Call for action to improve New River Loop

Low water levels threatening wildlife along Enfield Town waterway, reports James Cracknell

A dead duck floating in the New River Loop near the Coack and Horseshoes Pub in Enfield Town
A dead duck floating in the New River Loop near the Coach and Horseshoes Pub in Enfield Town (credit Henry Jacobs)

Residents and councillors have called on Thames Water and Enfield Council to do more to improve the condition of the New River Loop.

Poor water quality and low levels along the historic waterway through Enfield Town have alarmed local people in recent months, with complaints over scores of dead fish and other wildlife seen floating in stagnant parts of the loop, as well as foul smells, overgrown vegetation and litter.

The New River was built in the 17th Century to supply water for London but, although it still fulfils this role, the loop section through Enfield Town was cut off from the main flow in the Victorian era when pipes were laid between Southbury Road and Bush Hill Park. The loop is now maintained chiefly for its value as a local amenity.

There have long been concerns raised about the condition of the loop, with responsibility for its maintenance split between Enfield Council, which manages the water quality, and Thames Water, which controls the pumps that allow more water to enter the loop.

This year water levels have been even lower than usual, seemingly harming much of the wildlife that relies on it and leading to many complaints. Henry Jacobs, an Enfield Town resident, said it was the lowest he’d ever seen the water level in the loop.

Henry said: “Outside the Crown and Horseshoes pub garden I could see ducks standing on the riverbed. I estimate the water at this point to be no more than 200 millimetres [0.2 metres].

“It is the lowest the river has been to my knowledge. It was here that I photographed a dead duck. The colour was a murky brown, with considerable sludge and decomposed vegetation on the bottom.”

Numerous dead fish seen floating on the surface of the New River Loop adjacent to Southbury Road in Enfield Town
Numerous dead fish seen floating on the surface of the New River Loop adjacent to Southbury Road in Enfield Town

A tour of the loop was arranged by Enfield Council for local councillors in August, where various problems with the loop were highlighted. Terry Neville, a Conservative councillor for Grange ward which includes the section of New River in Town Park, said he thought Thames Water needed to do more to maintain higher water levels. Cllr Neville told the Dispatch: “As far as I am concerned, there has not been the management of surface water.

“It is not just litter and silt, there are broken branches and trees. It is shallow and it gets far too low.”

Tory ward colleague Chris Dey blamed the council and said: “Residents write to me on an almost daily basis [about the New River]. The council has got a statutory responsibility and the people of Enfield are angry – they need to sort it out.”

Asked to respond to the complaints, a Thames Water spokesperson said its “main priority” was to ensure a steady flow of water from the New River into its reservoirs in Hackney, Haringey and the Lea Valley, but also said the company “recognised the importance” of supplying the loop in Enfield. They added that water levels in the loop had fallen lower this year because of a once-in-ten-years inspection programme.

They said: “Meeting demand for water from our customers will always be our main priority, but we also recognise the New River and the Enfield Loop are important places for local communities and wildlife.

“Water levels are currently lower than normal to due to a number of factors and the condition of the loop, which is the responsibility of the local council, has also contributed to the low levels of water observed.

“Firstly we’re carrying out tunnel inspections further north on the New River and we’ve had to drop the water levels to ensure the safety of our engineers while they’re working in the tunnels. Additionally, we’re carrying out essential maintenance on the river banks, which will also temporarily reduce the levels of water that can be safely transported down the New River and into the Enfield loop.

“We’ve also seen high growth levels of an aggressive river weed species that restricts the flow of water. To tackle this we’ve been out almost every day during the spring and summer months, in our specially adapted boats, to cut back the weed and help keep the river flowing.”

A council spokesperson also responded to the concerns raised and said: “The New River Loop is a 400-year old artificial watercourse that does not have a natural water supply, and is therefore highly vulnerable to water shortages and pollution.

“We are working with Thames Water to improve the pumps that feed the New River Loop to ensure a reliable flow of water. We are also taking measures to improve the management of the loop, including increased vegetation cutting and litter collection.

“In the longer-term we are looking to minimise the impact of silt and algae, by investigating the most sustainable way to deal with these long-standing issues.”