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Thames Water CEO meets WASP.

On Friday 9th July, a small team of WASP volunteers and supporters met new (ish) Thames Water Chief Executive, Sarah Bentley and Sustainability Director, Richard Aylard, to talk about the company's commitment to the recovery project on the Windrush river and to show what the river was once like, and how it is now.

WASP supporters showing a photo of the same spot 11 years ago

Our first meeting was above Bourton on the Water where the river still looks like it once did all the way to the Thames - although the alarm bells are ringing even there.

Veteran defenders of the river, David Reinger of the Cotswolds Flyfishers and Environmental Consultant, Vaughan Lewis gave the background and history, and an introduction to the new Chair of the Cotswolds Rivers Trust, Dr Richard Knowles followed on the walk down through Bourton.

Bourton on the Water, talking about the decline of the Cotswolds rivers.

Bourton on the Water can attract around 10,000 visitors a day in summer yet it seems the sewage works is given no help from HQ to deal with that burden. Ending the untreated sewage spills (over 1600 hours in 2020) and an improvement to the treated effluent discharged at Bourton are priorities for WASP. The problem has been known for years but the Environment Agency has done nothing to address it - a story repeated all across the country and worsening as new housing comes online with no extra capacity to take it.

Healthy aquatic plants in the Windrush above Bourton on the Water

The next stop was Burford at the Warwick Hall where a display of WASP material including the many comments made on social media about memories of the Windrush were on view.

A snapshot of part of the WASP display

The new Mayor of Burford, Peter Higgs, was at the hall to represent the Town Council which has been so supportive of WASP under his leadership and that of his predecessor, John White. With the limited numbers we could host at the hall at presen, the Mayor was also a tangible link to the widespread support and engagement by councillors of the Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire County Councils, and the Towns and the Parish Councils in the Windrush valley and beyond.

A light lunch break was followed by a viewing of a short and emotive film called 'Upriver' made by Alex Heffernan, the young son of one of our volunteers He made it at school last year and if you haven't seen it - here it is.

A short and to the point presentation by WASP founder, Ash Smith followed and then a summary of the shocking revelations about hidden pollution from Prof Peter Hammond whose data analysis has changed the way the public and the regulators can see the truth about water industry under-performance across the whole of the UK.

The final stage was a short walk along the river downstream of Burford, once beautiful and clear but now a sad grey and lifeless looking channel where some of our youngest supporters and their mums showed Sarah Bentley and Richard Aylard a photo of that beauty taken by landscape photographer Adam Burton in 2010.

Across the generations, showing it like it was and could be again. Geoff Tombs and Alex Heffernan

This was a sight the boys had never seen and the clear message was that they never will unless people like Sarah Bentley and Richard Aylard can change the way the water company behaves and is still influenced to behave, by poor regulation and government policy that makes pollution profitable.

One of our Riverfly monitors, Steve Reynolds, had bagged a sample to show the younger members what bugs still live in the river here and which are now missing.

The generation that has never seen many rivers in a healthy state yet, looking at bugs.

Where we once naively thought that Defra and the Environment Agency would protect our environment, it now seems that commercial pressure and community engagement attacking the reputations of polluters and supporting eithical industry are more likely to achieve the urgent solutions needed. Meanwhile, the regulators slowly wake up, work through a phase of denial and realise that they have plenty of powers but dismally inept application and leadership that could very easily be changed and improved.

Was it worth it and will it make any difference? We go into the recovery project with Thames Water with our eyes open to the reality and total commitment to do all we can to help, encourage success and challenge and expose failure. We know the Thames Water staff are enthusiastic to make this work and have alreadfy started on some improvements at Bourton and Burford.

It certainly seems that we have the support of the new CEO, so the next 12 months will tell, and as you know, WASP will tell it like it is - good and bad. We really hope we will see an end to treatng our rivers as a cheap way to get rid of untreated sewage and to avoid investing in overdue infrastructure.

More than tales from the riverbank.

More to come on what the project actually means and what you can do to help.



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