Environment workers clearing ditches and streams to prevent flooding have switched away from using petrol-driven equipment to help reduce their own emissions.

They have been working year-round in Dagenham since 2020 clearing riverbanks of weed and tree branches to help reduce flood risk from heavy rainfall.

But the machinery the team uses ironically comes at a cost to the very environment they are trying to look after.

Now Leon Palmer and his Environment Agency team have been swapping their old fossil-fuelled equipment for greener battery-powered technology to cut their carbon emissions.  

“Every team like mine making this change working in public green spaces reduces their carbon emissions,” Leon said. “I’ve always been passionate about the environment ever since I watched my first David Attenborough programme as a kid.”

Leon runs one of six Environment Agency field teams across east and north London and Hertfordshire that are now switching to cleaner battery technology for weed-cutting to improve river flow and help prevent flooding, as well as removing non-native invasive plants like floating pennywort that blocks streams and rivers.

His team uses strimmers to clear embankments to keep them stable, clear trees and other obstructions from river channels and culverts and repair Dagenham’s 20 flood defences including pumping stations, flood storage areas and sluice gates. 

The quieter battery technology now being used costs less and reduces hand-arm vibration when operating it. It is also cheaper to buy and service.  

“These tools are lighter and don’t vibrate like petrol equipment does,” Leon added.

“We still have to use our petrol chainsaw for the heaviest duty jobs like tree felling. But switching out the rest of our equipment we estimate is saving half-a-tonne of CO2 emissions every year.”

That’s like charging a smartphone 60,000 times or driving 1,250 miles in an average petrol car, he estimates.   

The agency is also encouraging more meadows in parks and open spaces to help absorb rainwater and improve nature habitats and biodiversity. Keeping more grass areas uncut, it says, gives a chance for nature to thrive. 

The public can report obstructions such as fallen trees that could increase food risk by contacting the Environment Agency’s 24-hour phoneline on 0800 807060.