Open Letter to the East London Guardian

Rare brown-banded carder bee found on the Waterworks Meadow by ecologist Russell Miller

On 7th July the East London Guardian published an article by Victoria Munro https://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/18567325.thousands-raised-re-wild-waterworks-field-leyton-marshes/?ref=twtrec about our crowdfunder to raise money to pay for surveys of the Waterworks Meadow as part of our campaign to rewild the Meadow and prevent it being used again as a site for events. In her article Ms Munro wrote:

The group alleges it was “denied access to LVRPA’s ecological data”, which the authority contests, and that “much of the data that does exist is outdated or limited in scope”.
A park authority spokesperson said they hoped to work with the group on surveys, as “it would be a waste for them to spend money doing something [the authority] have already done”.

Both the statements by the LVRPA were untrue. A member of Save Lea Marshes made an Environmental Information Request on 23rd March 2020 asking for all surveys on the Waterworks Meadow and Nature Reserve and had not received a reply to this request by the time this article was written in the second week of July. It was not an allegation but a fact.

In addition, the claim by the LVRPA that it would be a waste of money doing something [the Authority] had already done was also untrue. The LVRPA had only done one survey, a botanical survey, on the Waterworks Meadow. Given that this was the case, SLM’s statement that much of the data that does exist is out of date or limited in scope was true and also not an allegation.

Plainly a journalist cannot be blamed for false statements by an authority. However, good journalism requires a degree of scepticism when it comes to official pronouncements and a willingness to check stories with those affected. Ms Munro failed to contact us before publishing her story.

A predictable result of us being accused of wasting money was that our crowdfunder would suffer a slowdown in donations, which did indeed happen.

We pointed this out, first to Ms Munro on twitter and then to the editors, Ann Yip and Robert Collins, in an online comment followed up by an email, asking that they print a correction. Ms Munro refused to take responsibility and accused us of harassing her. The editors noted that the LVRPA had acknowledged the error regarding the surveys but failed to take any action to put matters right. We followed up this failure to respond with a suggestion they might like to do a feature on our present projects which often involve collaborations with other reputable organisations to undo the harm. The editors failed to respond.

We think local journalism matters. Of course the East London Guardian is a part of a large media corporation, NewsQuest Media Group https://www.newsquest.co.uk/news-brands, so maybe local journalism is a misnomer in this case. However, any journalism which treats authorities as unimpeachable sources, which fails to communicate with people affected by stories and is careless with a ‘scoop’ which is likely to cause damage, offers little to the communities it claims to serve.

Hundreds of people took the trouble to write in with objections to the use of the Waterworks Meadow for a music festival. The Licensing Officer said he had never seen the like of it. Ms Munro also managed to misreport details of that story, wrongly attributing a quote from us to a third party and failed to contact us at all for the article. The project to prevent further attempts to use the Meadow for events of this kind also matters to large numbers of local people with 106 donations to date. Failure to correct inaccurate reporting is a slap in the face to those committing themselves to campaigns like these.

We are grateful to those who have continued to donate despite the inaccurate information circulated by the East London Guardian. Fortunately, campaign groups no longer have to rely so much on local newspapers to publicise their activities. You can find accurate information about our campaigns and the organisations we work with, as well as the professional surveyors we have recruited on this website or by following us on Twitter and Facebook.

We hope you will share our crowdfunder Re-wild the Waterworks Meadow! organized by Caroline Day and support our work in organising these surveys and our plans to rewild the Waterworks Meadow as part of our invaluable green lung, the Lea Valley Park.

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