Back in August, I gave an update on what little was happening about the situation with the contaminated pools in Smethwick. Essentially this is Victoria park and Smethwick Hall park. The latter of course we know to be contaminated with raw sewage, and that in essence is the cause of the problems related to ill and dead birds which unfolded there. The further pollution incident involving diesel/oil of some sort that largely was dealt with by volunteers was not traced.
Victoria Park on the other hand has remained a concern for the last two years, and we appear to be no nearer finding the root cause.
It is however fair to point out that I am now aware that this pool is fed by The Thimblemill brook, and that on August 10th, a pollution incident was reported by volunteers to both Severn Trent and The Environment Agency- reference number 183 5767 grid ref SP00559 86467 nearest post code B67 5PB. Apparently this was grey misconnection type issues, but this was just the observation made by the volunteers at the time.
We recorded ill and dead birds at this park a few weeks later, following heavy downpours which presumably washed the issue through into here. The outlet from this park appeared to be also blocked, and the pool has also been laced with duckweed for some months.
Some of the birds received treatment at Linjoy wildlife sanctuary and made a full recovery, but only as a result of timely action in identifying and rescuing them.
Added to this, I undertook a basic ammonia test on water at this lake at the inlet to the pool, taking two tests which showed exactly the same result of high levels of ammonia. Of course, this would have been higher in the submerged sediment, which of course the birds are feeding on.
It is apparent from this photo of a swan which we caught at this lake in February, which sadly died and was suffering from the effects of botulism, that ammonia scalding was present on the tongue of this bird, and I had also seen it bottom feeding in this general area where the water levels are fairly low.
I again contacted a range of officers in SMBC, including the current acting leader of the council, Maria Crompton as to what was going on. I asked for a set of things to happen, some of which I have been chasing for over a year, such as removal of vegetation in the water which is identified as a source of botulism production in the APHA guidance literature, which SMBC have seen many times, and have even referred to me!
I had to chase this response, and this is what I received from Alan Caddick, “Director Housing and Communities.”
“Dear Mr Carroll
Firstly, thank you for highlighting these issues with us and thank you for the work that you and your volunteers do to protect and care for birds in Sandwell. Cllr Crompton is very supportive of the work you do and is keen for us to work together with you.
Below, I have responded to your issues and whilst you asked that things were done within two weeks, much of it wouldn’t have been possible to do in that timeframe. What we need is a long-term approach to the issues you have raised, here and on all our water courses, and I would like to work with you and your volunteers to put a plan together that allows us to put solutions in place that help to prevent birds becoming ill or dying. If you are up for meeting with me and officers we can discuss issues and start to develop a plan which we can then monitor on an on-going basis. I believe that this will enable us to be more preventative and proactive in our approach and less reactive, which is very much the case now.
Also, in a separate email you mention the damage caused by anglers and rather than treating this issue separately I would like to include it the plan referred to above, so that we have one plan for everything. I think this would make more sense, but happy to get your views on this.
Unfortunately, I will be away from work for the next few weeks, but if you can liaise with Jayne Weaver we can get something in place for when I am back; or you could meet with Jayne and others in my absence. By working together I think we can improve our approach, which will benefit the bird population in the borough. Having a healthy and thriving bird population is something we all want to see.
Director Housing and Communities”
To this I would state that a plan was supposedly already in place before apparently being derailed by the now thankfully, ex leader of Sandwell council where the matter of approval for a decent report was deferred. I am still none the wiser what the plan is with this now.
I am not sure what “long term approach means”, but we don’t need this, we need a short term set of actions to prevent another year of problems that will undoubtedly resume at some point unless things are drastically altered. This is just another stalling tactic, and I do not see another meeting achieving anything when there have already been meetings that have resulted in little.
The issues concerning angling, are separate completely to this issue, except regards bad management of it in parks, and I do not believe that linking the two are helpful. I have still to get any formal response from the acting leader of this council to the lockdown litter campaign, that was sent in July!
This is the rest of the response regards the action plan that I set out below- no meeting needed.
I would therefore ask that the following is implemented within the next two weeks, but fear that this will be too late to save the many birds who will perish.
- Remove the dead trees and branches in the pool and attempt to remove the duckweed.The arboricultural team have arranged meetings with all of the council’s appointed tree contractors to evaluate the work required. Once the quotes have been received the order will be placed, with the priority being aimed at the Smethwick Parks. The most effective way of reducing duckweed is by aeration, unfortunately at this site the introduction of aerators at this moment in time could disturb the silt accelerating the botulism. The removal of duckweed by hand at this site will only be a temporary measure and would be very time consuming and costly. COMMENT Once again we are back to the stalling tactic of quotes, waiting for them to come back and no action being taken to address the issue. I am sick of this, it’s all the council appear to say, and nothing gets any further.
