Olympic rower Steve Redgrave has joined a growing number of prominent figures criticising the discharge of untreated sewage into the Thames – as a local regatta is put at risk by ‘shocking’ bacteria levels. 

Following “horrifying” lab results from a water sample in Marlow taken by TV presenter Steve Backshall in March, the health and safety dangers posed to anyone in close proximity to the Thames have become a national talking point.

And, in the months since his findings were published, campaigners from River Action UK have begun regular testing at riverbanks in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire – with disappointing, if not entirely surprising results.

Of particular concern is an active sewage discharge at Fawley Meadows near the Henley Sewage Treatment Works which began on May 23 and is expected to continue until at least July 7 – the final day of this year’s Henley Regatta.

Recent tests of samples from the stretch of water have revealed E. Coli levels of up to 25,000 colony-forming units (CFU) per 100ml – 27 times higher than the concentration needed for the Environment Agency to designate a bathing water area as ‘poor’.

It has led to River Action, alongside the British Rowing Organisation and The Rivers Trust, issuing new safety guidelines for next month’s event, including a warning not to swallow water, to cover cuts, grazes and blisters with waterproof dressing and to clean all equipment thoroughly.

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Five-time Olympic gold medal winner Sir Steve Redgrave, who grew up in Marlow Bottom, said the latest tests were “a stark reminder of the impact sewage pollution is having on our rivers”.

Mr Redgrave, who learned to row on the Thames while studying at Great Marlow School in the seventies, said the sport required competitors to “train daily all around the country”, making the quality of national waterways a “vitally important” issue.

Mr Backshall, who also lives on the banks of the Thames near Marlow, previously told the Free Press he believed “anyone who goes in (the river) by any means is going to get badly sick” and criticised Thames Water for “inaction” over the seemingly non-abating pollution issues.

He added: “The continual release of (sewage) into the Thames is causing havoc for wildlife and people alike. Events like Henley that have been running for 185 years are at risk and the British public deserve better.”

River Action CEO James Wallace also called on Thames Water to “stop the deluge of raw sewage”, which he said was “threatening river users with serious sickness and (putting) biodiversity (at risk)”.