Around 50 people walk along Wandle and Graveney rivers to highlight issue
Protestors assemble where the Wandle emerges by Southside
February 1, 2023
Around fifty local people from environmental campaign groups have held a protest about the illegal dumping of sewage into local rivers.
The group, wearing 'poo hats', installed satirical blue plaques along the course of the Wandle and Graveney rivers to highlight the dumping of sewage into them.
In 2021, according to their own data, Thames Water spilled sewage into the Wandle and Graveney 294 times. These releases are only supposed to happen in exceptional circumstances, for example during particularly heavy storms so campaigners say that many of these charges would be illegal. Figures for last year have not been released yet.
One plaque read, “Thames Water, River Polluter- 154 sewage discharges into the River Wandle 2021” and another highlighted the 140 sewage discharges into the Graveney.
Setting off from Longley Road in Tooting, members of Extinction Rebellion Wandsworth, Friends of the Earth, the Green Party, the Wandle Trust, Garratt Park Allotments and other local environmental groups walked along the Graveney to where it flows into the Wandle. From there they continued along the Wandle to the spot where it joins the Thames, stopping at storm drains along the way where sewage has been discharged. Part of the route was through Southside shopping centre in Wandsworth as the Wandle river flows underneath it. Many passersby took leaflets, clearly themselves concerned about the levels of pollution of our rivers.
Poo hats were warn by protestors on the walk
The River Wandle is a chalk stream, one of only two urban chalk streams in London. Only 200 chalk streams are known globally, 85% of which are found in the UK in southern and eastern England.
Local Extinction Rebellion member Lu Curtis said, “Their pure, clear, constant water from underground chalk aquifers and springs, flowing across flinty gravel beds, makes them perfect sources of clean water – and ideal for lots of wild creatures to breed and thrive. They are a haven for iconic species like the otter, kingfisher and salmon, which is why we work to protect them.”
The campaigners accuse the government of failing to tighten environmental regulations and enforcement and the water companies of paying dividends out to shareholders before investing in the upgrade of their infrastructure.
The plaque installed at the very end of the walk by the Thames Path reads, “The UK Government voted to block a law requiring water companies to dump less raw sewage in our waterways and seas. 20 Oct 21”
One of the plaques installed along the route
The event was part of a national day of action across the UK drawing attention to the shockingly polluted state of the UK’s waterways. Only 14% of the UK’s rivers achieve “good” ecological status, with pollution from agriculture, human sewage, roads, and single-use plastics creating a dangerous “chemical cocktail”.
Andrew Harding, also a local Extinction Rebellion member, says, “It’s disgusting, literally, to think what’s being pumped into our rivers. The government and the water companies aren’t going to clean up unless ordinary people put pressure on them. Extinction Rebellion can’t do this alone.
“There are very concrete things people can do. You can become a citizen scientist. Regular testing of water quality by citizen scientists can give early warning of pollution problems. You can also write to your MP to demand action. Above all, we need improved government regulation of the water companies.
“We need everyone who cares about our rivers and seas to stand up with us and speak out. Join us at the Houses of Parliament on 21 April and demand change.”
It is feared that sewage discharge into local rivers will increase due to climate change as rainfall becomes heavier and more frequent, particularly during winter.
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