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Wandle cleanup: September 2014: Merton

The one with the long, long, long walk

This month’s cleanup saw us at Ravensbury Park in Merton working alongside the Friends of Ravensbury Park, students from the Challenge Network and students from the American International University in London. In total, we had a record 84 volunteers litter picking, wading and wheel-barrowing!

Volunteers in the River

To open our cleanup, Luke (one of our new members of staff) introduced everyone to the planned river restoration work at Ravensbury Park which is part of the Living Wandle Landscape Partnership, funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The plans include narrowing the channel from 20 to 10 metres across and returning the river to its natural meander form to enhance / increase habitat and encourage biodiversity. To show our volunteers the “vision”, Luke brought two artistic interpretations of how the park would look following the restoration (pictured below).

Ravensbury Park - The Vision

After the talk, everyone got stuck in and started cleaning the park. We had one team in waders in the river pulling out all sorts – including a World War II tin helmet! Working with such determination, our river Wombles cleared rubbish from a huge stretch of the Wandle, carefully searching every nook and cranny!

WWII Tin Helmet

We had another team patrolling the park with litter pickers and one final team tackling the notorious floating pennywort in the lake within Ravensbury Park. Floating pennywort is an aquatic invasive plant capable of smothering a water body if left unmanaged.  The plant forms huge dense rafts which block out sunlight from the water below, preventing plants and other wildlife from thriving.  Pennywort is famously difficult to manage, and despite having cleared all the pennywort from this area last year, the aquatic menace was back with a vengeance this year!

Floating Pennywort!

Volunteers quickly got stuck in, pushing rafts of pennywort across the lake to be chopped up and removed. Our volunteers entered the lake with clean clothes and clean faces but quickly emerged like mud-monsters from the deep. The hand washing basin had to be changed 15 times during the day!

Muddy Monster

With so many volunteers, for the first time the cake had to be rationed! This month we had a delicious (and very popular) lemon drizzle, a gingerbread with mini gingerbread men and a chocolate toffee bake.

Cake Rationing

So what did we find?

We found 7 tyres, 3 traffic cones, 2 mattresses, 1 lawn mower engine, part of a motorbike, 1 bicycle, 1 air conditioning unit, 1 WWII tin helmet, 1 wheelie bin, 3 children’s bikes, 3 scooters, 4 footballs, 1 coat and over 25 sacks full of drinking cans, bottles and other rubbish!

The Rubbish Pile

Scrapheap challenge anyone?

Huge thanks to: Michael who helped us load and unload the van; Sally, Ann and Carol for catering for 84 volunteers and Tony and Stan and the Merton Waste Management Team for organising the removal of the rubbish.

Thank you to all our volunteers for coming: A Belloni, Abigail, Aditya, Aheesan, Aimee, Akelya, Alex, Andrea, Annabel, Anne, Anthony, Bella, Bill, Camille, Carol, Charles, Chelsea, Conner, David H, David Ho, Dennis, Dhuvarahan, Diana, Dyana, Eleaia, Gideon, Gillian, Hannah, Helen, Henry, Holly, Ivan, Jackie C, Jackie F, Jagada, Jamie, Jane, Jez, Joe F, Joe P, John B, John D, John N, Jon, Karlon, Kaylin, Keith, Konsydntin, Lyn, Madison, Margaret, Mark, Maryam, Maurice, Megan L, Megan R, Michael, Mike, Nav, Nicole, Patrica, Per, Peter, Rob, Robert, Rose, Roseanne, Saffron, Sally, Sara, Selin, Shakera, Simon, Sofia, Stephen, Tadge, Tasmin, Theo, Victoria and Wayne.

Until next month!


September 22, 2014   No Comments

Carshalton Update: The water has dropped and the contractors are here!

Tim and our contractors have now started our restoration work at the Butterhill weir. Dropping the water levels has returned flow and energy to the river. This will allow us to narrow the river, recreate meanders and clean gravels to the river which reflects its natural state, had it not been historically modified for industry.


Why are meanders important?

Many urban rivers, and even some rural, have been artificially straightened to make room for development, agriculture and infrastructure. By straightening the channel, the flow of the river becomes uniform and you lose  any  variation in the river bed.

