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A united protest amidst the ongoing sewage crisis

Photography by John Sutton, Clearwater Photography

The Kennet catchment, home to globally rare chalk streams including The Kennet, The Lambourn, and neighbouring river Pang catchment, is currently facing an environmental emergency. A growing crisis looms over the rivers, towns, and villages of the region as it suffers an escalating sewage catastrophe.

Designated as “Special Areas of Conservation” and “Sites of Special Scientific Interest,” these rivers and others in the catchments are under severe threat from continued sewage discharges by Thames Water. The crisis not only endangers the unique river ecosystems but also poses significant health risks to local communities.

For over three months, riverkeepers and residents of the Kennet and Lambourn valleys, along with those in the neighbouring Pang valley, have been subjected to the distressing daily reality of sewage overflowing directly into homes, streets, and rivers. This is a direct result of Thames Water’s failing infrastructure, which has been unable to prevent the continuous discharge of sewage into these sensitive habitats causing obvious environmental damage and creating serious health risks. River keepers and residents have had to endure:

  • Inundation of the multiple award-winning Stonebridge Wild River Reserve, with over 300 hours of untreated sewage already in 2024 from a single unmonitored manhole cascading directly into the river Kennet.
  • Raw sewage and waste overflowing from unmonitored manholes onto the main streets of Lambourn and pouring directly into the once wildlife-rich chalk stream.
  • “Drive slowly” signs outside of Compton C.E. Primary School to prevent cars from splashing raw sewage onto pedestrians.

Therefore, on Sunday, 14th April 2024, Kennet Catchment River Keepers lead a united protest as the ongoing sewage crisis continues to threaten river and community health.

Politicians addressing the gathered crowd of over 250 people included Baroness Jenny Jones, Green; Laura Farris - MP for Newbury, Conservative; Lee Dillon - Head of West Berkshire Council, LibDem; and Olivia Bailey - candidate for Reading West & Mid Berkshire, Labour.

The event was held by a coalition of concerned groups and individuals, led by the Kennet Catchment River Keepers Association (KCRA), and supported by the Angling Trust, Action for the River Kennet (ARK), residents, and angling clubs from Reading and Newbury. This united front against Thames Water's negligence called for immediate and decisive action to protect these unique chalk streams and local communities.

Sam Marshall, Riverkeeper, Chairman, KCRA, said, “The River Kennet, like all our chalk streams, is a jewel in England's river systems, yet it is being treated much more like an open sewer and waste disposal system than a globally rare ecosystem. The sheer lack of investment from water companies has led to rivers being sucked dry in the summer months, and then filled with sewage in the winter months, subjecting them to year-round undue stress. Our water services industry is not only broken but also completely unregulated. The governing bodies that should be prosecuting and protecting our waterways are so underfunded they are non-existent. We need to see vast improvements from regulators, pushing for prosecutions of underperforming and polluting water companies."

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