River sewage pollution campaign partners, River Action UK, Henley Mermaids, Thames 21 and Windrush Against Sewage Pollution and local citizen scientist Dave Wallace who has founded the Henley River Action Group came together on Monday evening to give an update to the community on their work and plans going forward at The Lockdown Lodge at Hambleden lock.
Dave Wallace, started the Henley River Action Group after being horrified at the sewage pollution when he swam the Henley Marathon swim last August from Henley to Marlow. He said, “Near the end of the swim I was swimming in the good stuff. It was really awful.” Dave and a small group of people started testing every day at two sites on the Henley Mile with the help from funding from River Action UK during May and June this year which showed high levels of bacteria including one sample which was 4 times over the limit. These results were published just before Henley Royal Regatta and garnered the support of the Sir Steve Redgrave who called for urgent action. Henley River Action Group have now received further funding from Earthwatch, an environmental charity to continue testing for the rest of the year.
James Wallace, CEO from River Action UK told the audience that they had presented a Charter for the Rivers to political decision-makers at a reception in Westminster on 3 July that sets out the actions that need to be taken to rescue Britain’s rivers for people and nature. He said, “We’ve also sent a letter to the Chief Executives of the water companies expressing our concerns and we’ve made some specific requests to clean up your bleep! We’ve had a response from that and we’ve been invited to a meeting with CEOs and to visit the sewage treatment works. We will be hearing from them on whether they are prepared to do anything. To us that means speed up as their current commitment is to clean up their mess by 2025 which we think is far too long. We’ve done some cheeky animation with the guys from Aardman Animation (Wallace & Gromit) with voices by Stephen Fry and Paul Whitehouse that has received a lot of attention. It drives people to our petition which we need 100,000 signatures so that it can be put it to parliament. We’ve had a fantastic start to our campaign.”
Aggie Hodges from Thames 21 gave an update on the testing to apply for a Bathing Water site in Henley where there is weekly testing sites at 6 sites from Henley to Reading. The results have been mixed with better results in the drier weather at the 3 sites in Henley. The results from Loddon bridge though have been poor throughout.
Andrew Hodge, a former gold medal rowing Olympian is also supporting the campaign through his company Aquascope who are site-sampling and mapping water quality using a combination of satellite remote sensing and machine learning technologies. He said, “James and David’s efforts to galvanise people together. They are taking members of public and upscaling them to a level where the water companies can’t fob you off. The more people that inhabit that space, knowing what is going on in the river means that the water companies can’t turn around and say nothing.”
Peter Hammond, of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution told the audience that six water companies were going to be taken to the High Court later this year. He said, “It’s going to cost them big bucks as they are going to have to give a rebate to customers.”
Henley Mermaid, Laura Reinke said, “I’ve swum every day in the river for the last 6 years and luckily I’ve only been ill 3 times. I’m not going to stop swimming. We need to call the water companies to account. Even the treated water is full of micro-plastics. We’re planning to do some education talks to local schools to help raise awareness. We need everyone to send in photos of discharges they see to us and if you’ve got any ideas on what we can do, please get in touch.” To contact Henley Mermaids email email@example.com
After the talks, Dave and Chloe Jones showed how to collect water samples and test them, with the results being shown a few minutes later. The results on Monday also showed above good levels of bacteria.