Rivers reborn

Not everything is getting worse, Nige admits. Our rivers have been transformed in recent years…

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 report last year by the Environment Agency confirmed how transformed these rivers are from their polluted past – and was 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…

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

4 thoughts on “Rivers reborn

  1. Worm
    May 22, 2012 at 09:30

    Satisfying to think that the Wandle should hopefully still be there long after we’re gone – even if by that stage the trout have arms and legs and the kingfishers have lasers

  2. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    May 22, 2012 at 10:02

    Once again Nige, Carshalton leads the field. Here we go again, sunny day, warm breeze, odd pong. Standing at the end of, I think, Culvers retreat admiring the vista, trees, television factory and signpost for Hackbridge station. It’s the Wandle, she said, gets worse in summer. Not kidding, I thought.
    Jarrow, that Sienna of the north, less the terracotta of course, has a river, the Don, the one that the Venerable Bede walked along, in full contemplation mode, on his way to the weekend retreat, Monkwearmouth. So foul was this conduit of hell that the aroma could be enjoyed on the banks of it’s namesake, as it flowed down to the sea.

  3. Gaw
    May 22, 2012 at 17:19

    I suppose our pollution migrated to China’s rivers.

  4. info@shopcurious.com'
    May 23, 2012 at 23:57

    Much as Worm treasures derelict buildings, I’m rather partial to the curio-infested waters of our inner city hinterlands. Even herons don’t seem to mind the odd upturned shopping trolley. The Wandle is a river oozing with character and history (like Tony Trude’s sunken houseboat) though currently being ‘revitalised’ by the fashion for riverside living. I’m thinking of relocating to St Helens.

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