For example, trout fry prefer calmer, shallower waters compared to grown fish who prefer deeper pools.  These different habitats are created naturally by energy of a river which results in meanders. Water passing through a river flows faster on the outside of a bend than it does on the inside. The faster flowing water scours out deeper pools, ideal for big fish, and the slower water deposits sediment creating shallower areas for fry.  The scouring flow then deposits gravel downstream in riffles, an ideal place for spawning fish to lay their eggs.

Wandle Trust Makeover
To reinstate the natural meander, Tim and our contractors from Aquamaintain marked out a new path for the river using stakes (see picture below). The new river edge has been taking shape, with silt from the river and faggot bundles forming the new narrowed bank line. Once finished, this bank will be covered in aquatic plants much like our Hackbridge site – a chance for you to get involved!


September 16, 2014   No Comments

Another week, another project…

This has been an incredibly busy period of the Wandle Trust, and last week saw the start of another major restoration project to the River Wandle.

This new project is in Carshalton, focusing on a stretch of river at Butterhill Bridge which is currently impounded by a weir from a former mill. This has resulted in a large buildup of sediment on the river bottom – not an ideal habitat for any fish! On top of this, the weir itself is impassable to fish. Although a fish pass was installed a number of years ago, this has proved to be ineffective due to the length and angle at which it was installed preventing fish from successfully passing.


But never fear, the Wandle Trust is here! Over the next few weeks we will be lowering the weir and re-shaping the river using the excess sediment to create a gentle and natural meander.  The first step towards this was dropping the current water levels by opening a sluice on the weir. Once the water level has dropped, we are calling in the contractors!

Watch this space…

September 16, 2014   No Comments

Hackbridge Restoration Update

This month has seen some drastic changes to the Hackbridge site. Over the last few weeks, contractors and the Wandle Trust team have been working hard to create new banks, backwaters and even an island – all in the name of river restoration!

But with all the building works taking place, the site has begun to look a bit bare. To solve this we got planting…

Hackbridge Planting Event

Last weekend (6th, 7th and 8th September) 60 volunteers from the local community joined the Wandle Trust team and added 6000 plants to the banks of the Wandle. The plants were a variety of species designed to create a natural vegetation structure along the bank. Close to the to water’s edge, volunteers planted aquatic species such as flag iris, purple loosestrife, various sedge species, hemp agrimony, ragged robin and a number of other species to give 18 in all.  In the drier more meadowlike conditions tall herb like wildflower plugs and seeds were planted contatining a mix of 23 native species.

Once these plants have grown, the Hackbridge site will look brilliant – a true wildlife haven in Greater London.

We’d like to thank all the volunteers who came over the weekend to help us – we couldn’t have done it without you!

Working Hard?

Next steps for the site include the installation of woody debris to further diversify the habitats. So keep your eyes peeled for our next update!

September 16, 2014   No Comments

Five kingfishers on Monday

We just wanted to quickly say thank you to Ed, a Wandle Wanderer, for this beautiful picture of a kingfisher enjoying our restoration work – he managed to see five along the Wandle on Monday!

One of five Kingfishers spotted on the Wandle


September 15, 2014   No Comments

Welcome to Polly, Luke and Olly! (and sorry to Norfolk’s rivers!)

In the past few weeks we have had three new members of staff join the Wandle Trust & SERT team.

Polly Bryant joins us from Norfolk County Council and will be running our volunteer events; Luke Mitchell, who has been undertaking research on the River Stiffkey in Norfolk, will be working on river restoration projects – you may well bump into him in Ravensbury Park; and Olly van Biervliet, previously at Norfolk Rivers Trust, will be picking up our water quality projects from Claire.

(Whilst we’re very sorry to see Erica move on – at least she’s moving to Norfolk!)

Within half an hour of arriving at the Trust, Polly, Luke and Olly were already getting stuck into our river restoration work at Hackbridge!

Luke, Polly and Olly get stuck in!

Luke, Polly and Olly get stuck in!

September 10, 2014   No Comments

Hackbridge river restoration – the work progresses.

The river has continued to change quickly as our skilled contractors from Cain Bioengineering bring to fruition our plans. Nick, Jimmy, Alex, Will and James (with the occasional visit from Pete) have been working hard to continue the bank formation, backwater creation and island regrading with diggers, faggot bundles, stone, gravel and a lot of hard work.


The Cain Bioengineering crew hard at work:

This has resulted in a narrowing of the low flow channel and increased flows instream.  The narrowing and meandering river channel brings a lovely diversity of flow to the river which is important to give different habitats for different species of fish, plant and invertebrate life.


