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Health and safety fears scupper Pooh sticks race
WINNIE the Pooh fans were left high and dry when the World Pooh Sticks Championships were cancelled because the Thames was flowing too fast.
The event, which is in its 27th year and is held on the river in Little Wittenham, was scrapped today because of Environment Agency fears over health and safety.
On Saturday the agency put up red flags warning off boats on a stretch of the Thames from Radcot Lock to Hurley Lock and organisers said they were unable to get their safety boats to Days Lock.
In its 27-year history no one has ever fallen into the water and it has only been cancelled once before – in 2001.
Pooh sticks was invented by the writer AA Milne as a game for his son, and first featured in his book, The House at Pooh Corner.
Each year up to 3,000 people from across the world attend the championships and it raises about £1,500 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and local charities.
About 150 people who still turned up to the event, unaware of its cancellation, were given cups of tea.
Paul Rodriguez, 57, travelled from Cheltenham with his wife, friends and grandchildren.
He said: “We’d been building this up for months to the kids so they were obviously bitterly disappointed.
“I think the Environment Agency was over-cautious. We were able to play our own pooh sticks, although the river was fast.
“We just wish they had made a decision sooner.”
Sue Hollebone, who owns Haddon Acre Bed and Breakfast, in nearby Didcot, added: “It’s pathetic this has been cancelled.
“I feel sorry for all the people who didn’t know what was going on and turned up anyway. It’s very disappointing.”
Event co-ordinator Liz Williams apologised for having to call off the popular event.
She said: “We’re very disappointed, but this is unfortunately what happens sometimes when you stage an event in Britain in the spring.
“I don’t think it’s an over-the-top call by the Environment Agency, it would be dreadful if someone fell in.
“There were some disappointed people, but in 27 years this is only the second time we’ve cancelled so we’ve not done too bad.”
She said the event would probably be rearranged for September and details would be released soon.
The championships used to be held in January but were moved to March in 2001 after the competition had to be cancelled because the river had frozen.
Agency spokesman Hayley WiIloughby said: “The safety of visitors to the event and other river users is our top priority.
“While cancelling Pooh Sticks and missing the opportunity to help raise money for charities was a difficult decision, it was necessary to avoid exposing the organisers and visitors to the hazards of fast-flowing water.”
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