Paddleboarding pals show sobering truth about England’s rivers

Three women spent 10 days on a paddleboarding trip from Bristol to London to show the grim reality of England’s rivers.

Anneka France, Beckii Waters and Harriet Alvis used connecting waterways to paddleboard their way to the capital, travelling 260 km while collecting data about the quality of the several bodies of water that connect the two cities, including the River Thames.

On the final day, they travelled through Twickenham, Staines, and Richmond before making their way back to Bristol by train.

France, Waters and Alvis found the trip got easier as time went on after a tough start.

PADDLING ALONG: The journey that the trio took from Bristol to London

Waters said: “Mentally the first couple of days were the most challenging, because we were against the flow.”

Alvis added: “At the start when people were asking us what we were doing and we told them they would be like ‘yeah you’re never gonna do that’.”

But they found that as they got closer and closer to their destination, those they met along the way were much more supportive – motivating them to push even harder.

France said: “The kindness from strangers was amazing.”

Waters added: “We had a guy asking us how fast we were paddling, and we said we were paddling slower than walking pace, so he walked slower so that we could paddle past him.”

The three women, accompanied by dogs Ruby and Teifi, wanted to raise awareness of the issues facing British rivers, as a report called The State of our Rivers by The Rivers Trust, was released on the 26th of September. 

The report revealed that rivers provide two-thirds of Britain’s water supply and support a huge variety of wildlife, yet none of Britain’s rivers are healthy.

Only 14% pass the bar for good ecological health and none met chemical standards. 

While on their journey, the three women partnered with PROTEUS equipment, NRS Europe and Escape Watersports to help document the issues British rivers are currently facing, such as single-use plastics presence in rivers, and that 403,171 sewage spills into rivers were reported in 2020. 

UNHEALTHY: The quality of water in south west London’s rivers is either bad or poor

As a result, many rivers across England are in very poor condition, and the section of the Thames running through most of south west London has been qualified as in poor or bad condition by the report.

The trio were frequently offered biscuits and tea on their trip, and one person even let them stay at their house and have a shower.

But despite the kindness of strangers, what they saw along the way was not so positive.

Canal boats were discharging their waste into the canals which lead into rivers, causing massive levels of pollution and harm to wildlife along the way.

STRUGGLING: A not so happy canal resident

Alvis said: “I think there needs to be some sort of legislation or some way of controlling where the waste goes from canal boats.”

France added: “There need to be more educational campaigns as well from people like the Canal and Rivers Trust as they have a big role to play.”

They also saw an upsetting amount of raw sewage being discharged into canals while they were paddleboarding, which they would often smell before seeing.

SICKENING: Sewage being pumped into the Thames

There wasn’t a point during their trip when the group believed the water was clean enough to swim in, even during the sunniest parts of the trip.

They were keen to put the point across that if you are unhappy with the health of a local river, it is important to write to your MP about it, to be careful about what household products you use, and be mindful with the things you flush down the toilet.

You can donate to The Rivers Trust using this link and read more about the trip here.

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