Campaigners raise concerns about water quality in River Deben

Campaigners protest about pollution in the River Deben

Campaigners protest about pollution in the River Deben - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

More than 100 people gathered to protest about the pollution in a Suffolk river and called on agencies to take action to improve the situation. 

The Rivers Have Rights event in Woodbridge aimed to raise awareness of pollution in the River Deben, particularly rising levels of potentially harmful e.coli bacteria found in the river’s tributaries and the effects of overflowing sewage from nearby drains. 

Appeals were made to the Environment Agency, the government department responsible for protecting the environment, to take action, especially by making the River Deben a ‘designated bathing water,’ which would enable e.coli levels to be monitored. 

The protest in Woodbridge

The protest in Woodbridge - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Suffolk county councillor Caroline Page, who organised the event, said humans had lived, worked and played by the river for about 8,000 years and had swum in the waters for thousands of years, meaning it should receive designated bathing status. 

The event began outside the Longshed in Whisstocks Place when Dan Tarrant-Willis, head miller at Woodbridge Tide Mill, read a draft Declaration of Rights of the River Deben for the first time, which outlined seven rights for the river, including "to flow freely". 

Ms Page read a haiku dedicated to the river by Suffolk poet Andrea Skevington and there was a display of portraits of familiar local faces which had been dipped in the Deben to highlight the effects of pollution, by local photographer Ruth Leach. 

Protestors call for cleaner water in the River Deben

Protestors call for cleaner water in the River Deben - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Woodbridge Mayor Sue Bale also spoke, along with local filmmaker Tim Curtis and producer Malcolm Hodd. 

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Following the speeches, the crowd then marched through the town’s Thoroughfare accompanied by a band and flute. 

Ms Page said: “The event went very well. They were a really great, mixed bunch of people and the event was apolitical, so there was representation from across the parties.” 

Swimming is one of the activities on the River Deben

Swimming is one of the activities on the River Deben - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “The Environment Agency welcomes the growing interest of people using rivers and open waters for recreation. However, current regulations for rivers and open waters in England protect wildlife and are not designed for the protection of human health. 

“We do monitor e.coli levels at designated bathing waters, however, the River Deben is not a designated bathing water."

Maya Bennett, Ellie Mills and Rayni Bennett take part in the Woodbridge protest

Maya Bennett, Ellie Mills and Rayni Bennett take part in the Woodbridge protest - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

A spokesperson for Anglian Water said the incidence of overflowing drains was low in 2021 and there had not been any incidents so far this year. 

She added: “We are already investing more than £200million to reduce storm spills between now and 2025, in places where it will have the most benefit to the environment.  

“Not only this but our recent Get River Positive pledges mean that we’re committed to ensuring storm overflows and sewage treatment works will not be the reason for unhealthy rivers by the end of the decade.”