River Lea oil spill: Pollution contained as boaters praise lessons learnt from 2018 catastrophe – but there’s more to be done

The cleanup following the latest oil spill in the River Lea. Picture: Environment Agency

The cleanup following the latest oil spill in the River Lea. Picture: Environment Agency - Credit: Archant

Boaters have praised quick action to stop an oil spill on the River Lea, a year on from the pollution disaster that devastated wildlife, stranded boats and turned much of Hackney’s canal network black.

The cleanup following the latest oil spill in the River Lea. Picture: Environment Agency

The cleanup following the latest oil spill in the River Lea. Picture: Environment Agency - Credit: Archant

But it isn’t known who is to blame for the oil slick, and campaigners have again urged tougher action on those committing environmental crime.

The latest spill in Pymmes Brook, north of Hackney, was discovered on Monday at the same site that affected a 7km stretch in February 2018.

Following criticism that the 2018 incident hadn’t been contained quickly enough, the Canal & River Trust (CRT) and Environment Agency (EA) teamed up with local boaters to set up a communication network in case of future emergencies.

Ros Daniels, CRT’s regional director, said: “[We] and the Environment Agency had teams on-site immediately to install booms to contain the spill.

“The river is now clean again and open as normal.

“We are pleased with the prompt, co-ordinated response between all groups who help to care for the river and its wildlife.”

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Their quick action to address the spill was praised by the Lea Boaters Collective, formed following last year’s pollution outbreak to lobby for better river conditions.

Lea Boaters Collective’s Sophie Scott praised the CRT’s quick decision to notify boaters and shut down Tottenham Lock to Bream Close to stop the spill from spreading.

But she cautioned that more still needs to be done.

“We’re glad after a year of talks the CRT and EA seem to have learnt some lessons and this spill was handled much better,” she told the Gazette.

“But that doesn’t mean locals can stop applying pressure as there’s much more to do for year-round river health.”

The EA set up a first-of-its-kind dedicated website on Wednesday that allows anyone to sign up for email notifications for significant and major environmental incidents within the Lower River Lea.

John Bryden, the “improving rivers manager” for charity Thames 21, praised the work and investment into the area by the trust and EA.

He said: “They’ve done a really great job and put in a good long term plan and have invested in the area.

“It’s sad that they have to put the time and effort in to actually do this – people really need to stop polluting the river and have a bit of responsibility for waste management, and there are still individuals and businesses who are acting incredibly damaging and irresponsibly and damaging the area and River Lea.

“Hopefully they can catch these criminals when they do it again.”

Swan Sanctuary volunteer Gill Walker said that two families of swans were affected but their condition wasn’t serious enough to warrant intervention, although they are being monitored.

Lea Bridge councillor Ian Rathbone (Lab), whose ward includes the canal, was less impressed.

“The Environment Agency now claims it has improved its incident response and the way it keeps communities informed during incidents,” he said.

“Yet we are still seeing a lack of effective joined up thinking between the EA, Canal & River Trust and others. And that’s partly down to central government starving them of funding to hunt out and prosecute those committing such terrible waste crime, have more presence on the ground, and fix huge fines to ensure compliance with pollution legislation. Our rivers are not for dumping.

“We pressed them hard at round table meetings arranged during 2018 by Sue Hayman MP at the House of Commons to discuss the issues between residents and agencies involved, including CRT and Thames Water, so I am glad the EA are now responding and accepting they need the community’s co-operation to begin to make the kind of improvements needed to protect our fragile environment.”