I’ve spent the past few days highlighting the years of neglect and environmental horror show at my local wetlands, Brent Reservoir (Welsh Harp) in NW London. Through underfunding this famous location - a reservoir and recreational centre since 1834, and more importantly a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) since the 1950s for its breeding, nesting and migrant birds and wildlife - is slowly choking to death.
Debris and rubbish has always jutted incongruously out of the shallow water at Welsh Harp. I used to laugh this off as 'gritty and urban’ but with the water level temporarily lowered by 1m this month for dam repairs what’s been revealed is the catastrophic extent of the problem.
Decades of chronic silt build-up from two rivers now supports two marshlands of non-degradable waste; a landscape of wheelie bins, rusting supermarket trollies, traffic cones, toys, tyres, off-cut timber, fly-tipped waste, polluted pools and metre-upon-metre of shredded micro-plastics. River traps are clogged, and reed beds host the overflow. Littering is rife along the shore, where a ‘broken window’ culture has been allowed to establish itself in a SSSI. Local volunteers do their best with regular litter-picks, but they can only scratch the surface. Amid this, remarkably, birds still feed and breed, although who knows what they are ingesting.
Away from music I am a keen birder. Lockdown has taken me to many nature sites for isolated walks around London & Herts. What has shocked me is the appalling state of Welsh Harp by comparison, especially when one considers its long history, environmental importance and 70 yr-old SSSI status. It seems hard to believe that in 1931 Neasden Public Library opened a first-floor reading terrace overlooking the water.
The site is managed by five different bodies - Canal & River Trust, Brent Council, Barnet Council, Environment Agency and Natural England - most of whom I have spoken to this week. Limited means is the continued refrain from all of them.
I hope that my recent photo-stories might begin a new initiative of funding and action.
Someone has to step up. Welsh Harp is a famous SSSI that is on its knees.