Volunteers sought for some balsam bashing in country park

The damage plastic is causing to the environment is one of the themes of the 3 Rivers Clean Up, the annual three-week blitz to remove litter and invasive species in the catchment area of the River Ravensbourne, one of the Thames tributaries in south London.

Running from June 3-24, the 30 clean-ups attract 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.

The Croydon clean-up will be taking place in Norwood Country Park on Wednesday, June 14.

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

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.”

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.

Himalayan balsam may look lovely, but it is an invasive plant which needs to be controlled

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.

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.

Paul de Zylva, Chair of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group 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.”

For more details of the clean-up in Norwood Country Park, call  Vic Richardson on 0797 344 2219.

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

The full event listings can be found here.

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