Victoria Summerley: We must educate the public not to use a river as a dump

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My local river is the Wandle. It gives its name to Wandsworth, where I live, and anyone who has ever been through south-west London has probably crossed it without knowing, because there are long underground stretches. But whereas many Thames tributaries live secret, subterranean lives, the Wandle frequently bursts forth - through the parklands of Beddington and Morden Hall, for example.

It's a fast-flowing chalk stream which has proved a blessing and a curse. At the end of the 18th century, the Huguenot refugees who settled in south-west London found the slightly alkaline Wandle water was ideal for their industries (dyeing, hat-making and weaving).

William Morris set up a factory on the Wandle at Merton Abbey in 1881, and Arthur Liberty followed, producing the prints that made his name world-famous. The river, once famous for its brown trout, became heavily polluted. By the 1960s, before the dawn of environmental awareness, much of it was little better than a sewer.

In the past 20 years, various initiatives have not only helped restore the health of the Wandle but given it a new career. Merton Abbey Mills is now a craft village. At Morden Hall, a former deer park now owned by the National Trust, the river becomes a series of meandering streams, and children play Pooh-sticks on the bridge.

And the trout are back, released into the river each year by local schoolchildren who raise the fry under the Wandle Trust's Trout in the Classroom scheme.

The trust, in partnership with a whole host of organisations ranging from local boroughs to the Environment Agency and fishing clubs, oversees the health of the river and organises regular clean-ups. These, sadly, are necessary because although the Wandle is no longer polluted by dyes and chemicals, it is used a dumping ground for tyres, supermarket trolleys, and any other items of household detritus people can't be bothered to take to the tip.

We may have legislated to prevent industry releasing waste into our waterways but we still have to educate the general public that "river" does not spell "dustbin".

I've taken part in these clean-ups and I remember once meeting a family who told me how much they loved the river. One of their children had taken part in a trout release at his primary school and as a result took an almost proprietorial pride in the river. I'm fairly confident he will grow up to be one less thoughtless person chucking rubbish in a British waterway.

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