Wapping canal is our back garden – so let’s get gardening!

Those of us who are lucky enough to live or work in Wapping will be familiar with ‘Wapping Ornamental Canal’. It may be entirely synthetic but is a wonderful living reminder of our dock heritage and a haven to wildlife.

Wapping’s back garden

For all of us, rich, poor or somewhere in between, it is our back garden. Most of us live in flats with little or no access to a bit of green we can call our own.

But Wapping canal is ours. Like the River Thames that it flows into and the underground river that is its source the water reminds us of where we live and provides a calm place for anyone who cares to walk along it.

Unfortunately Wapping canal has seen better days. Despite the tireless efforts of people like Chris of Bow Landscaping and his colleagues and various initiatives by individual residents the canal looks a little unloved.

Wapping canal schematic
Wapping canal schematic


Residents and the Council working together

So it is with great pleasure that Love Wapping can formally announce a community-led Tower Hamlets Council supported initiative to make Wapping canal the best back garden in East London. (As opposed to the unilateral announcement we made a while back.)

After two years of meetings and emails and phone calls on our Wildlife Rangers (Wapping Canal Regeneration Group) were all invited to attend a meeting of the key Tower Hamlets Council officers and agencies who deal with all things green and nice.

Tower Hamlets officers meeting at canal
Tower Hamlets officers & Cllr. Dockerill meeting at canal

In the spirit of outdoor volunteering this was a ‘mobile meeting’ that started at the 21 Wapping Lane / Wapping Woods end of the canal and moved along to the further end at .

As the meeting wandered along a wide variety of issues were discussed, all good, all interesting, some possible, some not.

The issue was how to best enhance Wapping canal without any radical changes and in keeping with the overall environment.

Key to this is the wildlife and the simple theory that if their habitat is improved they will flourish.

Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

A common thread with people who enjoy the canal is the wildlife. Testimony to this is the number of people who stop and look at the cygnets. Some look on their way to work, others as part of their daily routine. It brings them a huge amount of pleasure – and the humans like it too.

Here is a brief overview of the key points. Hopefully those of you who wish to get involved will hear details from the experts (i.e. not Wapping Wildlife Rangers who just guess) very soon.

Flora and fauna aka green stuff

Fundamental to getting the canal looking lovely is introducing appropriate flora and fauna. Apart from making the canal much nicer to look at it will provide the foundation for the ecosystem that the wildlife needs.

Here are some initial thoughts of John Archer. Biodiversity Officer for the Borough.

“A series of planters, maybe a metre wide, along the north side of the wide section of canal by Tobacco Dock, and perhaps three much larger planters in the middle of the canal in the same section.

These would be planted with a mix of native waterside and emergent plants, which could include purple loosestrife, yellow iris, marsh marigold, soft rush, water plantain, water mint, great pond-sedge, lesser reedmace, arrowhead, greater spearwort and others.”

Additionally some basic reed beds could be added depending on how people feel.  Get the right green stuff in and the canal’s natural environment will do the rest.

Why the ducklings died

A simple example. Recently 10 ducklings were hatched on the canal. Within a couple of weeks none of them were left. Whatever the reason for their demise the basic fact is that most birds on the canal (apart from the swans of course) have no natural nesting place. Subsequently they have no natural protection from predators.

Pop over to Southwark (Rotherhithe on the Overground, turn left, five minute walk) and have a look at what Southwark Council has done with their old docks. Have a look at these photos:

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We can do the same thing in Wapping.

Another problem that has decimated our duck population (apart from the thugs who poached half of them the other year) is them being washed down the canal storm drains.

One resident in particular is to be commended for her attempts to prevent this by the addition of wire netting over the storm drains, problem being that while it stopped the ducklings being washed away it also led to the storm drains getting clogged with leaves.

With a proper environment for the ducks they should have no need of the storm drains and can nest in safety.


As we know from previous years our two residents swans make their nest in [it’s a secret] and seem to do well. It’s not ideal but they like it and at the end of the day they will nest wherever the hell they want.

Image © Seb 2015
Image © Seb 2015

It might be that improving the Wapping canal ecosystem means that they will have a choice of nests and possibly not consider every inch of the canal their territory. But it’s doubtful.

