Wednesday, 15 August 2012

London's Ugly Duckling

We hope you all enjoyed the Olympics just as much as we did! What a fabulous result for Team GB and for London, who did a sterling job showcasing the world's premier cultural and sporting event. In the water in particular we excelled, winning 22 medals (including 7 golds) in swimming, sailing, diving, rowing and canoeing. But if we're leaving a legacy for these sports, surely we should be leaving a legacy for our waterways too? That's what Thames21 - an environmental charity in London - is trying to do as part of their Big Waterways Clean Up 2012 campaign, a London 2012 partnered project to clean up the rivers before the Olympics and maintain them in the future.

Did you know that it's not actually anyone's job to get litter out of our rivers? The shopping trolley floating lazily downstream, the crisp packets, the plastic bags... without volunteers at organisations like Thames21 they won't be fished out.

Thames21 are out to show that river litter needs to be dealt with and they've recently helped send out the message in a quite fascinating way. Last month London's residents came face to face with a huge 2.5 metre duck calmly minding its own business on Regent's Canal. Design students Ferdinand Povel and Essie Salonen, armed with over 2000 plastic bottles fished out of the Thames by volunteers, created 'The Rubbish Duck', probably the largest water-dwelling bird in history. It was an ambitious project, but they had a quack at it (sorry) and just look at the final result!

Co-creator Ferdinand says, "The sculpture symbolises the disregard towards the local environment but also draws attention to a larger problem plastic pollution causes globally."

It's a fantastic masterpiece that sends a serious message about the sheer amount of plastic pollution we are responsible for and the direct effect it has on our wildlife and environment. Without people like Ferdinand, Essie and Thames21 highlighting this problem, the Thames may never lose it's reputation as one of the dirtiest rivers on the planet.

The state of our own waterways in Manchester aren't of a gold medal standard either. No matter where you go in the city centre; the Irwell; the Medlock; the Canal network; when river levels are low you'll see the banks littered with... well... litter. Since the '80s lots of work has been done to reverse the effects of pollution from the Industrial Revolution and bring back wildlife, but we still suffer from fly-tipping and littering.

Rubbish on the banks of River Irwell

Only the other day I saw a guy who was walking over Blackfriars Bridge in the city centre finish his drink and throw the empty bottle into the Irwell without a care in the world. Luckily, Karma got involved shortly afterwards and the man tripped and fell over on the pavement, to the merry amusement of other passers-by. But without the vital education and involvement from charities like Thames 21, I fear we may be fighting a losing battle.

Let's love our waterways and, who knows, maybe a beautiful bird will grace our waters one day? I've heard the larger species can be migratory...

The Rubbish Duck was on show during July's Regent's Canal Festival and is currently swimming through London. It will appear at the Angel Canal Festival in September before finally being recycled by Eco Plastics and Grundon later this year. You can learn more about the project at

The Contemporary Caveman