The Welsh Harp Reservoir Clean-Up

We have looked after the Welsh Harp since it became a charity in 2012, and before that as British Waterways. We are working with our partners in the area to find an efficient and safe solution for the unsightly rubbish on the reservoir bed.

Here you can read our FAQs for anyone who would like more information about what we are doing in response.

View across Brent (Welsh Harp) reservoir View across Brent (Welsh Harp) reservoir

Update 01/03/2021

Here is an update on the clean-up operation now underway at the Welsh Harp reservoir.

Following the announcement that lockdown restrictions are to be eased, our local volunteering teams will soon be able to resume the important role of complementing our local staff with the removal of litter at the Welsh Harp.

  • The refill of the reservoir commenced on Monday 22 February and the water is rising at 3mm per hour.
  • The team began the recovery of the debris on Thursday.
  • The main constraint to obtaining remaining debris is the water level, which is still too low for the contractors to reach the rubbish safely. We are aware of it, will keep going, and are looking at other solutions including a hovercraft.
  • During the week of the 1 March, we expect the water level to be at a state where the debris can be reached.

This action plan outlines how we intend to together work to achieve the ambitions of the partners and local community for the Welsh Harp reservoir.

Update 18/02/2021

We continue to be very grateful to the local residents who have cleared litter from around the reservoir in recent weeks.  Whilst their determination is to be celebrated, it remains a sad indictment on others in society that so much litter is dropped, or fly tipped in the first place.

Our local operations colleagues have been on site as much as possible, juggling their work at the reservoir alongside keeping the canals in West London operational and flowing.  Without being able to mobilise our usual small ‘army’ of amazing volunteers, unfortunately there remains litter in and around the reservoir.

With the legal requirement to start filling the reservoir back up this month in time for the bird breeding season, we have pontoons on site which will ensure we are able to remove the larger items of rubbish as the reservoir refills.

Longer term, the amount of litter and fly tipped waste requires a partnership approach. We are continuing to speak to the volunteers, Brent and Barnet councils, and the Environment Agency. Tackling the fly tipped waste that accumulates at the trash screens at the reservoir’s inflows remains an ongoing priority. Working together, and looking beyond the current pandemic, there may be an opportunity in the future, if water levels are lowered once again, to coordinate a further clean-up, working with, for example, canoe clubs to reach otherwise difficult to access areas around the reservoir.

Frequently asked questions

Who owns the Welsh Harp reservoir?

The Canal and River Trust have looked after the Welsh Harp since it became a charity in 2012, and before that as British Waterways. Brent Council, Barnet Council, The Brent Catchment Partnership, and the Environment Agency have responsibilities for the surrounding area and water that feeds into the reservoir.

We are working with partners to find an efficient and safe solution for the unsightly rubbish on the reservoir bed. One of the big issues is a known fly-tipping hotspot about 50 metres upstream. 

Thanks to the Environment Agency, which is aware of this, as they have agreed to attend site to clear the fly-tipping.

Why has the Welsh Harp reservoir been lowered and how long will the reservoir be lowered for?

The reservoir is likely to see water levels lowered for the next two weeks. Though the litter is unsightly, we have sought permission from Natural England to keep the water levels lowered until 19 February. This allows us and our partners a little more time to undertake our work of statutory inspections, remove litter, remaining compliant with coronavirus restrictions and risk assessments which given the peak in infection rates, don’t permit organised volunteer events, and limit the scope of work parties and availability of staff. The Trust has a legal requirement to refill the reservoir in time for bird breeding season

The lowering of the reservoir began on 4 January 2021. The water has been lowered by 1.2 metres to enable a statutory inspection of the sluice valve house to be carried out under Section 10 of the Reservoir Act. Whilst the water level is down, the dam head wall and side dam are also being inspected. A diving team will conduct an inspection of the sluice valve house supporting structure below water level.

The reservoir was lowered after gaining permission from the Environment Agency and Natural England. The inspection works commenced on Monday 25 January and have so far been successful. Diving works will be taking place during the week commencing 1 February which are likely to be completed by Wednesday 3 February. 

We have permission from Natural England to keep the water levels lower until 19 February, to enable our partners the Welsh Harp Sailing Club the opportunity to do works while the water levels are down, to enable the Trust to carry out litter removal around the margins of the reservoir, and then for the larger waste items to be collected from pontoons as the water levels are raised.

We need to start re-filling by Friday 19 February to ensure the water is back at normal level by 26 February to comply with the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) regulations as set by Natural England.

Returning the reservoir to the normal level is dependent on water supply to the reservoir from the surrounding catchments.

What did the Trust undertake once the extent of the rubbish was revealed?

We reported the incident to the Environment Agency (EA) with all the detailed information on Friday 15 January 2021. (Incident reference number: 1879814).

The Trust’s Heritage and Environment Manager attended the site with operational colleagues to assess the situation first-hand on Saturday 16 January 2021.

