A GROUP of women dubbed the ‘Henley Mermaids’ are finishing a summer-long swim of the length of the River Thames to protest against river pollution.

People are invited to gather at Red Lion Lawn, beside Henley Bridge, on Saturday, November 5 at 9am to celebrate Laura Reineke, Jo Robb, Fiona Print, Susan Barry and Joan Fennelly finishing the swim.

They women started the swim in June at Cricklade and have since swum long stretches of river throughout the summer, including Witney, Oxford, Wallingford, Pangbourne, raising money for the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage.

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They have met campaigners, anglers, lock keepers, rowers and boatspeople along the way, campaigning for a clean ocean, rivers and lakes for wildlife and people.

“It has been magnificent to see the River Thames from its source,” said Ms Reineke. “A small but powerful trickle by the road in Cricklade to the majestic river it becomes in Henley.

“We are so lucky to have this spectacular natural resource on our doorstep. We must protect it.”

Mrs Barry, who was attacked by an aggressive swan near Lechlade, said: “Despite being savaged by swans and many freezing swims, it has been one of the highlights of my swimming life.

“Seeing the Thames from the point of view of a swimmer is so special. I would recommend it to anyone.”

Mrs Print, who devised the idea for the Thames swim, added: “We’ve discovered hidden parts of the river that only the birds and fish ever get to see.

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“Tiny bridges, right-angled turns, knee-deep water and fallen trees gave way to the dreaming spires of Oxford and the beauty of the stretches throughout South Oxfordshire. It’s been wonderful.”

Ms Fennelly, who along with Ms Reineke swam the North Channel this year, said: “It’s been an extraordinary year with a range of different challenges but seeing our own river from its source to home has been extra special.”

The women have expressed their alarm at the ongoing sewage pollution crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Mrs Robb, who is a South Oxfordshire District councillor, said: “It’s devastating and angering that Thames Water continues to dump raw sewage into the River Thames, in wet weather and dry, because of its ongoing failure to invest properly in sewerage infrastructure and because of the total failure of the regulators and government to properly control the industry.

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“This situation is the direct result of decades of the failure of privatised water monopolies to invest in infrastructure and the failure of a defunded Environment Agency and OFWAT to hold them to account.”


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This story was written by Gee Harland. She joined the team in 2022 as a senior multimedia reporter.

Gee covers Wallingford, Wantage and Didcot.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Gee.harland@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @Geeharland

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