Many users of Hackney Marshes would have been happier if the photos of Sophia Evans in the Guardian (07-04-21) had been used to tell a more instructive story. Extolling the beauty of the river Lea and glamorising it as a ‘secret paradise’ will unfortunately only serve to compound the river’s environmental problems, made worse by the pandemic and expose insouciant visitors to high levels of risk.
For regular marsh users the ‘Hackney Beach’ phenomenon of last summer was a cause for concern for several reasons: Firstly, as the Guardian highlighted recently, the practice of the privatised water companies, such as Thames Water, of regularly dumping raw, untreated sewage into rivers such as the Lea. There are other dangers too. Signs along the bank warn of the dangers from waterborne diseases such as leptospirosis, also known as Weil's disease. This is a bacterial infection spread by animal urine. There is also the risk of E. coli and gastroenteritis. Unfortunately the warning signs are often ignored. Given the NHS has been stretched to its limits; exposure to these avoidable risks should not be encouraged by glamorising this stretch of the river.
The area where the photos were taken is undeniably beautiful but it is important to encourage responsible enjoyment. When used by large numbers huge quantities of discarded rubbish are generated that has to regularly cleaned up by council staff and volunteers. Hackney Marshes is one of the largest areas of common land in Greater London comprising 336 acres. It is a valuable natural asset but it is in danger of overuse and mis-use. As the council website states, ‘the River Lea that runs next to Hackney Marshes is valuable wildlife habitat. Birds nest all along the river, and walking down the banks and swimming in the river destroys valuable habitat and food sources for the birds and other wildlife.
Marsh users' photos sadly tell a different story, their lenses convey some of the problems. They show the plastic that sadly flows downstream, hangs from the boughs of trees along the banks and fouls the riverbank. It is not only unsightly for visitors, a hazard for the birds and wildlife but a salutary reminder that there is a need to better communicate how to safely use, enjoy and protect our parks and open spaces.
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