On Monday 18 January 2021 we contacted the EA to request that their trash screen was cleared. They advised us that they had attended to clear it on Friday 15 January 2021. The waste was left on site due to it being contaminated with Japanese knotweed, so a specialist contractor was instructed to clear the waste. On Thursday 21 January 2021 this was followed up with the EA with regards to the clearance of the trash screen on the silk stream.

Our local team have mapped the larger items and a meeting to discuss their removal was held on Friday 22 January 2021. Due to these being in deep mud we have instructed specialist contractors to remove these items using the pontoon system currently on site. These will be removed once the reservoir is back in water as this is the safest option.

On Friday 22 January 2021 we attended the Welsh Harp Vision 2021 Meeting with Brent, Barnet, The GLA and London Wildlife Trust. This was to progress the joint vision for the reservoir.

What happens now?

In summary the Trust will focus on the following:

  • Clean-up: The Welsh Harp reservoir clean-up is one of the immediate issues that is being addressed by the Trust. The local Trust Operations team will endeavour to remove the smaller items from the shoreline despite current resourcing challenges due to COVID-19.
  • Larger fly tipping items: Many larger items uncovered by the drawdown were in the vicinity of the highway bridges at Cool Oak Lane and Priestley Way. These larger items will be removed when the reservoir is re-watered from floating pontoons during the week commencing 19 February 
  • Signage: The Trust will undertake initial improvements by replacing the interpretative panels and are planning an upgrade with new signage and waymarking around the site.
  • Consultative groups: A stakeholder consultation exercise is being planned to understand aspirations of those with an interest in The Welsh Harp. This is planned for 2021.
  • Local Councillors: A meeting with local councillors is scheduled for Monday 1 February 2021.

In the medium to long term the Trust will focus on the following:

  • The Trust has been and will continue to be committed to protecting and enhancing the reservoir and its status as a formally designated SSSI. Despite long-standing interests and investment, the site suffers from a range of issues. The Trust continues to tackle these issues with our partners and a long term strategy and vision is being created as part of this work while we seek to identify potential funding sources.
  • The Welsh Harp Joint Consultative Committee (WHJCC) has provided a valuable sounding board for discussion and partnership working in respect of the SSSI. Work is undertaken through accessing externally sourced funding. Several self-organised local groups and local voluntary sector organisations meet regularly for clean ups and small-scale conservation projects, such as the Friends of the Welsh Harp. Their work and support is incredibly important and we would like to continue to work with them and develop the opportunities for further public involvement recognising the community’s passion, presence on site and commitment to being more involved.

Decades of silt build-up have not been tackled. What is the plan for the dredging of the Welsh Harp reservoir bed and what has been done so far?

As the charity that owns the reservoir, we have assessed the volume, composition of the litter and debris in the reservoir, and how best to remove it. We welcome the opportunity to work with and be part of the proposed action group.

We understand that dredging has been mentioned as a popular solution for the removal of the rubbish, and the Trust often uses dredging on the canal network to increase water capacity, which does not apply to this reservoir, or for environmental reasons. The issue here is removing litter, and in that regard, we know that the cost of dredging for the removal of litter would cost millions and is something we do not have the money to do.

How much would the dredging of the Welsh Harp cost and is there funding available?

Having consulted our engineers and dredging specialists within the Trust, we have found that dredging at the Welsh Harp unfortunately is prohibitively expensive. The expense of dredging all silt from the reservoir would be astronomical, in the millions. The Trust is however revisiting previous (unsuccessful) funding applications for innovations to reduce siltation in the worst affected areas.

The Trust is also working with the EA, the local authorities, and stakeholders within the wider river catchment to address water pollution and flood risk. This includes joint funding bids for measures to reduce the amount of suspended sediment that reaches the reservoir from the upper catchment which would remove it before it reaches the reservoir.

Why have volunteers been clearing up the rubbish on the reservoir bed?

We are enormously grateful to the volunteers who have already collected many bags of litter. Like them, the Trust is unhappy with the amount of litter and fly-tipped debris. It is a sad indictment on those in our society who think is it acceptable to drop litter and fly-tip.

We would appeal for volunteers not to venture onto the silt as it may be deep, and they could end up getting into difficulty. The Trust are acting with our partners to resolve the rubbish issue, which will be done with specialist equipment by professionals, therefore more effective and far less dangerous than a volunteer litter pick.

Can pontoons be used to access the rubbish and aid its removal?

We have sought permission from Natural England to keep the water level lowered for a further two weeks to enable us to install pontoons for the removal of the larger items of rubbish.

What projects does The Trust coordinate in order to preserve the Welsh Harp Reservoir?

The Trust leads on projects at the Welsh Harp that involve ecological and environmental work, heritage work, and volunteer work. These are all areas that contribute to the Welsh Harp being a place where a thriving ecosystem and wildlife are found, and people experience such a boost to their wellbeing.

