SWLEN regularly organises tours and visit of green spaces in Richmond Borough, especially for other Friends Groups and members of the Richmond Biodiversity Partnership, so we learn first hand how a Friends Group runs, and we can share ideas, practices, ways of doing and problems.
Friends of the River Crane Environment – FORCE – formed in 2003 as a pressure group which successfully countered proposals to build on Metropolitan Open Land in the Twickenham section of the Crane valley, going on to become a registered charity in 2005. Since then the group has initiated, developed and managed significant and inspiring projects right along the Crane corridor, gathering 500 members along the way, and has grown to be both an influential and galvanizing force for good through the River Crane and beyond.
The Friends of the River Crane Environment operate in the lower Crane Valley in Richmond and Hounslow. We work to improve local spaces along the lower Crane and Lower DNR corridors in collaboration with Richmond and Hounslow councils, the Crane Valley Partnership and other stakeholders. We are a community based organisation and work to involve local people in everything that we do to make the green spaces even greener and enjoyable to use !
Last year, the Friends Group were part of an initiative to bring over £150,000 in from the Mayor’s Big Green Fund, awarded as a result of significant public support online, for improvements both for people and nature on the Duke of Northumberland River, which have included installing eel passes, a river clean up, new pathways and river health monitoring.
Travelling on a loop up one side and back down the other side of the Crane, our tour started at Kneller Gardens, passing down through Mereway Nature Reserve, then back up along the river to Crane Park, past the Shot Tower, up to Pevensey Nature Reserve, before dropping back through Dragonfly Terrace and Butts Farm, ending back at the Cafe at Kneller Gardens for lunch and questions.
We went along with representatives and members from Richmond Borough groups: Barnes Common, Crane Park, Friends of School House Lane Orchard, Friends of Ham Lands, Richmond Invertebrates Group, Thames Landscape Strategy Community Advisory Group, Friends of Sheen Common and were also joined by Friends of Northcote Nature Reserve Group from Isleworth, Hounslow. Members of staff from SWLEN and volunteers also joined.
What makes FORCE particularly strong and relevant as a group to my mind in their work, is the relationship and connectivity between the neighbourhoods and communities along the waterway and the river itself. Rather than a park, where people gather around one space and focus in, the Crane is a connective network, a joining landscape of places, tributaries, brooks and outfalls. Many people live along it and use it in many different ways, from paddling, playing, to relaxing, to dog walking, cycling and fishing.
This everyday lived connection between the neighbouring communities and the river is one that FORCE has worked with deliberately and effectively, understanding that the sense of ‘ownership’ in relation to your local environment is a key to feeling that your involvement can make a real difference and that you, your family and your neighbourhood can directly benefit from it. The river environment is a visibly reactive and responsive ecological system, far more dynamic than a single green space, and that means perhaps, that the people living and travelling alongside it have a more of an active and responsive role to play, and more of an investment.
There’s no doubt that key projects such as the environmental improvement around the Butts Farm area creating a way of accessing and relating to the river for the houses and the community there, has had a lasting effect, and ‘Dragonfly Terrace’ has become a well used and loved part of the environment.
The various projects and initiatives run by FORCE include educational events and activities for people of all ages, conservation volunteering in the different spaces bordering the river, opening up and improving new areas of green space beside the Crane, lobbying for environmental improvement, monitoring biodiversity, and their inspiring Citizen Crane citizen science programme, run with Zoological Society of London.
At the moment, the group has a very innovative project running in partnership with ZSL, funded by Thames Water. Working with volunteers right along the River Crane,
FORCE and ZSL are monitoring water quality through RMI testing (Riverfly Monitoring Initiative), collecting monthly samples to analyse influential chemicals such as phosphates, and observing and recording the state of the outfalls along the Crane.
This accurate bank of data has led to Thames Water and the Environment Agency being able to respond faster to pollution incidents and to begin to address some of the longer term complex issues such as misconnected drains, where household drains, often without the owner’s knowledge, have been connected into the street runoff and storm drains, rather than the sewage system, leading to raw untreated sewage discharging directly into the River Crane. Now beginning it’s third year, this project has had a tangible impact on the river, as well as being a fascinating long term engagement and science project for the volunteers.
Improved planting and supporting biodiversity is a key focus right along the Crane, with increased habitat for wildlife created right along the corridor. FORCE Friend and volunteer Ian McKinnon has planted Alder Buckthorn at Pevensey Road Nature Reserve – the particular species of tree that the Brimstone butterfly likes to lay her eggs.
FORCE are part of the Crane Valley Partnership that works right through the watershed. Here’s a map showing all the projects, the marginal and instream improvements, that have happened in the Crane catchment. And here is a list of projects, from small scale to partnership work that has directly involved FORCE.
FORCE hold regular volunteering days along the river, with all kinds of seasonal tasks and projects. Click through to their volunteering page to find out more.