Such beautiful photographs by Sophia Evans of bathers in the River Lea (Escaping the pandemic: East London’s secret paradise – in pictures, 7 April).
But before half of London flocks to this riverside paradise this summer, they should consider the lurgies lurking in that cool water. A nasty dose of gastroenteritis, for example.
The Lea is terribly polluted – in fact this very newspaper last year reported the quantity of raw sewage (shit, tampons... that sort of thing) discharged into wetlands that feed into the river (Revealed: raw sewage poured into Olympic Park wildlife haven, 2 July 2020). It’s also an important habitat for protected birds that was strewn with litter most of last summer.
Readers, if you love the river, this summer why not dive in to supporting the many groups trying to improve it? Maybe then we can all enjoy safe, clean swimming in the Lea someday soon.
The River Lea at Hackney Marshes is full of crap, and it is alarming to see you glossing it over.
Nobody knows how much faecal bacteria drifts down river from the copious raw sewage releases at Thames Water’s huge plant at Deepham, or whether anyone got sick in the river last summer.
Those are among the things local people in the newly launched State of the Lea action network are trying to find out. We do know that local volunteers are pulling sanitary waste out of the river just upstream of “Hackney Beach”.
Hackney Marshes Users Group
Sophie Evans’ photos are beautiful, and it is a beautiful spot, but the photographs are massively deceptive. The River Lea at Hackney Marshes is plagued by plastic pollution and also by sanitary pollution due to Thames Water combined sewer overflow discharges – the subject of your recent article (Water firms discharged raw sewage into English waters 400,000 times last year, 31 March).
Various volunteers and community groups have been trying to remove as much sanitary waste as possible from the branches and the banks as the water recedes (it was covered in the Hackney Gazette). The situation is so bad it is jeopardising the wildlife and is hazardous to bathers and the mayor of Hackney has written to the Environment Agency about these concerns.
By presenting these beautiful photographs with no context, you are quite literally encouraging people to go swimming in shit.
Lots of people in our cities rediscovered parks and nature during the pandemic, which have provided a lifeline for many, particularly those without access to green space of their own.
While we are passionate about encouraging this, your photo feature of swimmers in the River Lea in east London ignores the serious risk the polluted water causes to health. The most recent analysis of water in the river shows that it is consistently poor across all measures, including frequent dumping of raw sewage.
We have recently written to the Environment Agency to ask for an update on their work to tackle pollution in the river.
Your photo feature also fails to reference the significant and lasting impact on the environment last year of swimmers, barbecues, fires, litter and human waste.
The area is a habitat for wildlife – including nesting kingfishers and owls. Last year, bird nests were abandoned, litter was left on the banks and thrown into the river and fires, barbecues and heavy footfall damaged the riverbank.
We’re proud that local residents have been enjoying our parks and green spaces throughout the pandemic, but this can’t come at any cost. As more of us explore nature, we must remember to leave no trace so that future generations can enjoy it too.
Strategic director, sustainability and public realm, Hackney council