Examples of the work the Trust carries out at the Welsh Harp are:

Himalayan Balsam Removal

The Environment and Heritage Team at the Trust undertook Himalayan balsam removal with Trust staff as part of an internal team building day which significantly decreased the invasive plant from one location along the boardwalk.

The Welsh Harp Sailing Club

The Sailing Club have acted to specifically cut willow and scrub from the northern bank. This has been a collaborative effort between Brent council, the Trust, and the Sailing Club. The Sailing Club have been clearing the edge of the reservoir of excess vegetation under the guidance of Leslie Williams from the Brent Parks team. This benefits any vessels on the reservoir as it improves wind shadow but is also advantageous for wildlife as cutting back the woody growth and trees enables the expansion of the marginal vegetation and reed beds which in turn helps nesting birds, which the Welsh Harp is SSSI designated for.

Japanese Knotweed treatment

The Trust treats the expansive covering of Japanese Knotweed annually in September. Japanese knotweed greatly impacts biodiversity due to its invasive nature, out competing native species and creating a monoculture beneath the tree canopy. 

Corporate Engagement

We have held successful corporate engagement events at the Welsh Harp, pulling up the boardwalk that was old, worn out, dangerous, and had been vandalised. Corporate engagement events also contributed to maintaining the removal of Himalayan balsam.

Community Engagement
We have recently recruited a new dedicated Community Engagement Officer for Brent.

What Happens Next?

Alongside our immediate plans to respond to the current litter, in the next year we will put in place a plan to address the following:

  • Following the engagement exercise, the Trust and partners will produce a Site Plan setting out our collective vision for the Welsh Harp. This will form the basis of our commitment to the next five years and beyond, outlining how we will seek sources of funding to secure these improvements.
  • Work with partners to address the significant rough sleeping presence, incidences of antisocial behaviour and work to address the poor sightlines that make the site feel unsafe for visitors.
  • Work with partners to establish a regular volunteer group with our support to undertake ongoing clean ups and conservation work.

Destination Plan for the Welsh Harp

The Trust aspires for the Welsh Harp to be awarded Green Flag status. Essential aspects for improvement are getting the amenities for visitors right. Work has begun to scope the replacement of the boardwalk, replacing it with a new circular boardwalk. Signage at the Welsh Harp is another major piece of work the Trust is leading, with plans for new interpretation panels. The panels will replace the six that are currently on the site. We have only just started the internal consultation about the new signs, but they will include information about the history of the site, environmental, and ecological information.

Which partner groups is the Trust involved in with significant stakeholders, local authorities, and community groups, to care for and maintain the Welsh Harp reservoir?

The Trust is working in partnership with Brent and Barnet councils, the Greater London Authority, London Wildlife Trust, and environmental regulators to develop a joint vision for the Welsh Harp. A stakeholder consultation exercise is being planned to understand aspirations of those with an interest in the Welsh Harp.

The Trust participates in stakeholder groups that meet to resolve local issues. The Welsh Harp reservoir clean-up is one of the items amongst many that we meet to address. The Trust is instrumental in this process of working to improve the area with our partners.

  1. Local stakeholder groups attended by the Trust are:
  • The Welsh Harp Joint Consultative Committee
  • Brent and Barnet Councils
  • Councillors for Brent and Barnet
  • Thames 21
  • WH Conservation Group
  • Riparian landowners/tenants including:
    • Barrett Homes
    • West Hendon Allotment Society
    • Hendon Rifle Club
    • The Welsh Harp Sailing Club
  1. The Welsh Harp Joint Vison steering group of environmental authorities and stakeholders including:
  • Thames 21
  • Greater London Authority
  • London Wildlife Trust
  • Brent Council
  • Barnet Council
  1. The Brent Catchment Partnership (BCP)
  • Environment Agency
  • Thames Water
  • Lead Local Flood Authorities: Brent, Barnet, Harrow.
  • London Wildlife Trust
  • Thames 21
  1. Brent 2100. Similar attendees as to the BCP but focused on a longer term plan to 2100.

Background history of the Welsh Harp. Why was the Welsh Harp Reservoir built?

The Welsh Harp Reservoir was built to feed water into the Regent’s Canal, which was always notoriously short of water. The reservoir has taken the name ‘Welsh Harp’ from a local pub which has not survived. The pub existed at a time when the Welsh Harp was a resort for people to bathe, it even had its own railway station that regularly brought hundreds of people from the city to enjoy the benefits of being by the water. The railway station no longer exists, and the reservoir has since been reduced in size.

The Welsh Harp reservoir itself is a reminder of the engineering challenge of keeping water in the canal network, during their original purpose as vital infrastructure crucial to the smooth running of the country. They are now the blue-green corridors that flow through some of the most urban areas, that invaluably bring the benefits of nature with them.

During WWII there was a sea plane permanently stationed at the Welsh Harp as part of a plan to evacuate the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, if needed. The Trust take very seriously our duty to preserve the proud heritage and unique ecology of the Welsh Harp.

Last date edited: 2 March 2021