Henley Mermaids to Complete Thames Swim with a Protest

The Henley Mermaids will finish their summer-long swim of the length of the Thames, from the source to Henley, with a celebration and protest against river pollution.

Members of the public and the swimming, rowing and paddle boarding communities are invited to gather at the Red Lion Lawn and Henley Bridge on Saturday 5th November, at 9am, to celebrate the Mermaids’ successful completion of the Thames swim and to raise our voices against river pollution. There will be refreshments on the bank, a chance to talk to ocean and river activists, find out how to live plastic-free and discover what steps we can all take to make a change.

The group of five women – Laura Reineke, Jo Robb, Fiona Print, Susan Barry and Joan Fennelly – started the swim in June at Cricklade and have swum long stretches of river throughout the summer, raising money for the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage while taking in the spectacular Upper Thames near Lechlade, Witney, Oxford, Wallingford, Pangbourne and Henley. The women have met campaigners, anglers, lock keepers, rowers and boatspeople along the way, campaigning for a clean ocean, rivers and lakes for wildlife and people.

Mermaids have been supported by Henley Information Systems for their 2022 adventures. Neil Duguid of Henley Information Systems said, “We are proud to sponsor and support local champions raising awareness and funds for important causes. We’ve supported many charities and teams over the years but we are thrilled to be supporting the Mermaids again.”

The Mermaids fended off savage swans, had close shaves with rowers in Abingdon, scrambled over fallen trees and powerful streams in the Upper Thames and enjoyed many a pub lunch along the way.

Laure Reineke reflected, “It has been magnificent to see the River Thames from its source – a small but powerful trickle by the road in Cricklade to the majestic river it becomes in Henley, We are so lucky to have this spectacular natural resource on our doorstep. We must protect it.”

Susan Barry, who was attacked by an aggressive swan near Lechlade, said, “Despite being savaged by swans and many freezing swims, it has been one of the highlights of my swimming life. Seeing the Thames from the point of view of a swimmer is so special. I would recommend it to anyone.”

Fiona Print, who devised the idea for the Thames swim said, “We’ve discovered hidden parts of the river that only the birds and fish ever get to see. Tiny bridges, right-angled turns, knee-deep water and fallen trees gave way to the dreaming spires of Oxford and the beauty of the stretches throughout South Oxfordshire. It’s been wonderful.”

Joan Fennelly, who along with Laura Reineke, also swam the North Channel this year, said “It’s been an extraordinary year with a range of different challenges but seeing our own river from its source to home has been extra special.”

But the Mermaids expressed their alarm at the ongoing sewage pollution crisis that shows no sign of abating. “It’s devastating and angering that Thames Water continues to dump raw sewage into the River Thames, in wet weather and dry, because of its ongoing failure to invest properly in sewerage infrastructure and because of the total failure of the regulators and government to properly control the industry,” said Jo Robb. “This situation is the direct result of decades of the failure of privatised water monopolies to invest in infrastructure and the failure of a defunded Environment Agency and OFWAT to hold them to account.”

In 2021, Thames Water released raw sewage into the River Thames and its tributaries including the Windrush, the Thame, the Evenlode and the Ock upstream of Medmenham, for more than 70,000 hours. In Henley, Thames Water released sewage at Friday Street and Fawley for more than 400 hours in 2021.

Residents are warmly invited to join the Mermaids on Saturday 5th November (9am at the Red Lion Lawn and Henley Bridge) to make their voices heard for our rivers and for nature. Costumes, placards and musical instruments all encouraged!