A Thousand Sacks Collected in Grand Union Canal Clean Up

Along with rubbish, volunteers find two dead goats and a machete

Volunteers on the Grand Union Canal towpath
Volunteers on the Grand Union Canal towpath. Picture: Mark Percy


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April 11, 2024

Volunteers have completed the mammoth task of collecting over 1,000 sacks of rubbish from the towpath on the Grand Union Canal as it runs through Ealing.

Marking Keep Britain Tidy's Great British Spring Clean, the two-week clean-up was a joint operation by LAGER Can - the Litter Action Group for Ealing Residents - and the Canal & River Trust.

It took 13 sessions to cover all 11.5 miles of the canal’s length within the borough, stretching from the M4 bridge at Osterley to Bulls Bridge and back along the Paddington Arm to Park Royal.

The 30 LAGER Can volunteers who contributed to the clean-up faced everything from warm spring sunshine to hailstorms. The sun was out in Southall as litter pickers found themselves sharing the towpath with 250 runners and walkers taking part in the Queen of the Suburbs Ultra event.

But it was a different story days later in Northolt where the team endured torrential rain. LAGER Can's Cathy Swift says the volunteers were undaunted, "I never cease to be amazed by and grateful to LAGER Can volunteers who care enough about the environment to do something about it, whatever the weather throws at us."

Along the towpath, the section between Northolt and Alperton was blighted by fly-tipping from boats and adjacent housing. Finds included a set of weightlifting dumbbells and, sadly, a dead cat and two dead goats, plus a machete.

Cathy says the discovery of weapons is nothing new. "In the past four years we have found at least three guns and many, many knives. I have personally found five or six large knives or machetes."

A machete found by the canal
A machete found by the canal. Picture: Cathy Swift

She adds that litter picking is made all the more challenging by the complete lack of bins along the canal in Ealing borough. "I don’t buy the argument that ‘bins attract rubbish’. Bins, if installed, need to be emptied when they are full. If not, they look as if they are encouraging bad behaviour when, in fact, they are doing the opposite.

"It’s clear from the work we’ve done over the past four years that many people want to do the right thing. For example, a giant plant pot at Hayes Bridge is being used as a bin. I feel that the absence of bins, and failure to clean the rubbish up, sends a message that the people in authority don’t care."

A beached supermarket trolley
A beached supermarket trolley. Picture: Jacquie de Bidaph

Much of the litter mountain consisted of cans and bottles dumped by drinkers. Cathy says bringing in a national deposit return scheme would make a "massive and immediate" difference. She added, "I am convinced that this kind of litter would disappear overnight if a DRS was introduced. Even if the people who buy the products didn’t collect their deposits, someone else would."

Canal & River Trust Volunteer Coordinator Gareth George said: "The team made a real difference, making life by water better for everyone."

Volunteers with some of the sacks of rubbish collected. Picture: Mark Percy

The Trust and LAGER Can have been working together since January 2022 with monthly "litter cruises" in Southall.

Cathy concluded, "We believe that if we continue to work cooperatively we can make a real difference to what should, after all, be a beautiful place to spend time."

LAGER Can's work has been recognised with a Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

Mark Percy

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