Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Rivers Reborn

Even I, a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary, have to admit that in at least two respects life in England has unequivocally improved in the course of my lifetime. One is the range and quality of food available in shops, cafes and restaurants - I'm old enough to remember when olive oil was only available in tiny bottles from the chemist (and it wasn't cold-pressed extra virgin) - and the other is the water quality in many of our rivers. A news report today confirms how transformed these rivers are from their polluted past - and it's good to see 'my' river, the Wandle, getting a gold star.
Actually, before the Wandle became the river that runs through my life, it was the Thames (I spent my first nine or ten years in west London). The Thames of my boyhood was effectively dead in central London and so poisoned that it was said you'd die if you fell in and swallowed any water. Even some way upstream, where remnants of aquatic life hung on, I remember the nose-wrinkling chemical smells (on top of the pong of coal gas from the gasworks) and the sight of great masses of detergent foam sailing along the body of the river and filling up the creeks.
It was much the same on the Wandle when I first found myself in that suburban demiparadise where it springs from the dip slope of the North Downs (no, I don't mean Croydon). As well as the familiar islands of foam floating by, mysterious great lumps of rough-hewn white polystyrene were a frequent sight, and there was no life in those murky waters. Industrialisation had long since transformed what was once a sparkling chalk stream, famous for its plump brown trout, into one of the most comprehensively polluted waterways on earth. And yet today the water is again clean and clear and the trout are back, along with a range of other fishy life, attracting kingfishers, herons, cormorants and even egrets. The Wandle sparkles and teems with life again, and the passing years have, for once, brought nothing but improvement - though the habit of dumping litter and other detritus in the river remains stubbornly persistent. Every prospect pleases, and only man is vile...


  1. Yes, the rivers are wonderful now, especially if you get in them on a warm summer's day. And just to give you a glimmer of good news, it seems that not every man is vile:


  2. One of those interesting things about nature is that fact that sunken ships and oil rigs are beneficial to marine wildlife - I wonder if the same is true of river-dwelling shopping trolleys?

  3. Thanks for that Mary - yes, they do great work, tho they can never quite keep up with the dumpers. On my stretch it's mostly cans, carrier bags and plastic bottles - which float of course. At least shopping trolleys sink - and you may well be right about habitat, Worm. Someone shld do a study...

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