Snorkeler highlights poor river water quality in East of England

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A conservationist has been posting images of rivers as part of a campaign to tackle “very sad” water quality.

Nicola Crockford works for the RSPB but spends her spare time snorkelling in the East of England.

She said pollution in England was “affecting our quality of life and international reputation”.

Water companies face legally binding targets to cut sewage discharges into the UK’s rivers, under plans announced by the government.

Official figures show an average of 825 sewage spills per day into England’s waterways in the last year.

Ms Crockford, who lives in west Suffolk, said: “Water in our rivers should be safe to drink from and swim in and it’s not. We’re the dirty man of Europe. It’s very sad.”

She has been snorkelling about once a week since the start of the pandemic in rivers including the Nar and Heacham in Norfolk.

In a social media post on Thursday, she highlighted near-zero visibility under water in the River Cam near Cambridge, describing it as “one of the most disappointing swims”.

“Should’ve been divine on this gorgeous summer evening, snorkelling 500m up from Braseley Bridge to Byron’s Pool. But shockingly, visibility almost nil,” she wrote.

An Anglian Water spokesperson blamed the river’s colour on algae and could “confidently say this is not due to a sewage discharge”.

But Ms Crockford said the algae thrived on unnaturally high nutrient levels and called for tougher laws on the agricultural use of rivers.

“The poor visibility is also likely due to unnatural sediment loads due to agriculture and run-off from roads etc. You can see the sediment in the photographs, where there should be none,” she said.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We have been clear that volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is utterly unacceptable.

“That is why our Plan for Water sets out increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation to tackle every source of river and sea pollution.”

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