Hope for the Welsh Harp

Two people with rubbish from Welsh Harp reservoir

Volunteers with bags of rubbish after clearing litter from the Welsh Harp reservoir. - Credit: Friends of the Welsh Harp

Things are looking up for the Welsh Harp reservoir, after Canal and River Trust contractors removed the above-surface large debris from the marshes.

Rubbish fished out this month includes items such as wheelie bins, plastic chairs and supermarket trollies, some of it decades old.

Resident Leila Taheri, 36, lives by the reservoir and has been part of Friends of the Welsh Harp, a group which organises litter clean-ups, since summer 2020.

“It only took one day with two men and one boat. But this is a chronic issue,” says Leila. “It’s an environmental disaster. It literally looks like a skip.”

She initially got involved in the group because of how much litter there was around the Welsh Harp. Since January 2021, the group have collected 1,000 bags of litter. Before January, the group had collected more than 2,000 bags in the last five years.

More litter was exposed after the Canal and River Trust lowered the water level in the reservoir on January 11 to make repairs to the dam.

Cllr Krupa Sheth, lead member for environment at Brent council, says the council is playing its part in making the reservoir a better place.

She said: “We’re determined to secure a cleaner, greener future for the Welsh Harp. As well as taking a long-term view, we’ve also acted swiftly to tackle some of the immediate challenges at the site, with extra litter picks, better signage and more bins.”

The Welsh Harp is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), so by law, the trust and Brent and Barnet councils are bound to maintain it, because of the protected bird and plant species.

Leila added: “We’re hoping the health of the reservoir will be maintained. There is still a lot of rubbish in the reservoir itself under the water. And the issue of microplastics, how will that be solved? There’s also 16 protected plant species and no one knows what the status of those are.”

There appears to be no biodiversity plan, ranger or ecologist on Barnet council, but the council does provide the Friends of the Welsh Harp with litter pickers, bags and gloves.

“There needs to be adequate funding. There is approximately half-a-million pounds given to this SSSI, because they built a development here," Leila added.

“The litter clean-up is the easiest job. All the public bodies are really quick to blame the public for the rubbish. They call it unsightly. But it’s more about the health of the environment. There is a broken window culture in this area: if it looks like the people in charge are not treating it well, then that’s how people are going to treat it.

“Imagine if we lived in Hampstead. The council there wouldn’t allow this to happen.”

Musician Ben Watt, who lives near the reservoir, said: “I feel we could be at a turning point for this famous but long-neglected green space. The removal of large debris sends a strong message to the public that owners might actually care after all.”

However, he said there is still “a long way to go”.

Volunteer next to a bin with rubbish from the Welsh Harp

A Friends of the Welsh Harp volunteer with tyres, a chair and bags of rubbish collected from the reservoir. - Credit: Friends of the Welsh Harp

“Toxic silt and microplastics are still threatening the protected wetlands. Fly-tipping and absence of a biodiversity plan is threatening the open spaces. It will need a concerted effort from all three owners [Barnet council, Brent council and the Canal and River Trust] to put this right, but it is now going in the right direction,” Watt said.

A Barnet Council spokesperson added: “We work with a range of partners including the Canals and Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency to look after the Welsh Harp. We receive ecology and biodiversity advice via consultancy arrangements and our emerging draft Sustainability Strategy will include considerations around the natural environment in the future.

“We are also supporting the development of a long-term, collaborative vision for the Welsh Harp with our partners, which will engage residents and address a range of issues – including whether extra bins are required.”

East Marsh at Welsh Harp before the litter clean-up.

The East Marsh view at Welsh Harp before the litter clean-up. - Credit: Ben Watt

East Marsh at Welsh Harp after the litter clean-up.

The East Marsh view at Welsh Harp after the litter clean-up. - Credit: Ben Watt