comprising the rivers Ravensbourne, Pool and Quaggy, is the most engineered in the UK, prompting the 3 Rivers Clean Up to be conceived in 2008 to give nature a helping hand by removing the growing abundance of invasive flora.

Professional ecologists and amateur enthusiasts who were working on the rivers were concerned about the lack of biodiversity caused by the huge amount of balsam. The plants can grow up to two metres tall and the roots make the soil along the riverbanks unstable, leading them to collapse in the autumn if the balsam remains in place.

Himalayan balsam was introduced to Britain as a garden plant because of its colourful pink flowers, but causes problems on waterway banks

Volunteers who take part in the 3 Rivers Clean Up range from individuals and community groups to organisations such as the Environment Agency.

As well as removing plants and rubbish, the 3 Rivers Clean Up includes walks and talks. This year there will be Float Your Boats community events to mark the Great Get Together on June 17-18 in memory of murdered MP Jo Cox, who had a houseboat on The Thames.

Events, in which people can add their own boats to a flotilla, will take place at Manor Park on June 17 and Chinbrook Meadows on Sunday June 18, from 1-3pm. Boats can be homemade, childhood toys or recent purchases of all shapes and sizes welcome. Anyone can enter. Simple materials will be available for anyone to make a vessel before each event.

Paul de Zylva, Chair of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group (QWAG) said: “If you’ve never been into a local river, the 3 Rivers Clean Up is a great way to start getting to know them while helping keep them free of invasive non-native plants such as Himalayan balsam, which can harm the natural quality of the river and its banks.

“People of all ages enjoy taking part. Just come along, bring a friend and you’ll meet new people, get to wear waders and go home knowing more about your local rivers than you imagined.”

Nick Pond, from the London Borough of Lewisham, said: “The 3 Rivers Clean Up festival was initiated by Lewisham residents nine years ago and is now the second biggest community river clean up event in the UK. It continues to grow in popularity and all are welcome to join in and help improve our environment.”

Venues for 3 Rivers Clean Up events include Ladywell Fields, Sutcliffe Park, Chinbrook Meadows and Brookmill Park, with partners including Nature’s Gym. There is also riverfly monitor training with Zoological Society of London’s Joe Pecorelli.

The full event listings can be found at 3RiversCleanUp.


Notes for editors

About Thames21

Thames21 is an environmental charity putting healthy rivers back at the heart of community life. Through environmental improvements, education, research and advocacy efforts, Thames21 is inspiring and influencing effective and lasting change by working hand-in-hand with communities to deliver tangible and measurable improvements for urban rivers.

The full report of the charity’s research into the types of items found in the Thames and washed up on its foreshores, put together from its Thames River Watch project, can be found here. | Registered Charity No. 1103997

Media Contact

Ian Lamont

Communications Manager at Thames21

07739 627 667

020 7248 7171