Nesting platforms

While adding appropriate plants to the canal will help the canal it is man made and so has lots of straight lines. Not a nook or cranny in sight. Again not good for nesting.

Individual residents have had the existing nesting platforms made but they are in a poor state of repair (the platforms, not the residents).

So Tower Hamlets will be introducing new nesting platforms along the canal. That in itself is a big deal.

As an interim measure some lunatic has been out at night dropping small bundles of hay onto the existing platforms to help the birds along a little.

Apparently this confused the coots – well, imagine someone dropping hay on your bed while you were snuggling down for the night – but they seem to have made good use of their windfall.

There are a huge number of bats in Wapping and some bat foxes would help them along, and maybe some nesting boxes for smaller birds like the grey wagtails. These could go under the footbridge (see below).


Just before Christmas the canal had a fantastic little visitor in the shape of Kevin the Kingfisher.

Kevin-The-Times-featuredUnfortunately Kevin got bored and cleared off, which is not very surprising as he probably ate all the fish and there is nowhere along the canal for him and his mate to nest.

Kingfishers normally make a nest by finding a nice river bank and then digging a tunnel into the earth and make their nest at the end. This provides them with a safe place to live and breed and of course they can do a bit of fishing from their front door. Handy.

The visit by Kevin (and the other kingfishers recently seen at Shadwell Basin) is proof that urban kingfishers are alive and well somewhere. But not in Wapping because there is no suitable place for them to nest.

Even if the addition of flora and fauna improves the environment and generates lots of little fishes for the kingfishers (and Mr Burns) to eat the kingfishers will just be passing through.

One approach to this problem is to create artificial river banks. This are made to mimic the kingfisher’s natural home design and then integrated into the existing riverscape.

You can see more details of Kingfisher artificial nest tunnels here and here and read this Best Practice Guidelines for Artificial Bank Creation for Sand Martins and Kingfishers (PDF).  Fascinating stuff.

Imagine if kingfishers became a common sight along Wapping canal? How good would that be? What a natural wonder for children and adults alike to admire.

We are a way off even thinking about artificial river banks for kingfishers. But other places to do it, so there is no reason Wapping can’t.

Walking and cycling

Anyone who walks children to and from school along the canal knows that a minority of cyclists whizz along at full speed with little regard for anyone else (including other cyclists).

There was a discussion around various ways to slow cyclists down to make the footpath along the canal safer for everyone, but the reality is that all options were too expensive. So for the moment the status quo will remain.


Linked to the cyclists issue is that of people on motorbikes and mopeds riding over the pedestrian footbridge leading from Waterman’s Way to Kennett Street.

Again ways of slowing / stopping motorbike and moped riders from using this as a shortcut were discussed but abandoned due to cost and practicality. Of course if people want this sort of thing that’s up to you!


Cllr. Julia ‘Christmas Tree’ Dockerill has long been on the case with Tower Hamlets Council about the lack of lighting along the canal.

Yes those grey bollard things with smashed glass in the top are supposed to be lights.

Fixing the lighting is a fundamental issue to make the canal safe at night and is of the highest priority.

Nice people in, naughty people out

There is a small but persistent problem with cretins from outside Wapping who come and indulge in anti-social behaviour along the canal.

Reality is that we live in the centre of London and there will always be some thugs around. But that is no reason not to make their life a misery – is it? 🙂

If Wapping canal is improved more nice people will be attracted to the canal and their presence alone will push the naughty people out.

This is a simple but proven idea and is considered by many to be a better option than yet more CCTV cameras.

Orientation boards

Every time one of our Wildlife Rangers sees a visitor to Wapping canal looking at one of the orientation boards on the canal in the hope of finding some useful information and being presented with nonsense about bylaws they get a trifle vexed.

Naff board with useless bylaws information, footbridge in background.
Naff board with useless bylaws information, footbridge in background.


It was agreed that the nonsensical bylaws information can be removed and in its place a nice clear map of the canal showing visitors where they are, where they can go and historical information to put where they are standing in context.

