Meet Lindsey Cole: a cold water swimmer, adventurer, environmentalist, writer and speaker. Following her progress with her new children’s book, The Mermaid, the Otter and the Big Poo, we recently caught up with Lindsey to find out more about her life, work, and what drives her to rescue Britain’s rivers.
Tell us about yourself
I’m Lindsey, an endurance environmental mermaid, children’s author and writer. I have a big love for swimming in rivers, seas and lakes.
What first sparked your interest in river protection?
I was learning to free-dive in Indonesia and thought I’d stung my hand on a jellyfish which was blobbin away, but it was actually a small bit of plastic. At a similar time, a giant sperm whale washed up dead down the shore. His belly was stuffed with all sorts of plastic. Having had a career as an adventure for over a decade, exploring some of the most spectacular parts of the world, I wanted to do something about it.
I returned home, to swim the length of the Thames as a mermaid, with a large mermaid sculpture made from recycled plastic bottles, to highlight the issue. Along the way, I rescued a drowning cow and ended up on page 3 of a national tabloid. A school asked my permission to turn my story into their school play and invited me along. It was adorable, so I turned it into a children’s book. Whilst touring the country with The Mermaid and the Cow, I discovered just how much kids love mermaids and how being one is a great tool to discuss serious issues with them in a fun and engaging way. I’ve now come up with a series, which I’m mega chuffed about because it marries my love of adventure, storytelling and the environment.
You have a background in journalism and documentary-making. What are some of the stand-out adventures that you have had with these roles?
I’ve always been curious and interested and a bit of a daydreamer. After I left uni, I had no idea what I wanted to do so gave myself 5 years to work it out whilst travelling and working abroad. After breaking my leg in Australia, whilst living in a van, a kind group of aussies took me in. All i could do was watch films and read books and it gave me time to reflect. I realised I loved learning, exploring and meeting interesting people so embarked on a career in journalism.
My favourite role was being a producer/director for a BT Sport documentary series on the charities that they funded. This took me all over the world to the Indian jungle, South African Cape Flats and Brazilian favellas, where sport is used to help disadvantaged people better their lives. It was truly inspiring.
You are now working on a series of environmental mermaid adventure swims, children’s books and films. The Mermaid, the Otter and the Big Poo is the second in the series. Tell us more about the story and what inspired you to create it.
Nine months after The Mermaid and the Cow, river pollution was making a lot of noise in the news. I had depression at the time and wasn’t in a great living situation and needed an adventure to help motivate me- adventure is very much my medicine. I mermaided the length of my local river- Bristol Avon, towing a giant poo sculpture, investigating how river pollution affects wildlife like otters. I threw the project out into the ether for help to make my poo sculpture, canoe support and anyone interested to talk about river pollution and was flooded with interest and support. It was beautiful.
And finally, in your opinion, what needs to change in order to rescue Britain’s rivers?
There’s so much that needs to change. The big one starts with the government and their relationship with polluters. It’s astonishing that in 2023 polluters are getting away with their crimes. But, it is such a big and complex problem. Our sewage system cannot cope with the increase in population, new houses, paved driveways etc. I don’t understand how shareholders are able to make such significant profits if the service that we’re paying for isn’t working. I wish that our British water could be owned by us, the British public.
It may be a complex task to fix, but it is possible to fix. Famed for its swimming culture, Copenhagen harbour hasn’t always been welcoming. Wastewater was piped were people now swim and industrial waste, oil spills and Dead fish were a common sight. In the late 90s, the city spent about $440 million to reroute the Copenhagen’s wastewater, built overflow barriers and create underground water storage vessels, making it not just safe for swimmers, but wildlife, tourism and the economy. They also have a sophisticated alarm system that predicts when and where an overflow will happen. So it is possible. We just need people at the top to care. We’ve seen in the last few years that enough public care.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful. To have a culture of swimming in city centres through the UK all year round and for people to delight in that thought rather than feel nauseous thinking about it.
Lindsey Cole, June 2023