How an Enfield council worker is helping clean the oceans using his local river

Drowning in plastic

I think there is a feeling of fearful resignation when watching documentaries like Drowning in Plastic or David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. Both showed the immense scale of the plastic pollution problem – and just how global and complex it all is. What can we really do that will make a dent in all this?

Start with local

For me the answer lies closer to home. If we, in the so-called developed countries, can’t manage to keep our own local rivers clean, then what chance the oceans of the world. It is easily within our gift to get in control of our immediate environment. We can help restore local habitats, reduce pollution, and generally raise awareness.

Changing minds, changing behaviours

If we do our bit, we also start changing the minds of the people around us – our actions are seen by people in neighbouring areas, and so we create a powerful influence from our own local behaviour. Our children can see what we do, they understand why, and we also start to change the minds of the next generation.

Stop polluting our local rivers

Our local rivers used to be fed naturally with rain falling on the land and seeping in through the water-course and from smaller tributaries, but as we’ve built on the surrounding land, more and more rain

water is simply washing off roofs, and roads into the rainwater drainage system and directly into the rivers. Increasing the surfaces that rainwater drains off – driveways and new extensions creates high peak influxes of water during heavy rains, instead of a more gradual natural seepage through the land. We’ve effectively changed how our natural rainwater system works.

We’re flushing our toilets into our rivers (in this country…)

This might not sound like a pollution issue, but as more development has gone on, peoples’ waste water – from toilets and washing machines has been misconnected into the rainwater systems. So, we are directing toilet waste, detergent and microfibres into our rivers and then out to sea. Rainwater from the roads also picks up further pollution – oils, chemicals, building waste, fibres from tyres.

A local hero

This is all fixable – and it is about us playing our part locally.

I read recently about the work Ian Russel, the borough engineer at Enfield Council, is leading to try to alleviate this problem.

Some of the solutions include, would you believe, blocking drain covers, and creating roadside swales (dips with planting), which absorb the rainwater, thus preventing polluted rainwater entering the river systems.



Some of the drain covers lead to rivers which are covered over in parts (culverted). These drain covers are labelled to let the public know – and hopefully treat them with more respect – i.e. discouraging people from pouring engine oil or decorating waste into them.

Some of the misconnections into culverted rivers are being dealt with by opening them up and effectively creating wetlands, using reed beds to clean up the water – just like old school sewage works.


These are inspirational schemes – their visibility helps get the message out.

We can do our bit by supporting the water companies deal with misconnections, encouraging our local councils to think more like Enfield, raising awareness locally and taking direct action – forming friends groups to protect our local stretch of river.

Simeon Linstead

Founder and CEO of Start with Local.