A Hackney rowing club is under investigation by the Canal and River Trust after a member of its staff removed metal rungs meant to help help people who have fallen into the River Lea.

Lea Rowing Club (LRC), which is located near Springfield Park, admitted to removing the four bars, which it states are used for mooring, from the wall of the quay adjacent to its premises.

In a statement made on Monday (February 7), the club said: "We regret that we had not sought formal permission of the Canal and River Trust before doing so.

"We apologise for this unilateral act on our part and are fully co-operating with the Canal and River Trust in their investigation."

Boaters in the area, along with the the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA), were "shocked" by the club's actions of "cutting off historical metal rungs" with an angle grinder.

The move has ignited accusations over the LRC's support for the implementation of safety zones, which boaters have argued will displace families, livelihoods and "decimate boater culture".

The proposed zones led to protests held on the River Lea in 2021.

Ian McDowell, chair of the NBTA's London branch, said: "These metal rungs were a means to pull yourself out of the river, if you fall in.

"LRC has been for years pushing for Canal and River Trust’s (CRT) implementation of the safety zones, which would see the removal of hundreds of boats, evicted from Hackney.

"LRC has been claiming the 'need' to remove hundreds of mooring spaces to make the waterways safer'"

He continued: "The LRC's removal of bars show that management of the club are more interested in clearing 'their' area of boat dwellers than any real interest in safety."

But Antoinette Jucker, Lea Rowing Club president, said the club removed the metal bars out of concern about widebeam boats mooring in the no-mooring zone right next to the club's landing stage.

"This limits visibility and increases the risk of a collision," the president said.

“We are committed to improving safety on the Lea, in partnership with boating groups, which is why we take part in the CRT's Lea Navigation Forum.”

LRC welcomed the CRT initiative, to designate two areas of the River Lea to water safety zones on May 5.

It stated that increased congestion on the river threatens the future of rowing clubs: "Over the past 10 years there has been a rapid and unprecedented increase in canal boat numbers moored on the River Lea in Hackney.

"This has led to a corresponding decrease in water space available for all users. This restriction and congestion has, despite our own best efforts, resulted in an increase in the number of incidents between rowing craft and canal boats."

The club's statement added that collisions with a canal boat can be "extremely dangerous" for occupants of small, light rowing boats like canoes, paddleboards and kayaks.

It read: "In the Water Safety Zones proposed by the navigation authority, mooring would become more organised and structured.

"This new structure would continue to allow hundreds of people to remain living on their boats, while protecting the river as a valuable public asset and keeping it available for sport and recreation by local children and adults"

But the chair of NBTA London has called the removal of the metal bars "vandalism".

He added: "NBTA London and other river user groups have been trying to work together to make the river a better for all users. However, the attitude of the LRC management makes it harder."

A spokesperson for the Canal and River Trust said it was aware that four grab bars were removed from a section on the bank of the river last week.

They added: "This was done without our knowledge or authority and we have informed the rowing club that such actions are unacceptable.

"Safety is our first priority, and we will ensure that any safety measures required to help people exit the water in an emergency at this location are reinstated as soon as possible.

"The trust puts equal weight on the safety of all river users and will continue to manage the waterways to ensure all users can enjoy the benefit of being on the water safely."