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Vile amounts of human sewage detected at popular rowing site on the Thames. British Rowing and River Action warn river users to take extreme caution

Sewage pollution filmed in the Thames at Putney (03/05/24).

British Rowing and River Action warn that vile amounts of human sewage has been discharged by Thames Water along the Putney Embankment, home to over ten rowing clubs on the River Thames.

This follows news that the organisers of the Boulter’s to Bray Swim in Maidenhead have cancelled this year’s community event over concerns about the water cleanliness. And days after water-based sports across the UK united to call on the government to act to address pollution in rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

Thames RC captain Huw Jones said: “The frequency and severity of sewage discharges into the tidal Thames is increasing. On Thursday this week the visible signs of raw sewage on Putney Embankment led the club to cancel rowing sessions to safeguard athlete health. This situation is unacceptable, and we call on Thames Water to take immediate action.”

CEO of British Rowing Alastair Marks said, “We are gravely concerned about the state of the Thames and the effect this pollution is having on our rowers and their safety. Over the last few days, we’ve had reports of sessions cancelled due to concerns over water quality and countless photographs of the obvious pollution. We urge our community to take care of their health first and foremost and to continue following our guidance for rowing when the water quality is poor.”

CEO of River Action James Wallace said, “The shocking reality is that it is simply not safe to swim in rivers like the Thames due to the huge levels of recent raw sewage discharges. Regular E.coli testing which River Action, and other citizen scientists, has carried in recent weeks show the pathogen levels at a multiple of what would be considered safe for bathing.

“We have also been approached now by dozens of river users who have become seriously ill after coming into contact with the river. It is also scandalous that there has been no public health advice on this issue from any government body – and it’s up to charitable organisations like River Action to test the river and keep the public safe.

“Where is the Environment Agency and the Department for Health? Why aren’t they holding the polluters to account and protecting people’s health? Frankly, the Thames should come with a health warning.”

Guidance on rowing when water quality is poor

Rowers spend a huge amount of their daily lives either on or by the water. British Rowing, River Action and The Rivers Trust have developed a set of guidelines for rowing on poor quality water. ‘Guidance on rowing when water quality is poor’ has been written to minimise the risk of contracting illness due to proximity to polluted water. 

Included are helpful tips on the importance of covering cuts, grazes, and blisters with waterproof dressings, taking care not to swallow river water that splashes close to the mouth, wearing suitable footwear when launching or recovering a boat, and cleaning all equipment thoroughly.


For interviews call Ian at River Action on 07377 547 362 and Lily Fraser at British Rowing on 07540 722442