To this end our Wildlife Rangers (WD40 Stealth Section) has already been at work spraying the allen nuts on the boards so they now come off nice and easily.

Dock heritage

The remains of the original docks are all around us. Many of our homes are built where once ships from all over the world unloaded goods to fuel the British Empire.

Wapping residents are custodians of our docks heritage, looking after it for the next generation.


We have three original bridges on our near the canal.

  • Footbridge over the canal at Tobacco Dock
  • Garnett Street bridge
  • Glamis Road bridge

All three of these bridges must be preserved. This is a major project in its own right, but it must be done.


Glamis Road bridge
Glamis Road bridge

Shadwell Basin Fishing Project

In addition to the care and attention that will now be given to Wapping canal at the other end of our community the Shadwell Basin anglers have formed the Shadwell Basin Fishing Project under the leadership of Oliver Easterbrook.

They have some great ideas for the basin and have agreed a licence with the Council to formally manage their bit of the water.

Mark and Tony with carp, Shadwell Basin
Mark and Tony with carp, Shadwell Basin

More details of this soon but they have already, working with Tower Hamlets Council, cleared some of the scrub along the bank.

This has two benefits. One is to make a better place for people to come and fish in peace and quiet, the area will soon be covered in woodchips so the mud is not such a problem.

The other is to make the bank more visible and so deter those who are not, unlike the Shadwell Basin Fishing Project crew, responsible anglers who want to look after their environment.

So with the anglers working away at one end and Wapping residents at the other we will, at some point, meet in the middle!


Last summer two members of the Mayor of London’s green team were given a guided tour of the canal.

Our Wildlife Rangers learnt a huge amount and the Mayor’s people were very impressed by the canal.

Since then Wapping canal has been on the GLA’s parks and green spaces radar (if not yet properly on their green map) and hopefully good things will come from working with the Mayor’s Office in future.

Working with both the GLA and Tower Hamlets Council will mean that Wapping canal can be of benefit not just to East Enders but all Londoner’s, which is just as it should be.

Schools and education

In a year or two we should have the beginnings of a wonderful new urban environment for everyone to enjoy.

It would seem sensible, and essential, to ensure that our local schools are actively engaged with the canal so that they can continue to care for it when they grow.

There is also a need for educating others about our docks heritage in whatever way we can.


We will definitely need some. A lot of the initial work is very low cost and will hopefully be funded by the Council in the same way that green works are funded elsewhere.

As things progress there will be a need for funds so we will need to get some more. There are numerous ways this can be done and we will need to formally establish a group and organise a bank account and a transparent and open way of working.


Pretty soon! In the next week or two the Council should be able to give us an indication of when first steps – probably plants and nesting platforms – can be taken.

And there’s more…

Lots more. Hopefully this has given you an idea of what can be done – if people want to get it done. This will not just happen.

Apart from literally getting to grips with the work that is needed all sorts of people with all sorts of abilities will be needed.

Some will be good at raising funds, others at keeping the books, others ensuring Wildlife Rangers are provided with bacon sarnie at all times.

So don’t think your enthusiasm and skills are not wanted. They are.

Hang on a minute…

None of this stuff is set in stone. It’s your canal, your choice. If you want to leave it to waste away then that’s your choice.

None of this stuff is a fait accompli. It is a possible starting point. Some time back some people took offence to a tweet just mentioning that a meeting with Tower Hamlets officers had happened and they hadn’t been invited. Apologies but it was not LW’s call as to who to invite.

Wapping Canal – no longer ornamental

Wapping canal is no longer ‘Wapping ornamental canal’ as it is named on maps. It is ‘Wapping canal’. Let’s get together and get it living and breathing.

Many thanks to all officers at Tower Hamlets Council, especially John Archer and Matt Twohig, Cllr. Julia Dockerill and Bow Landscaping for their help so far.

Cleanup this Sunday

By pure chance there is a cleanup of the canal next Sunday 19th April at 10 AM outside Tobacco Dock. Check out the post here for details and come along and get to work.

Volunteer here – or just get in touch

If you love wildlife, love Wapping and enjoy working outside in the freezing cold for free then fill in the form below.

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