Caught by the River

Our Rivers: follow up

20th November 2010

The results of the Our Rivers ‘best’ & ‘worst’ awards was always going to be controversial. Personally, I think the campaign got people talking and thinking about rivers and that’s obviously a good thing, but I do agree with reader Charlotte Starkey, who sent us the letter below, and also the point made by someone on today’s UK Rivers Network press release, which I will run below Charlottes. What we don’t need to happen now is to let the campaign have been anything other than an armchair exercise. The rivers do need our help and we all know how huge the rewards for that are. Follow the example of the Wandle Trust and the like-minded community associations around the country and get involved. The UK Rivers Network newsletter always contains a list of local clean-ups, walks and events that are taking place on a daily basis. Sign up to it HERE and do your bit.

Re: your item on the ‘River Poll’. This below is just a comment from me:
Just for information – I sent this letter to the BBC this week because I was so concerned at the bad report the recent opinion poll gave of the Mersey. As you know, I’m passionate about this river and it has had a terrible press since the time of the Industrial Revolution. This poll is not helping because it could lead people to ‘give up’ on trying to continue the dramatic improvements that have been made over recent decades. I’m not suggesting it compares to the Wye, but, as with reports on schools, this poll is making statements about totally unlike environments and it has to be recognised that for much of its forty-odd miles of journey the Mersey is competing with old industrial sites, heavily built-up urban and inner-city connurbations, and so on. In spite of which, this river is majestic at the Liverpool end, fascinating inland for the history along its banks, seeing fish and wildlife of all kinds populating it throughout the entire length. and showing dramatic improvements in water quality.
Incidentally, by mistake I sent the email below to BBC Look North (not responsible for the news item on Online News (BBC)/North West – and they replied to me expressing their concern too, because they have carried many good reports of the improvements to the river. BBCOnline (responsible for the item on their local CEEFAX page – Around the North West) have not replied to me.
Hope I’m not being a pain but I do think it matters a great deal because the environment generally and clean rivers are vulnerable in a period of drastic financial constraints.


The Best and the Worst River… oh really?
There was plenty of press coverage of rivers this week following the Our Rivers poll, which revealed: “The Wye has been voted the public’s favourite river in England and Wales, while The Thames has been voted the worst.” No, really? A notably scenic river is voted “the best”… and the one that runs through the biggest city in the country (where more people are likely to vote in an online poll) is “the worst”? The Thames recently and rightly garnered a huge international award (the Theiss River Prize) recognizing how hard many people have worked (and are working) to bring it back “from the dead”; a rather simplistic “worst river” judgement by lots of people who know little about the river is a bit of a kick in the teeth for all that effort, and for all those community groups who regularly do their bit to make the Thames better. To be fair, Our Rivers did try to make that point, but it was lost in most of the coverage I read. Anyway, here’s a positive suggestion for next time: Environmentalism isn’t about chiding governments and agencies into solving our problems from the cosy comfort of our computers. What can make bad rivers good? Time and time again, in many different countries, we’ve seen that what works best is energetic people in ordinary communities taking responsibility and turning things around. So next time… maybe we could use an exercise like this to encourage people to join local river groups and start making a positive difference?