Open Letter to Friends of the Earth: Not the Greatest Show for the Earth

This is a letter from local resident and campaigner Jane Bednall to Friends of the Earth in response to an article published in their ‘Earth Matters’ magazine they send to their members:

Dear Andy Atkins and Paul de Zylia,


I am writing this letter to explain why I shall be cancelling my long–term subscription to Friends of the Earth.


In his editorial of summer 2012, Andy Atkins makes the claim that ‘central to everything we do at friends of the Earth will always be inspiring campaigns.’ Yet the article ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ shows no evidence that campaigns fighting to expose the detrimental environmental impact of the London 2012 Games have been understood or even acknowledged.  ‘The Greenest Games ever’ will not leave the ‘green heritage’ that were promised and the article provides uncritical promotion of the Olympic propaganda that the Games will leave a positive heritage for wildlife, for example quoting Kim Oliver, Environmental Consultant to the Olympics saying ‘We have improved the river habitat’. Where is the evidence for this statement and her other claims about wildlife and their habitats?


I am a Hackney resident and member of the ‘Save Leyton Marsh Campaign’. Being a campaigner for this group, I have witnessed first hand how the Olympics was used as an excuse to destroy a prized green space and wildlife habitat for an unnecessary temporary structure and led to the pollution and contamination of our common land.


A piece of Metropolitan Open Land, Porter’s Fields Meadow of Leyton Marshes, merely metres from the SSSI of Walthamstow Marshes was used to build a temporary basketball court. Local sports facilities could have been used and would have left a lasting heritage for local people. Instead, the construction of this facility led to contaminated soil [including asbestos and high levels of lead] being unearthed and left exposed to the open air in uncovered piles for many weeks. We campaigned vociferously and eventually the soil was removed. However the extent of the long-term damage to the marsh should be a matter of concern for organizations such as FoE, especially as contaminants may have leeched into the water table and River Lea, causing a detrimental impact on wildlife and birdlife for many years to come. Many of the birds have left the River Lea and anybody living and walking in the area can see how much more polluted the river has become during the construction of the Olympics site.


The ODA originally provided no reinstatement plan for Leyton Marsh and we have campaigned very hard to get one. We continue to campaign to ensure that our common land is returned so that, over time, it may once again become the beautiful wildlife habitat and communal space that was enjoyed by so many prior to this Olympic development. Even though there is a reinstatement plan now, our fears about the possibility of our common land being a land grab for future development have not been set aside.  The plan contains plans to lay plastic under the turf in case they need to ‘excavate ‘ the land in the future and not enough care was taken in the plans to ensure that the indigenous flora and fauna have their habitats ‘reinstated’.

Where is the evidence to support the claim that ‘2 million tonnes of soil have been cleaned and six processing plants known as soil hospitals’? We also directly witnessed very contaminated soil dumped on East Marsh then conveniently covered over as the car park. The main journalist reporting on contaminated radioactive waste for the Games Monitor website was subject to a very dubious court case which led to punitive bail conditions prohibiting him from all Olympic venues.


I cannot actively justify supporting an organisation that so easily churns out the propaganda of the corporate Olympics, an enterprise that used taxpayers’ money for destructive projects whilst promoting myths of sustainability and ecology. As a grassroots campaigner and long term resident of the East End my experience has taught me I shall holding my breath a long time to see any benefit gained from the Olympic heritage for wildlife or local people. I have also learnt that the only way to reclaim or preserve our vital greenspaces is to campaign hard with other local people and claim back a voice and some local democracy.


If you really do desire to inspire active campaigning then please do not publish articles such as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. I would be grateful if you would publish this letter and our website for anybody who might be interested in our campaign.

Yours sincerely,


Jane Bednall

And here is the reply from Friends of the Earth:

Dear Ms Bednall
Thank you for your letter to Andy Atkins and Paul de Zylva about London 2012.
I am very sorry that you have decided to cancel your membership of Friends of the Earth.
We are especially sad to lose you as a long standing member on the basis of one article. No single article in our Earth Matters magazine can convey all that we have done or are doing on any one issue.
In the case of the article ‘The greatest show on Earth’ in our summer 2012 edition of Earth Matters, the focus is very much on wildlife. It does not represent and should not be taken as our position on the Olympics and Paralympics as a whole or any of the detail we know about such as contaminated land, loss of open space and other concerns you mention which we share and have tried to represent to the organisers of the Games through the work we have done.
The editor’s brief for this particular article was to look at wildlife rather than cover all of the issues which you have set out in your email.
So in that sense the article is not an example of Friends of the Earth seeking to “churn out the propaganda of the corporate Olympics” that you state. That is not the intention of the piece. Our view on the Games and everything connected with it is based on our direct experience of work on the different areas from transport and employment to land and energy use and post Games effects (aka ‘legacy’) and also corporate involvement.
Nor is the article attempting to hide the ugly truths about the matters you mention. The article does in fact mention our concerns about road building across important habitats and the role of sponsors albeit in brief given the space. Again because the article does not cover all of those matters you have raised it cannot be taken as giving a view on the many diverse issues arising for the staging of the Games, some of which you mention and some of which we touch on given the wildlife focus of the piece.
As it happens we have been involved with the Games since 2003 when we started giving informal advice on how a potential London bid for the 2012 Games could address environment and sustainability issues. This has meant that we have sometimes commented on things in the media which have been positive as well as things which we disagree with (for instance the lack of action on air quality, excessive corporate control, inadequate action on clean energy for the Games, the loss of Hackney Marshes for temporary use and the local allotments etc).
Much of our time has also been spent working behind the scenes seeking to persuade the Games organisers (who are not the UK Government but companies (LOCOG and the ODA) set up by statute with legal duties to the International Olympic Committee) to set and adhere to high standards for all aspects of the Games and post Games ‘legacy’. Without our involvement in such pushing and monitoring it can only be guessed how much the Games would have met some of the standards it did. But we’re very aware of where the planning, design and decisions also fell short – and have said so.
For example, we have advised on the food used and procured, training of construction staff, use of novel materials in construction, apprenticeships for people in local community, the ‘legacy’ of the site in terms of access to community facilities and much more. This is in addition to our long standing work with communities across East London to help them in the face of the potential ‘regeneration’ and ‘gentrification’ you have mentioned which is not just down to the Games but the general growth of the London and reuse of land in the East. Again, this is not covered by the article you have referred to but is real work we have done over the years as part of our work on for example, the growth demands of London City Airport and the proposal for a motorway style Thames Gateway Bridge.
If it would be of help, I can ask my colleague, Paul de Zylva, who has carried out all of this work to talk with you so that we can give you a fuller view of what we have been doing other than what it covered by a narrow piece on wildlife. Do let me know if you would like me us to arrange that for you.
Warm wishes

Steve Cain | Supporter Information Team

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1 Response to Open Letter to Friends of the Earth: Not the Greatest Show for the Earth

  1. Pted says:

    Could Steve Cain direct us to one FoE campaign or article which has fought for or put a strong case for the preservation of human natural habitat which requires access to open sky and natural green space.?

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