Ashley_SmithPhoto: BBC South


Ashley Smith, who leads ‘Windrush Against Sewage Pollution’ (WASP) came to the Eynsham Society to deliver a tour de force analysis of the events that have led to the catastrophic sewage pollution of the Windrush and most other rivers in England and Wales.

As Marshall Leopold, the able chair of the meeting, forewarned us, we were to about to hear a blood curdling, toe curling, hair-raising tale of greed, official indifference, inadequate infrastructure, and much official spin. Ashley lived up to his billing.

The monopoly water company bosses and their shareholders have profited to the tune of £72 billion over the past decade, while we the public, who diligently pay them our water bills, are the clear losers in having to live with degraded rivers and lamenting the inevitable loss of biodiversity. All this damage and distress wrought just for profit?

WASP is a citizen organization who have spearheaded a sustained campaign for clean rivers. What is particularly notable about WASP’s approach is that it is data-driven. Ashley Smith’s colleague, Prof. Peter Hammond, has crunched the numbers that WASP extracted by Environmental Regulation Information requests, and has demonstrated the frequency of unlawful sewage discharges into our rivers is far higher than that actually reported by water companies across the country. They have assembled a compelling case that the waste water treatment across England and Wales is simply not working as it must.

The existing infrastructure is antiquated and quite inadequate for the load, which only increases with every new development. Investment in a fit-for-puropose waste water treatment plants that deploy 21st century technology is lagging miserably behind the need. Ashley pointed us to the scandal of asset-stripping by off-shore owners. This has meant that essential investment in upgrading the outdated infrastructure has not happened. Instead the profits have gone to shareholders. See e.g.

Chillingly, however, Ashley told us that the Head of the Environment Agency, who give licences to the water companies to discharge raw sewage into our rivers, assures us that ‘our rivers have never been cleaner’.  The graphic before-and-after images the Ashley and his colleagues recorded on the Windrush, along with his underwater videos of the effluent entering the Thames from our local Cassington sewage works, even during dry periods, gives the lie to such spin. It i widely recognised that the regulators have simply not been doing their statutory duty. See e.g.

The question is: when will our politicians respond to the rising groundswell of feeling that enough is enough? Clean rivers are not a luxury, but a 'must have' for any civilized nation. When will the politicians call out the regulators and private water companies and take them to account?

By using a combination of data science, citizen measurement, media, and direct action, the WASP campaign is now nationally known. WASP has done monumental work to inform us the public of the magnitude of the pollution that we currently endure, with its massive negative impact on our quality of life and the biodiversity of life in our waterways. We deserve better.

By their multipronged actions, the ‘Big Stink’, which WASP has alerted us to, may at last begin to be addressed.