Into the wild

A vision of how the filter beds could look after being transformed for wild swimming
A vision of how the filter beds could look after being transformed for wild swimming

Abi Woodman from Save Lea Marshes introduces a campaign to transform Leyton’s former Thames Water Depot into a site for wild swimming

I don’t know about you but there’s nothing I crave more on a hot summer’s day in London than wild swimming. There is pure joy in the feeling of cool water and warm sun on your skin, relaxing on the grass in the dappled shade of tall trees afterwards.

At the moment, it’s a craving I’m unable to satisfy without travelling outside the borough. But maybe not for long!

Save Lea Marshes and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) London have joined forces to campaign for the transformation of the historic filter beds on Lea Bridge Road into a place for wild swimming. The site, once used by Thames Water, is protected as Metropolitan Open Land and should be returned to the people of East London as a place for wild swimming – where people can learn to live harmoniously with nature through small-scale food growing or sustainable foraging. It should be rewilded, with the built environment reclaimed by nature in some places and landscaping and planting in others.

Fellow campaigner Harry Hewat says of the idea: “[I have] always been shocked by how dislocated this landscape is, with so many barriers and fences that detract from the natural beauty of the area and the ability to roam.

“This site is the missing piece of the jigsaw. Opening it up will stitch together Leyton and Walthamstow marshes to the north, Waterworks Centre Nature Reserve to the east, Hackney Marshes and Middlesex Filter Beds to the south, and the river and towpath to the west, to create a huge urban park.

“We’re calling it the East London Waterworks Park.”

Retaining and enhancing the site’s historic structures, including the unusual octagonal sluice building, also gives us an opportunity to showcase the area’s industrial heritage.

Kirsty Badenoch, a campaigner and landscape architect, says: “In our time of environmental crisis, chances to protect and reclaim areas of inner-city Metropolitan Open Land have never been more important.

“This currently under-utilised site has a strategic position within the Lea Valley Regional Park and this is a rare opportunity to reconnect the wider ecology and provide valuable community green space.”

The site is currently owned by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) – after an abortive attempt to build a school there – and is within the Lee Valley Regional Park. We are calling on Waltham Forest Council to work with the ESFA and Lee Valley Regional Park Authority to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a unique visitor attraction uniting the London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Hackney.

Sign the petition for wild swimming in Leyton:
Visit change.org/p/waltham-forest-council-create-a-place-for-wild-swimming-in-waltham-forest-now