Increased flow diversity brings increased habitats:

As the work progressed the rivers natural gravels were revealed by the increased energy of the water and the working of the bed.  the gravels vary in size from very small to ‘cow skull’ size pieces of flint.  It is amazing to think that many of these gravels have probably not seen the light of day for hundreds of years!


Natural Wandle gravels:

A causeway has been  built which creates a separation of the river from the backwater pond area.  A bed of stone was laid onto which coir geotextile (appropriate considering how many coconuts we find in the river!) was laid. Gravel was used to weight the coir down and then silt and sediment from the pond area was laid over this and the coir folded and sown shut to create, in essence,  a large sausage like growbag!


The making of a causeway:

More silt and sediment was then overlaid ready for planting up with marginal plants.

The electricity cables were eventually spiked and cut to prove that they were indeed abandoned and this then allowed work to commence on the removal of the 3rd weir below the footbridge.


Proving the electricity cables are dead so we can excavate the bed:

The breaker soon made short work of the concrete and brick structure and the river was free of its last obstruction (around Culvers Island that is!). Soil from the island and sediment removed from the backwater pond area was placed onto the new banks ready for our planting events on 6,7 and 8th September.  There is still space to attend if you would like to. Contact Erica Evans at to sign up.


The third weir bites the dust:

Many passersby have commented on how clean the river now looks as the silt has been shifted and the clean gravels are seen. The increased water flow and movement is important in increasing oxygen levels in the water too. The Heron loves the work and has been seen at all times of day feasting on the thousands of tiny fish in the area.


The heron enjoys it’s rich feeding grounds:

The Contractor’s work will soon be finished – watch this space for a final update!

Then it is onto the planting and hopefully good growing conditions this autumns!

September 4, 2014   No Comments

Hackbridge river restoration project underway!

After months of planning and preparation the weir removal and river restoration project at Hackbridge is finally underway!

Those of you who have crossed the road bridge over the river or walked along the Wandle Trail in the past few weeks will have seen big changes with heavy machinery in the river, the sound of breaking concrete and the sight of a river re-emerging.

Our skilled contractors Cain Bioengineering with site manager Nick and his team of Alex and Jimmy have been working hard to bring to reality our vision for the river.

pic 1 compound

Gravel, stakes and hazel faggot bundles at the ready in the compound:

The work started with the removal of the heavily creosoted toeboarding from around the edge of the island.

pic 2 island no toeboard

Toeboarding removed from the island and an old speaker found in the river!:

pic 3 skip toeboarding

The toeboarding still smelt strongly of creosote after many years in the riverbank:

A new island bank line was then created with hazel faggot bundles secured with chestnut stakes and backed with coir netting in order to extend the island and narrow the river.  Sediment from the channel (of which there was a lot!) was then placed behind the new bank line.  This sediment is a result of the weirs slowing the water flow and causing sediment particles to settle out and smother the natural gravel bed.

pic 5 scraping silt

Scraping sediment to place behind the new bank line:

After the creation of a new bank line parts of the island were regraded to create a gradually sloped bank that will be planted up at a later date with plants suitable for the different habitat zones created. The dead trees were retained as they are an important habitat for all sorts of creatures including bats, woodpeckers and invertebrates.

pic 4 regraded island

Regrading the island with the excavator:

With the bed nearest the weir cleared of much of the sediment the weirs were breached and the process of breaking up the old weir structures begun.  The weir was found to be made up of cast iron plates, concrete, brick and lumps of chalk.  The cast iron was recycled and the proceeds will be converted into a pair of waders for our volunteer events!

pic 6 weir removal

Smashing up the old weir:

Once the weirs were breached the water levels dropped upstream and the process of narrowing the channel was started with a combination of more posts and faggot bundles or stone.

pic 7 narrowing

Forming a new bank line to narrow the river:

A sinuous meandering channel is starting to take shape and will allow for a variety of depths and flows with deeper faster flowing outside bends and shallower slower flowing inside bends providing varied habitats.

pic 8 taking shape]

Starting to take shape:

There have been many practical challenges along the way with sewer pipes, water mains and electricity cables criss crossing the river to be identified and avoided.  The joys of urban river restoration projects!

9 pipe location

Locating an electricity cable:

Look out for more updates as the work takes shape over the next week!