- Remove the litter in the lake. This will be done and we will be using the contractors who have recently assisted with the clearance at Smethwick Hall Park. COMMENT On posting a facebook post about the appalling latest situation with birds at the park, and the unkept appearance of litter in the water, a number of local residents pledged to get together to clean it up themselves. One of these approached the council and alleges that he was “warned off” doing it. Where as I cannot verify this, it was apparent that two council workers , one of them from drainage were sent out pretty quick to do what Serco et al should have been doing for the last several months following the social media shaming, and after several councillors were contacted. How difficult is it to remove litter by opening a gate and walking around the edge of the pool? I am not sure as to why the contractors concerned with the clear up at Smethwick Hall park cannot remove the tree debris as described above?
- Give us a key to open the padlock to the pool gate. We will arrange for a key to be supplied COMMENT The council appear to have changed the lock, and I have a type of key which opens it.
- Acquire a water testing/laboratory company to test the water and sediment at this lake to determine the conditions that are present and pathogens present. I still believe that this lake’s issues arise from the adjacent housing development on the old college, as it was never producing outbreaks like this, even in hot summers where the lake had dropped due to the collapsed drain. We only found out confirmation of human excrement present at Smethwick Hall park when the EA tested these parameters.We will ask the Environment Agency to carry out tests on our behalf. COMMENT It is apparent from the results I took myself, that this pool has water and likely sediment which contains elevated levels of ammonia. I think it very unlikely that the EA would carry out tests at this pool when it contains no fish. I have had this conversation with them before. Once again, the council could procure a company or a laboratory to undertake testing, on all its pools, but this would again no doubt result in the same “getting quotes and waiting for them to come back in” drivel that I have now become accustomed to in this saga. I also sent an email to the director of public health in Sandwell Lisa Mcnally asking if she knew of any possibilities of testing , especially given the covid-19 links with detecting it in sewage , but I have not even had the courtesy of a reply.
- Seal off the feeding area with fencing to prevent feeding in this area. Put up more signs asking people to not feed the birds for the reasons of preventing bird illness. Attempt to cleanse or cover with fresh gravel, the area where feeding has occurred to potentially break the link with any harmful bacteria present that the birds could be ingesting from submerged food. Sometimes I have seen pure mould thrown into this area! We will consider options about the best way to deal with this and look at the merits of putting up signs. Work needs to be done to educate people and for them to understand that what could be an act of kindness in providing food could make the birds ill or could kill them. We would like to work together with you on this and identify solutions jointly. COMMENT More time wasting, what options? This area is regularly plastered in food which is not appropriate for wild birds, and is mouldy.
- Consider the potential of filling in this lake and what is required to do this. We are in agreement with this proposal, however this needs to be designed by professionals in this field. There is also the issue of the 2m brick built sewer that runs under the pool and has collapsed a couple of times that would need protection from machinery. We will do some work on this and get some costs.
COMMENT I am not in favour of filling in the pool at all, but the lack of any action by this council to determine what the issues are make it a certainty that this cyclical issue will continue unless it is broken. We cannot allow more birds to be lured to their deaths every year because a council fail to act.
I also copied in my MP Nicola Richards about this issue, and she sent me the following response from SMBC CEO David Stevens. As can be seen here, his very brief responses appear to differ from the statements made earlier by Mr Caddick, so who in fact was briefing him?
I am not sure why it is unsafe to pick litter around a lake, or that is within easy reach. I am not sure why Mr Stevens states that keys cannot be issued at this time, when Alan Caddick said that they could. The idea that we should contact parks officers who would probably not even be there, and not able to send anyone out in a “timely manner”, means that this statement is ridiculous. “Convenient times” are not something that ever occurs with wildlife rescue.
I am not sure how further forward we are when they keep “looking into” these measures, instead of acting and actually doing something.
Added to this, Chris Adams also contacted her MP Shaun Bailey about the matter, and once again Mr Stevens from the council responded, but here is the story he gave to Mr Bailey.
I can only state that we have been removing dead and ill birds from the lakes, and NOT Serco or Sandwell council. For some reason, the council appear to have suddenly stopped using the boat they were using, and the people who were using it. Obviously this is a management decision, and has meant that we have had to do the council’s work, as well as that of the Environment Agency I would add.
The statement about improvements at the parks are a lie. No action has been taken at Victoria park, and none at Smethwick Hall park. Obviously the issues have not reduced, given the spate that prompted mine and Chris’s letters.
The issues are not “rectified in a timely manner”– as the string of delays which Alan Caddick mentions to the action points which I asked them to take prove.
This “pandemic” has once again forced volunteers to take action, and with the ridiculous and unnecessary lockdown, forged out of falsified data, we once again have a situation where we will have to act where others whose job it is don’t. I think that the public sector love working from home, and manufactured crises, where they can pretend they care, whilst also pleading poverty like Oliver’s at the workhouse table. I don’t really see what work the council are doing at the moment, or councillors come to that. Time for a pay cut I think , to reflect the easing workload.