The reality of plastic pollution was horrifically clear when this river overflowed.
Trees and bushes along its banks were draped with ragged blue plastic bags.
The pollution is tainting a pocket of nature in east London, a haven where kingfishers can be seen darting into the water, bream come to spawn and black poplars, Britain’s rarest tree, grow beside the water.
The scene makes visible what normally goes unseen – as plastic rubbish dropped in the water normally wends its way into the sea.
The shocking images come as the Great British Spring Clean 2021, which is organised by Keep Britain Tidy, calls on our loyal army of readers to help make the country cleaner and greener.
The reality of plastic pollution was horrifically clear when this river overflowed. Trees and bushes along its banks were draped with ragged blue plastic bags. The pollution is tainting a pocket of nature in Hackney, east London
The unsightly waste, including wet wipes and flimsy plastic bags hanging on trees and bushes at Hackney Marshes in east London, has several sources.
Some came from the overflow of sewage outfalls – loaded with rubbish such as sanitary towels and wet wipes – into the River Lea, as seen during heavy rains in February.
Other detritus, such as litter and microplastics from car tyres and brake pads, was washed in from the roads.
It is a scene being played out at rivers and canals across the UK.
Environmentalist Julian Kirby campaigned against plastic with Friends of the Earth and now works for not-for-profit organisation Plastic-Free Hackney.
He said last night: ‘The polluting plastic smearing the banks and branches of my favourite local beauty spot is only the tiniest fraction of what passed through during those winter rains.
‘So much more was swept straight out to sea where it will last for hundreds of years at least.
‘This will only change when Boris Johnson and his ministers get serious about this plastic pollution crisis.
The unsightly waste, including wet wipes and flimsy plastic bags hanging on trees and bushes at Hackney Marshes in east London, has several sources
‘They talk a good talk but, to borrow one of the PM’s favourite expressions, their response has been piffling.
‘A problem as vast and complex as plastic pollution requires a carefully considered, strategic approach driven by legal targets.’
Tim Evans, of the Hackney Marshes User Group, which carries out litter picks in the area, said that no official body would take responsibility.
He said: ‘This area is a hidden treasure. This stretch of the river is both ecologically valuable and really beautiful.
‘But it has a terrible waste problem. There’s plastic rubbish and sewage, it’s a complicated matter.’
Sewage is believed to overflow at an outlet in Tottenham, north London.
Mr Evans said there are also thought to be rogue plumbing installations at sites along the river where people flush waste directly into the water ‘several times a year’.
The rubbish visible on the marsh would normally wend its way into the Thames, then into the sea.
Some of the rubbish washes on to beaches along the Thames.
Mr Evans added: ‘I find it very upsetting. I’ve been walking on marshes for more than 30 years. I’ve helped plant trees on the marshes. I really love it especially down by the river, it’s very, very upsetting to see it so messed up.’
The volunteers are left to pick up the rubbish as it is not clear which council should look after it.
Mr Evans said: ‘We want to work out which authority is responsible for this stretch of the river. It’s not navigable, so the Canals and Rivers Trust are not responsible.
‘Hackney Council is only responsible for the riverbank, and not the river itself.
‘The Environment Agency has some responsibility for pollution hazards in the water.
But we are trying to clarify with them how much they are prepared to do.’
Mr Evans added: ‘The kingfishers and cormorants are there, but we don’t know for how much longer, as if the fish can’t live in the water, that’s going to be a big change.’