Mother quits modelling career to fight Oxfordshire's polluted rivers after falling ill on wild swim


A mother who was forced to stop modelling after a wild swim left her covered in sewage and sick for days, has changed her entire career in support of the campaign to clean up Oxfordshire's "horrible" rivers.

Debbie Campbell has always had a connection to water, and is as passionate about conservation as much as she she is about swimming and surfing.

However, after one wild swim left her vomiting due to sewage entering her body, she decided to make it her full time job to stop the dumping of waste into rivers.The dedicated mum-of-two said her passion for water conservation was "lifelong".

Much of her motivation to clean up rivers comes from wanting a better future for her children. She said: "It's not fair to leave the next generation with such a huge mess to clean up.

Debbie Campbell now works with the Cotswolds River Trust as a Project Officer looking after the River Windrush. Credit: OXFORDSHIRE LIVE/BPM MEDIA

"They deserve to swim in rivers that are clean before 2050 - they will be 40 by then."

Formerly a yoga teacher, commercial model and a regular on TV and radio, Debbie started to take part in voluntary work with campaign groups Windrush against Sewage Pollution and Surfers Against Sewage.

This grew into a full-time career when she accepted a role with the Cotswolds River Trust as a Project Officer looking after the River Windrush - and she is giving it her complete focus.

Although her voluntary work highlighted how bad the situation was with the River Windrush - which runs through Burford and Witney before it meets the Thames in Newbridge - she explained there are issues across the county.

Debbie Campbell with her two children. Credit: OXFORDSHIRE LIVE/BPM MEDIA

"The reality is that there are no rivers in Oxfordshire that are safe to swim in," she said. "The Evenlode, oh that’s a horrible river - definitely don’t swim there.

“There are many reasons why our rivers aren't clean enough to swim in but primarily it’s due to a totally irresponsible approach to sewage dumping by water companies," she said.

"This is not helped by the amount of new homes being built and the lack of consideration for waste in the early stages development."

Conservative county councillor for Burford and Carterton, Nicholas Field-Johnson, echoed this in a recent meeting with MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. He said that part of the county's river sewage problem was that "housing has doubled in Oxfordshire, but sewage capacity hasn't."

And a recent report by the UK's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) - made up of MPs - looked at the Shill Brook river which runs through Bampton and Carterton. In it, the Shill Brook was described as a "chemical cocktail of pollution" due to sewage spills, road run-off and agricultural chemicals.

The report also blamed a "Victorian sewage system" and "multiple failures" in monitoring and enforcing water quality. The once crystal clear waters of Oxfordshire's rivers are now, according to Debbie, "yellowish-brown and lifeless, with an absence of vital organisms and reeds that are essential to clean the water."

She explained how the dank and murky state of our rivers are removing the joy of river swimming for people in the landlocked county.

But not all hope is lost, as multiple apps and web alerts are now in place to warn of sewage dumps, including one Debbie recommends called Safer Seas and Rivers.