Anji Petersen – Crossness River Action Group

The Crossness River Action Group (CRAG) volunteer to remove plastic and other waste from the reedbeds in Thamesmead, London. The success of this community-led action project speaks for itself – in just five months, the group has collected a staggering 134 bags of litter! They have found everything from road signs and parts of suitcases to bikes.

Anji Petersen and her father are local Thamesmead residents and the founders of CRAG:

“Me and my family have always done local environmental work. Dad had the idea to clean the foreshore at Crossness. He thought it would be something me and him did together but, when looking at the scale of the work involved, we realised we needed support. So, we started contacting people to get involved.”

Involving Anji’s mother too, this project began with a family that shared a desire; to clean up the reedbed and protect local wildlife. To get the project off the ground, Anji said, “We needed funding to support with resources so we applied for a grant with the Making Space for Nature (MSFN) programme.”

For the past two years, the MSFN programme has awarded funding to local projects seeking to improve Thamesmead’s natural environment through community-led action. With a successful application, the family were delighted and Anji felt “it legitimised the project.”

CRAG - community-led action

“We went on a training course, provided by the Thames21 charity, to become river action leaders which enabled us to have a river action group.” This meant that the project would be able to operate safely in close proximity to the river. They received training on dealing with needles and sharp objects, for instance. 

The next step was to purchase essential equipment, buying sustainably when possible, such as litter pickers and bin bags. They also needed safety equipment, including high visibility tabards, gloves, a sharps bin for needles, and a throw rope in the event of an emergency. 

“We remove new and historic waste and monitor what new litter comes in, such as plastic straws, food cartons, and tampon applicators. As well as litter coming from the sewage system, e.g. wet wipes that have been flushed down the toilet.”

CRAG logs it all on the Cleaning the Thames website, used by the Environment Agency and Thames21. The waste poses a threat to wildlife and their natural habitats. For instance, the area where CRAG is located is home to two seals, which are at risk of eating or getting trapped in the litter. The reeds are a vital habitat for wildlife, including herons, cormorants, water voles and many fish, but they are frequently clogged up with waste. 

CRAG - community-led action

CRAG aims to protect the local environment and ensure that biodiversity remains a central focus in Thamesmead. Engaging with the public and spreading awareness about single-use plastics and advocating for more sustainable practices, the group is not only cleaning up the environment but is also changing minds and behaviours. With the support of local businesses and government officials, there is hope for long-term solutions to the problem of plastic pollution. 

This project not only benefits the local wildlife and ecosystem but also empowers residents to take an active role in their community and make a real difference. The group has gained significant support from the local community: 

“It’s great that local people join us, sometimes on a regular basis and sometimes ad-hoc… Thamesmead has lots of fantastic open spaces and we need to keep them protected and ensure biodiversity is at the forefront of life. There are groups like ours spread all along the Thames but there is always space for more help to protect the local nature.” 

With regular clean-up sessions and a commitment to sustainability and monitoring, CRAG is poised to continue its positive impact for years to come. If you’re keen to get involved with protecting the environment or community-led action, look no further than CRAG for your inspiration. Consider volunteering or even starting your own project, and together, we can make a positive difference and create a cleaner, healthier planet for generations to come.

Did you enjoy reading about how CRAG is leading community action? Read more stories from Making Space for Nature participants in Thamesmead:

Using Art to Connect Community With Nature

Building Bridges Through Bird Boxes: Empowering Young People For Environmental Change

Unleashing Your Inner Child: The Story Of The Moss Monsters

Uncovering the Secrets of Thamesmead’s Community Gardens

Making Space for Nature

The Making Space for Nature (MSFN) programme is part of the CLEVER Cities project in Thamesmead, London, that provides opportunities for local residents to create a greener and happier community through innovative solutions. MSFN is managed by CLEVER Cities, Groundwork London, Peabody and Greater London Authority.