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New Campaigns Manager joins River Action

We are absolutely delighted to welcome Amy Slack as our Campaigns Manager at River Action.  In our latest blog, we get an insight into her life, interests, and the role that she will play to help rescue Britain’s rivers.

Tell us about yourself…

Hello! I’m Amy! I’m a Bristolian who’s now living in beautiful Cornwall. I’m super lucky to live within walking distance of the ocean. I love to swim in the sea (yes, I’m one of those mad people who will take a plunge in the sea in the depth of winter!). Living in Cornwall it’s obligatory to surf which I do pretty badly but I love it – there is nothing quite like the feeling of catching and riding that perfect wave! My partner Geoff is also in the process of renovating his small 16ft boat which we are hoping we’ll finally get in the water this spring after 2 years of restoration work!, so I’m hoping we’ll be exploring the waterways around Falmouth by boat in 2023! I’m also a super keen cyclist so I can often be found riding around the backroads or on bikepacking adventures.

How did you become interested in ocean/ river protection?

I’ve always been a bit of a waterbaby from holidays in Devon and Cornwall as a child to becoming a sailing instructor in my twenties. I hold the ocean in awe. From the towering underwater kelp forests and carpets of seagrass to the sticky rockpool anemones and glistening blue waves, our watery worlds are inspiringly beautiful. But it’s been blindingly obvious to me all my life that we are fast destroying the natural world around us. Growing up in the 90’s, the impacts of climate change were only just entering public consciousness and the more I learnt and understood what we were doing to our planet, the more I wanted to try and change the direction in which we are headed. I studied my masters degree at the amazing Centre for Alternative Technology with guest lecturers like the inspirational George Monbiot, signed all the petitions I came across, went on massive climate marches in London and donated to charities when I could, all of which fueled my determination to work in the environmental sector. From working for the Isles of Scilly Area of Natural Beauty Team (AONB), local authority recycling and environmental services, independent environment consultancies and environmental NGO’s, my whole working life has been about protecting and restoring our natural world. But it’s seeing the dire state of rivers and oceans around the world that I’ve found so shocking – and this is so often ignored by the mainstream. From plastic pollution smothering shorelines in the Philippines to the brown sewage sludge clogging chalk streams in east England, it’s these experiences that have driven me to campaign for the protection and restoration of rivers and seas.  

You used to work at Surfers Against Sewage as Head of Campaigns & Policy … Tell us about the charity and your work there?

SAS started out in the 90’s as a single issue grassroots campaign group. A small group of surfers in Cornwall were tired of getting sick from sewage when they went surfing. The UK was known as ‘the dirty man of Europe’ with abysmal sewerage infrastructure which meant that sewage was unashamedly being pumped straight into rivers and seas. It was pretty common to encounter ‘floaters’ when heading out for a surf or swim. The original maverick SAS campaigners took to the streets in their wetsuits and gas masks brandishing their surfboards demanding change. They highlighted the shocking state of UK waterways and exposed polluting industries, even becoming shareholders in some water companies at one point to force change from the inside. Their actions contributed to EU legislation that led to huge changes in water treatment and the state of our coastal waterways. 

But now we are facing a second wave of sewage pollution. Over 90% of sewage outflows pump sewage directly into rivers with 86% of rivers failing to meet ‘good ecological status’ and spiraling further and further into decline. And we are still getting just as sick from sewage now as we did in the 90’s. Rivers are the blue arteries of the country feeding directly into the ocean. The health of the ocean depends on healthy rivers. Today, SAS is about more than surfers and more than sewage, campaigning for a thriving ocean and thriving people. But sewage pollution and water quality are a core part of its DNA and the charity continues to be one of the leading voices driving action to clean up rivers and seas.

I’ve had the immense privilege of building and leading the Campaigns & Policy team at SAS for the last four years. I’ve overseen public campaigns and political advocacy on water quality, plastic pollution, ocean & climate and ocean recovery. I’ve organised protests and mass paddle-outs, held plastic polluters to account through the citizen science brand audit, co-ordinated impactful campaign films, led public stunts, directed and written campaign reports (most notably the four annual water quality reports), supported MP’s in drafting legislation and bills, hosted parliamentary events to influence policy, and driven the development of the Safer Seas & Rivers Service for the last four years. I’m particularly proud to have worked with colleagues at other organisations as part of the #EndSewagePollution coalition that has been responsible for driving the huge public, political and media awareness of the sewage pollution scandal over the last year and driving amendments in the Environment Act. It’s been an honor to be able to work with an amazing team to have so much impact, particularly considering it’s still quite a small organisation of around 30 people.

Tell us about your new role as RA campaigns manager.  What can we expect to see from your role in 2023?

I’ve been on the Advisory Board for the last year so have got to know Charles and James well and supported various campaigns so I’m super excited to be joining the River Action team. Our rivers are in such a dire state that we have to act fast if we have any hope of reversing their decline. I’ll be working closely with Charles and James to set out our political advocacy strategy, defining our calls on government and industry, particularly in the run up to the local and general elections. We’ll continue to call out polluters and expose the supply chains complicit in the destruction of rivers. We’ll be digging deep into the specific issues faced at river catchment level and supporting community groups to gather evidence and also hold polluters to account for destruction of local environments. Our campaigns will reflect the urgency in which we need to act and we have ambitious plans. I’ll be looking to grow the campaigns team to help drive our impact so keep your eyes peeled! 

You can expect us to be collaborative, straight talking, audacious and ambitious sprinkled with a little fun and humour.  

In your opinion, what needs to change in order to rescue Britain’s rivers?

I would be lying if I didn’t say that we need a huge amount to change across all parts of society, business and government. But over the last few years, it’s become increasingly apparent that change is driven from grassroots communities. It’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things that’s forcing the government and industry to act to reverse their damaging impact on the environment. We need to empower local communities to enable them to drive change, to feel able to make a difference. When we rise up together we have enormous power and impact. That’s what we hope to support at River Action – to enable and support communities by give people the tools and knowledge they need to create change fast.

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