Don't Mess With Me

Broadcast on BBC1, 28th November 2014


Margaret Mountford
Richard Elkan
Dick Vincent
Veronica Seymour Farr

"Don't Mess with Me" is a documentary series about efforts to solve the problem of littering. Margaret Mountford sets out to discover what it would take to keep our country clean. On 28th November 2014 one of its episodes included a five minute feature on London Canal Volunteers and their efforts to clean up the Regent's Canal.
Unfortunately this episode is no longer available on I-Player but a selection of the images and transcripts are provided below.

We've heard a lot about people who drop litter. But think about the volunteers who give up their own time to clear up other people's mess.

There are over 2,000 miles of canals in the UK. A network of man-made waterways running through our countryside and towns. For city dwellers they offer a welcome escape from the noise and stress of an urban environment.

They're green, they're cool in hot weather and of course you've got the water. Water is an endless fascination. It's always moving, it's always changing. You never get bored with it.

But this green oasis running through the heart of London is being ruined by litter louts who throw rubbish on the banks and into the water.

Well, you couldn't help but notice the amount of litter that was on the canals. It's a great shame because it does detract greatly from the appearance of the canal so really I just thought, well, something could be done about this.

It's not just the appearance of the litter that's a problem.

Litter on the canal is a really, really big problem especially when it becomes water-borne, either suspended or floating on top of a canal. And the reason for that is very simple. It affects navigation directly. It can be caught on a propeller on a boat and affect how that functions. But it also spoils the environment in both very much the visual sense - i.e. nobody likes to see litter floating on the canal - but also it affects the biodiversity. It can affect fish. It can affect the natural plants and other species that live along the canal.

With the litter building up Richard decided to act. Supported by the Canal and River Trust he set up London Canal Volunteers. He applied for a grant from the Mayor of London and bought a boat

This is our little twelve foot aluminium dory that we bought with the grant. We have our patent litter sieves, a combination of a garden sieve and a broom pole, which is my own little invention.

Today's litter mission is on one of London's biggest canals, the Regent's Canal, close to where it joins the Thames. The volunteers are heading for litter hotspots under the bridges.

Under the bridge there is quite a lot of litter on the offside. We can actually get off the boat and pick that litter up on the offside.

The side of the canal with the path is called the towpath side and the other is the offside.

This is one of the things we do - is get to the offside of the canal that other people don't normally get to.

Apparently bridges over the canal are just too tempting for litter louts.

Bridges are really bad because people walking over realise that it's a canal and think "Aha, I can throw my rubbish in here". The offside is one bit of the canal which really never gets clean unless you get in a boat and cross over to it. So Ian's ashore at the moment picking up what he can find, which is a good old armful.

Even the accessible bank has shocking amounts of litter so while Richard and Ian man the boat volunteer Veronica, who lives on a canal boat, cleans the bank.

I just want to keep it clean and encourage people to use it properly and if they see us cleaning up then perhaps they'll learn not to throw rubbish around and it's very important because of course it's a huge area full of litter and people have to learn that you can ruin the lives of birds and insects by just wantonly throwing rubbish in there.

The lock gates on the canal trap litter in a filthy slick on the surface. It looks disgusting but apparently today it's better than usual.

This is pretty typical although I would say that it's fairly light. Often at lock gates, if there hasn't been any traffic through for a while then you can get quite a bit congregating. The usual suspects, bottles and cans. It's amazing, the visual mess that one tiny polystyrene cup makes. It breaks up into about twenty bits.

The huge range of litter reveals the contempt people have for the waterways and how little they care about these unique havens of wildlife.

One tennis ball full of water. No goldfish.

Richard and the canal volunteers are trying their best to turn the canals they love from an eyesore back into an oasis.

There's a lot of stuff in there.

Another stretch of canal has been cleared, for now. The waste is all stored in a barge until it can be towed away.

Well, it was a good day today. We got six bags of rubbish out. The usual stuff. Only five tennis balls so we're a little bit down on average. I think some people appreciate the work we do. That's for sure. We get a lot of nice compliments from boaters particularly and hopefully in the future more and more people will appreciate us.