On hot summer days, one of our favourite places to go as a family is down to the river Lea. For us here in Luton, the Lea is our river. It rises in Marsh Farm, and flows as a modest stream through the town and Wardown Park. By the time it eventually spills into the Thames down in London, it’s an important and navigable tributary. Unfortunately it’s mostly paved over at the Luton end, disappearing into a tunnel under the shopping centre. The sections of it that are accessible are usually full of shopping trolleys and beer cans, and so if we want to enjoy it, we have to drive out of town and catch it in the villages.
Lovely though it is, with its shady banks and shoals of tiny fish, the river is still polluted – like every river in England. In the latest data set from the Environment Agency, there isn’t a single unpolluted river in the country.
This 100% failure rate is partly due to more stringent rules on chemical pollution, but it’s also true that there’s been no improvement for years. Government targets call for all rivers to be ‘good’ as a minimum by 2027, and are nowhere near on track. The regulation of farms and water companies is slack, and enforcement is practically non-existent. Complicating matters is the fact that the Environment Agency, already under-resourced, saw hundreds of its staff re-assigned onto Brexit matters in the last few years.
Awareness of this problem is very low in England, despite campains from the Rivers Trust and Rivers Action. So I was interested to hear about Rivercide, a new project from documentary maker Franny Armstrong and environmental journalist and paddler George Monbiot. In the crowded field of environmental films, this one stands out: it’s going to be presented live.
You can tune in on July 14th, 7pm UK time, for what looks like a world first. Here’s the trailer:
For more information, see the Rivercide website. And stick July 14th in your diary.