At River Action, we are lucky to work closely with many other inspiring environmental NGOs, community groups, and individuals in our fight to save our rivers.
In this blog, we talk to Angela Jones, aka, The Wild Woman of the Wye. Angela has a close and passionate connection with the river – describing the Wye as “the arteries that run through my veins”. A day hardly passes when she is not working tirelessly to save the river from the horrendous pollution onslaught it is facing.
Firstly, tell us about yourself and your connection with the River Wye
I have spent the past 30 years of my life at one with nature – day by night – in, on and by the water. While some people might describe me as eccentric, the truth of the matter is that I am happy with the basics of life. In other words, I am not materialistic – I don’t have the internet – which can certainly make running a business challenging! But I am happy with my life, my connection with nature and will not stop fighting to protect it. I spend 5-6 hours on the river every single day. And, through my love for the river, I see myself as its guardian. So I must and will always protect it.
How long have you been wild swimming?
I have swum in rivers for decades – and it has become a huge part of my life and who I am. It is interesting that what was once an unusual hobby, has now become a fashionable sport. Many people are now enjoying being out in nature and reaping the many benefits that wild swimming has to offer.
Tell us about your business…
After having often been asked for advice over the years about wild swimming, I decided to set up my business – Angela Jones Swim Wild. Through the business, I share my lifelong passion – taking small groups out on the water and stripping them back to basics. It is truly wonderful to see them light up as they come to connect and lose themselves in nature and find peace in themselves. I am all about caring and sharing – so I also support local charities, and do talks at schools and universities to raise awareness. And, I have also recently written a book about my life, the River Wye and wild swimming – of which proceeds support local charities.
What changes have you seen on the Wye in recent years?
Having spent so many years in and on the river, I have got to know it inside out. That is to say, I know how it tastes, how it looks, what the texture is like. Additionally I have witnessed the beauty of aquatic life above and below the river surface. For example the river bed, the salmon pools, the impressive boulders, and so much more.
I started noticing gradual change roughly ten years ago – but about five years ago, things started getting significantly worse. The river started to taste different and the reflection and clarity changed. It looked muddier and the wildlife started struggling. From where my children and I used to once watch the magical flow of water with the blanket of water-crowfoot and the play of insects in the river – this all disappeared. Then, the rocks and pebbles lost their colour and became coated in a browny-green slime and I couldn’t see to the bottom of the salmon pools or smell their distinct smell. And then the algal blooms appeared and the fish started struggling to get oxygen and breathe. It broke my heart when this all started happening – as I knew the whole ecosystem was beginning to shut down.
How has river pollution affected wild swimming and your business?
At first I was told to keep quiet about the deterioration of the river – in case it ruined tourism. Now, I have had to adapt. I have to test every section that I take people swimming in and often have to relocate because of pollution. If this is the case, I take people to a nearby lake where I teach and introduce them to wild swimming and wildlife.
In fact, 90% of what I do is for the environment and protecting it. The other 10% is business – taking people swimming, kayaking, etc.
On the rare occasions I take my clients to the river, I have to test the pollution levels of the waters before using them. Further, to prevent too much impact on nature, I only take small groups to the river and ask them to not to wear products on their skin which could harm the river. I very much have to gauge my visits to the river on a day by day basis.
What needs to change in order to save our UK rivers?
It’s simple, we need change and now!
- The increase in poultry farming needs to stop.
- Fines need to be assigned to those farmers and water companies causing damage.
- The Environment Agency needs to do a better job at monitoring pollution and the government needs to take control through legislation and policy.
- Farmers need to be encouraged to change their farming practices – such as disposing chicken manure responsibly, rather than dumping it on the fields – from where it just gets washed into the river by rainfall.
- More transparency and less lying about facts and figures is needed – The Wye is in crisis.
- We need to unite and link voices as together, our voices become stronger.
How far will you go to save the river?
I will literally do whatever it takes to stop this beautiful river from dying. For example, I am refusing to pay my water bills until Welsh Water stops discharging raw sewage into the Wye. And, on four occasions now I have had to fight off the debt collection agencies who they have sent to try and enter my property to reclaim payment.