Members of Extinction Rebellion have called for an end to sewage dumping in rivers in a demonstration staged at a popular swimming spot in Oxford.

The group gathered at Port Meadow’s Rainbow Bridge, which they bannered with messages saying ‘dirty politics equals dirty water’ and ‘unite for clean water’, while handing out information leaflets on river pollution to passers-by.

“We have an amazing facility here at Port Meadow, used by bikers, swimmers, paddleboarders and others, and it’s being spoiled by greed and inefficiency,” said Ines Smyth, an advisor on women’s rights for Oxfam and member of Extinction Rebellion.

Ms Smyth, 73, who swims in the river every morning, said: “Public health is in danger. The wider picture is we are living in a climate crisis.

READ MORE: Extinction Rebellion protest on first day of Henley Regatta

“This water issue is part of that larger picture, because it’s about biodiversity and the health of vital ecosystems which are being negatively affected by human actions.”

The recent warm weather has seen an increase in the number of bathers in Port Meadow, who, the campaign group argue, are at risk of eye, ear, skin and throat infections, gastro-enteritis, E.coli and hepatitis because of the raw sewage being dumped into river networks.

Megan Murray-Pepper, a teacher in Oxford and member of Extinction Rebellion, said: “The sense I get from being here today is that there is widespread anger about what these private companies are doing.

“They don’t focus on infrastructure and public wellbeing, they care about shareholders.

“I think it’s very likely now that given all the debt these companies are in, we, the taxpayers, will be asked once again to pick up the bill.

“Everyone is upset about this. It’s become far too familiar a feeling.”

On the question of whether private water companies should be nationalised, Ms Murray-Pepper added: “There is definitely a strong argument for it. These companies have proved they don’t have the public interest at heart.

“I think it’s also the case that the Environment Agency has had its budget heavily slashed over the last few years, along with staff cuts, which of course leads to the environment not getting the protection it needs.”

On Tuesday, June 27, Thames Water CEO Sarah Bentley announced she was quitting her job with immediate effect.

One day after the news, it was reported that backup plans are being drawn up amid concerns the company cannot survive the pressure of its debt.

Sky News reported that Thames Water has a £14 billion pile of debt, and that the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat), is holding discussions about placing the company into administration.

Thames Water has been contacted for comment. 

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This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.

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