We will be holding a number of planting events to plant the island with native plant species in early September so please get in touch if you are interested in getting involved.

August 22, 2014   3 Comments

Wandle cleanup: August 2014: Sutton

The one with the remnants of Hurricane Bertha

After weeks of beautiful sunshine, we had everything crossed that the torrential rain forecast for the day of our cleanup would somehow miraculously steer clear of Beddington Park.   To begin with it seemed fine…

…. and then the heavens opened and it lashed down for 45 minutes.

Waiting to see whether any volunteers would turn up at all, we were astonished, but delighted, to see 10 people appear through the swish of the van’s windscreen wipers.

In addition, Amanda, a presenter/producer from Living Surrey – a television programme, which as its name suggests, features county interviews, news and more – had emailed to say that she would like to come and film us at work on the same day.

During a lull in the downpour, our hardy volunteers all decided that, as they had turned up and were already quite wet, that they would like to do something rather than go home.  Hurray!

So, in a rather pared down version of our usual cleanup, we got kitted up in waders and gloves, took builders bags, bin bags and litter pickers in 3 wheelbarrows, stored all our personal belongings in the van, and trekked off into the soggy parkland to pull up the remaining stands of Himalayan balsam, spotted the Saturday before.

We pulled up a good few stands in the little wetland under the trees

and having wheeled these to the car park just off London Road, where Sutton Council had asked us to put it, we started on the bank just by the stone and flint bridge.

We were making excellent progress when we received a telephone call from Amanda to say she and David, the cameraman, had arrived.

So this seemed a good time to take a break.  Even though we’d brought all the bits and pieces for  refreshments, we decided that it was easier to take our chocolate muffins to the Pavilion cafe and buy all the volunteers teas and coffees instead of firing up the gas boiler.

Amanda and David joined us at the picnic benches outside the cafe and began interviewing our volunteers, asking them what it was that motivated them to turn out on such a wet day!  Tune into the programme on Sky 192 from 15th August at 7pm (or go to their website – Episode 6) to find out what they said!

With a camera and sound boom in tow, we went back to our HB bashing and everyone was filmed pulling up the few remaining stands

loading them into the builders’ bags or wheeling them all away.

Finally, when we all agreed that it was a ‘wrap’,  we went our separate ways home for hot baths and dry clothes

but not before AJ tipped out one last bag of HB on to the pile in the car park before we set off for the garage.

Huge thanks to AJ who helped load up, drive and unload the van, to Bill Wyatt and Ian Hudson who organised the removal of the balsam, and to our small team of valiant if rather sodden volunteers:

AJ, Ali, Bert, Charles, Chris, David, Per, Rose, Sid and Tony

August 17, 2014   No Comments


32 (1)

July’s picnic was our chance to say thank you and farewell (in due course) to Erica who has organised and run the monthly cleanups since November 2008. She has only missed one – a friend of hers was celebrating a 50th birthday with an elegant lunch at a hotel in Sussex – an invitation she couldn’t refuse – but Erica still came and loaded up the van on that morning, leaving Andy and me to drive to the location and supervise the volunteers!


Erica has decided to join her family in East Anglia and even we have to agree that this location is a little too far to just ‘pop down’ to the Wandle and see which bits need cleaning up. So, whilst we were all relaxing on the grass with our delicious picnic, we made a few speeches, presented her with a card signed by everyone, containing something for her to spend in John Lewis, as well as giving her a Jane Porter original ‘Wandle’ picture (note the eels in the car tyre!)



and, of course, a coconut! Our regular volunteers know that when we decided to keep a record of the amount and type of rubbish removed from the Wandle, there would inevitably be a coconut. Curious as to why this was, Erica researched the reasons and wrote a piece for our newsletter (it’s to do with the Hindu festival of Ganesh). Since then, it’s been an ongoing symbol of our efforts to protect the river.

She wanted me to let you know that she was absolutely thrilled with her presents and sends a huge thank you to everyone. She was so touched by all your good wishes and hopes to catch up with you all as she’ll continue to organise the cleanups until a successor has been appointed, and will help handover to the new person too.


Erica says she will definitely be back to pick up a litter picker and bin bag and be part of the happy band of volunteers that make Wandle cleanups the success they are.

I’m sure those of you who know her would like thank her for her commitment and for the hard work she has put in since she became involved with the trust around 15 years ago, and wish her all the very best for the future.


August 2, 2014   No Comments