Credit: Beatrice Steele

Oxford residents gathered on Port Meadow yesterday to protest river pollution after Thames Water’s recent dumping of raw sewage into waterways in Oxfordshire.

The protest, which began at the Godstow entrance to Port Meadow, was jointly organised by Clean Our River Thames and the End Sewage Pollution Mid-Thames Group. Around two hundred people gathered at the entrance to the common, and then walked to a nearby gazebo by the river to hear event organisers and prominent local figures make speeches.

Among the speakers were Layla Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Claire Robertson, a PhD researcher in freshwater ecology, and Ashley Smith, Chair of the activist group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution.

Jo Robb, a South Oxfordshire District Councillor, blamed the pollution on “a total failure to invest in infrastructure and a total failure of our regulators to enforce the law against the water companies.”

Richard Aylard, Director and Special Advisor to the Chief Executive of Thames Water, also spoke at the protest. He assured the protestors that a forty-million-pound programme of works to “upgrade” Oxford will be complete by March 2025, and that Thames Water is currently putting forward a business plan to increase investment.

In his speech, he said: “We’re doing our best to get that sorted out as quickly as possible. There are two things we need to do: build more capacity, and sort the filtration, and that’s what we’re doing.”

“It has to be carefully planned. Doing anything to a sewage works is really difficult – you can’t stop it. It’s one of the few pieces of infrastructure that we can’t stop, just think what would happen if we did.”

The large turnout to the protest was noted by many of the speakers. Ned Wells from the End Sewage Pollution Campaign told The Oxford Blue that he hoped that one of the outcomes would be to inspire more people to join groups that campaign against river pollution. “We need more volunteers, so this awareness-raising of the problem is brilliant.”

When approached for comment, a Thames Water spokesperson said: “We regard all discharges of untreated sewage as unacceptable and will work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary and are determined to be transparent. We understand the river users’ concerns and our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for rivers and for the communities who love and value them.”