HAUNTING figures clad in red took to the waters of the River Thames in Oxford to protest against the dumping of sewage.

Activists from the Red Rebels, a political performance group, gathered Port Meadow on Saturday in protest at Thames Water's release of sewage into the river.

The performers, who earlier surprised passers-by at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, floated on a raft, crafted from recycled materials, accompanied by swimmers who took to the river. 

READ MORE: Thames becomes 'safe swimming spot' but you could still get sick from sewage, says councillor

Oxford Mail: Red Rebel stands in stark contrast to swimmers enjoying the river at Port Meadow. Photo by Rory Carnegie Red Rebel stands in stark contrast to swimmers enjoying the river at Port Meadow. Photo by Rory Carnegie

A nearby stretch at Wolvercote Mill Stream was declared a safe swimming spot last month– one of only two lengths of the river in the country to achieve the standard

Oxford Mail: Speakers give talks at Red Rebels and XR protest at Port Meadow.Speakers give talks at Red Rebels and XR protest at Port Meadow.

More than 100 people gathered to listen to speeches by East Oxford MP Anneliese Dodds, councillors, campaigners and representatives from pressure group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) and Thames Water.

Artist Miranda Cresswell, 59, who was involved with building the raft and lives by Port Meadow said: "It started very much on a shoestring. Just people with no money trying to get this action going, and everybody came.

She added: "There were at least 30 people in the water at one point; it was great."

Oxford Mail: Red Rebels join hands in protest of river pollution at Port Meadow. Photo by Rory Carnegie Red Rebels join hands in protest of river pollution at Port Meadow. Photo by Rory Carnegie

One of the event's organisers, Amanda Button, 57, said: "We all feel really strongly about the pollution in our rivers and wanted to do something about it.

"I just can't swim in the river anymore and it's so sad. But I am not just protesting for me . It's for the whole ecosystem. Nature doesn't have a voice so we need to be that voice."

Oxford Mail: Artist Miranda Cresswell, 59. Artist Miranda Cresswell, 59.

Abingdon and Witney College lecturer Jeannie Donald-McKim, played a role in organising the event too saying it was only in the past year she had become aware of the sewage problem.
The 58-year-old who started wild swimming at Port Meadow in 2021, during Covid lockdown, said it boosted her mental health 'during really difficult times'.
She said: "The Government needs to regulate sewage pollution. We are all paying for a service that is not being delivered."

Oxford Mail: Two of the event's organisers Jeannie Donald-McKim, 58, and Amanda Button, 57. Two of the event's organisers Jeannie Donald-McKim, 58, and Amanda Button, 57.

READ MORE: Thames Water dumped raw sewage into rivers around Oxford 5,028 times in 2021

Catherine Clarke, 61, from Southmoor Road, Oxford, who was one of the swimmers at the protest.
She said she had been wild swimming during summers for 20 years, but began swimming all year round last year.
She added: "It made an enormous difference at a time when it was difficult to get that kind of exercise in.
"I think it's really important that the message gets through in a creative way. I love swimming here but I always make sure I don't swallow any water and shower as soon as I get home."

Oxford Mail: Thames Water Strategy and Regulatory Affairs Director Cathryn Ross speaking at Port Meadow Red Rebels and XR protest.Thames Water Strategy and Regulatory Affairs Director Cathryn Ross speaking at Port Meadow Red Rebels and XR protest.

On the area's designation as a safe bathing spot, Ms Clarke said: "I think it's a great step in the right direction and a lot of it is due to activism and protest."
A Thames Water representative admitted there was more to be done to stop sewage entering waterways, and outlined the company's targets.

Cathryn Ross, Thames Water Strategy and Regulatory Affairs Director, said:"Discharging untreated sewage into our rivers is unacceptable. Some of it is legal, some of it is illegal, but all of it is unacceptable."
Oxford Mail: Haunting figures float down river on recycled raft in protest of sewage spills.Haunting figures float down river on recycled raft in protest of sewage spills.

She said some of the company's sewage centres in the county, including the plant in Witney, were over 50-years-old and needed updating.

But she said £9 m was set to be invested in the Witney plant by 2024.

Ms Ross said: "We've got a couple of problems. We don't have the data to know when we are complying and when we are not complying. Some of that is when it rains a lot. Some of that is stormwater. If we can do more to stop infiltration then we can stop sewage treatment facilities from being overwhelmed.

"We need to stop being complacent."

Read more from this author

This story was written by Shosha Adie

She joined the team in 2022 as a digital reporter.   

To get in touch with her email: Shosha.Adie@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter: @ShoshaAdie

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