Campaigners Join Together For River Celebration Event

A river celebration event took place at the River & Rowing Museum on Saturday with interested parties who are passionate about river pollution attending.  The event was jointly hosted by Thames 21, Drinkable Rivers and the Museum.

Attendees included Henley Mermaid Susan Barry, members of Greener Henley, a representative from River Action UK, citizen scientists who have been monitoring the river, boat owners, residents who live by the river, river users and swimmers.

Thames 21 were presenting the results of their bathing water monitoring in Henley and Wallingford and Li An Phoa, Founder of Drinkable Rivers gave a presentation on their campaign and their River Thames walk.

Museum Director, Steve O’Connor welcomed everyone and said, “We are looking at our strategy, reimaging our galleries and putting us back in the heart of the community.  One of the key things for the Museum is we have to help lead the debate on the health of our rivers.  We along with all the organisations in the room hold the morale high-ground and we can hold the relevant people to account to make sure the health and cleanliness of the river is a significant priority and more of a priority than profit and shareholder return.  I think it would be fantastic to have another day where we have the water companies here.  I will certainly be pushing for that to happen.”

Agnes Hodges from Thames 21 said, “We have had citizen scientists sampling the river water for 20 weeks over the bathing water season.  This week was our last week of the season and Li Ann and Maarten from Drinkable Rivers reached out to us as they were coming through Henley and we thought it would be good to bring the scientists together and bring awareness to their project.  The River & Rowing Museum was the perfect place to hold this event as we’re looking out on our bathing water site in Henley.”

Agnes then presented the results from the monitoring at 6 sites (3 in Henley and 3 towards Reading) along the Thames for the Henley Bathing Water Designation Status.  The results will be reviewed by DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and if given Bathing Water Designation Status (BWDS) the Environment Agency will then monitor the bathing site and will display signage onsite and online showing the ratings of Excellent, Sufficient, Good or Poor.  Agnes explained that DEFRA had changed the rules during the season – only bathers could be included in the numbers not other river users e.g. paddleboarders, an average of 100 bathers over 2 days needed to be recorded and the number of bathers can’t be recorded on days where there are events e.g. Henley Club to Pub swim.  Although the results from the six sites started off ‘good’, 5 out of the 6 sites ended with ‘poor’ status.  The application for the Henley BWDS will be sent to DEFRA by the end of October and the decision should be received by 30 April 2024.  If BWDS is given for Henley, Thames Water will have a legal obligation to improve water quality and reduce pollution.

In 2005 Li An from Drinkable Rivers canoed the full length of the Rupert river in Canada. All along the way, she could drink water straight from the river. Three years later, she went back and she could not drink from the Rupert.  A video Li Ann’s walk along the Meuse river in Netherlands was shown at the event. Li An and Maarten are walking the River Thames from source to sea and set off on the 17 September and hope to finish on 17 October in Allhallows monitoring and testing along the way.

Li Ann said, “I’ve walked along rivers for the last 10 years.  It is what I love.  If we were to have a world with drinkable rivers again everything is healthy and in balance and that’s why it is beautiful to coincide with the ending of the bathing season monitoring.  The swimmable river is the step before the drinkable river.  As we go from source to sea we meet people living there, doing projects and we get all these different layers of prospective of why water is important.”

Afterwards, attendees were given the opportunity to help measure, test and record for Drinkable Rivers which included looking at surroundings, what the river bank looks like, the levels and slopes of the river at the water’s edge, the soil type, wildlife, plastic pollution and testing for ammonia, nitrates and chlorine.

In the open discussion, attendees discussed the issue of planning applications for major developments that will add to the existing sewage pollution in the river and that sewage treatment work problems should be resolved before nearby developments start.  Others highlighted the need to build awareness and engagement amongst children and the importance of habitats surrounding the river.


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