Environmentalist and television presenter Steve Backshall has hit out at Thames Water after sewage entered the River Thames at the beginning of this month.

The 47-year-old, who has lived in Marlow for several years, believes the contamination of the famous river can cause serious harm to the wildlife that lives amongst the water.

It is alleged that the stream of sewage that entered the river came from a ‘technical issue’ at their Little Marlow sewage works.

Speaking exclusively to the Bucks Free Press, he said: “I’m really frustrated.

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“I think after the big fines, it really seemed as if Thames Water had cleaned up their act.

Steve Backshall and his wife, Helen Glover (PA)

Steve Backshall and his wife, Helen Glover (PA)

“Obviously, something bad happened, as the inspectors were out on the river all day everyday and into the night - it was clear that something had gone wrong.

“So, to find out that it is more sewage that is going back into the river, which is our pride and joy as it has returned so well in recent years, is just terrible.”

It is not the first time that Thames Water has come under fire for sewage-related controversies.

In March of this year, the company was fined £2.3m after they pleaded guilty to the death of thousands of fish at Fawley Court Ditch in Henley.

The incident, which happened in April 2016, saw the deaths of 13 species of fish after the water was contaminated with high levels of ammonia.

The company was also fined in 2017 after they pumped nearly 1.5b tonnes of sewage into the river, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of fish and birds.

Several liters of sewage entering the Thames

For that one offence, Thames Water was fined a staggering £20.3m for their actions.

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Overall, the company has paid around £23-£24m in fines.

Steve continued: “I took my first ever image of an otter in our patch recently.

"I have been trying to get images of them near where we live for 20 years and finally, I got my first one a couple of weeks ago as the river has been in an extraordinary condition.

“It has been so perfect.

“I go out swimming in it, Helen goes out swimming in it and we were hoping our babies would be in the river pretty much every day in the summer, and then you go out and smell the stench of raw sewage – it ruins everything.

“I think there are so many challenges facing our wonderful river that so many people, particularly at the environment agency, who are just working away at it.”

Steve's video of an otter swimming in the Thames

He did praise the Environmental Agency for their work in handling the scandal.

He continued: “I have got so much time for the Environmental Agency, as they are giving their absolute best in trying to get our river in a pristine, as it most probably could be.

“Thames Water has reached out to me personally and has offered me site inspections which I have not been able to do because of Covid, so I have no reason to believe that this is some big cover-up or anything like that, but it is a big water company that is potentially doing great harm to my little piece of paradise.

“So I feel very angry.”

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Bucks Free Press: Steve Backshall (PA)Steve Backshall (PA)

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “A technical issue at our Little Marlow sewage works means we are currently unable to fully process as much wastewater as normal.

“Following discussions with the Environment Agency, we initially used the site’s storm tanks to store surplus wastewater at peak times of the day before returning it for treatment at night.

“Unfortunately, on several occasions late last month and earlier this month, the storm tanks were overwhelmed, spilling some filtered wastewater into the river.

“We have now improved the process and there have been no subsequent spills since March 11.

“The site is currently manned round-the-clock to ensure any further problems can be dealt with quickly, and we are continuing to work with the Environment Agency to provide regular river quality data.

“We would like to reassure customers and residents we are doing everything we can to bring the treatment works back into normal operation as soon as we can.”

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The Environmental Agency then said: “We are investigating the situation at Little Marlow Sewage Treatment Works and have told Thames Water to look at all options to minimise the risk to the environment.

Several people are aware that sewage can get into the Thames

“The Environment Agency takes pollution incidents very seriously.

“All water companies have strict conditions around discharges specified through their permits.

“It is the responsibility of water companies to comply with the law and to avoid pollution.

"Anyone who spots pollution in the environment should report it to our free 24-hour hotline: 0800 80 70 60."