Rowers hit out at pollution in River Thames after Oxford team became unwell in run up to boat race

Credit: ITV News Meridian

Henley Rowing Club says it is concerned about pollution in the River Thames after three Oxford rowers became unwell in the run up to the Boat Race.

An environmental group said it carried out research before the race and found higher than average levels of E. coli in parts of the river used for the annual race between the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

Anne Tully who lives on the river and is a member of the town's rowing club says effluent and litter in the water is a major concern.

She said: "We are incredibly concerned about it - for the animals fish and the birds but also anybody here at the club - all the members are encouraged to wash immediately."

Credit: ITV News Meridian

Over the weekend the Oxford and Cambridge boat race was overshadowed by concerns over water quality, with some Oxford team members saying they had become ill from contracting E. coli before the race which they feel impacted their performance.

The Henley Royal Regatta takes place in July and so some rowers are concerned about the safety of the water.

Sir Steve Redgrave, the Chairman of the Royal Regatta, said: "It's not just about swimming in the water it's as your blade hits the water, there's a spray that comes off it so you do get wet from whatever, so if there is foul stuff in the water, the chance is you're going to be taking it in in one form or another and it's not very pleasant."

There is concern over the quality of water ahead of the Henley Royal Regatta taking place in July. Credit: ITV News Meridian

While it has not been confirmed that sewage was the cause of the rowers' illnesses, Thames Water says improving the health of the river is a key priority.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Taking action to improve the health of rivers is a key focus for us and we want to lead the way with our transparent approach to data.

"We remain the only company to provide live alerts for all untreated discharges and this ‘near real-time’ data is available to customers as a map on our website and is also available through an open data platform for third parties, such as swimming and environmental groups to use.

"We have experienced higher than average long-term rainfall across London and the Thames Valley with groundwater levels exceptionally high for the time of the year. The overflows are designed to operate automatically when the sewer network is about to be overwhelmed which then releases diluted wastewater into rivers, rather than letting it back up into people’s homes.

"We are working hard to make these discharges unnecessary and have published plans to upgrade over 250 of our sites, including to our Henley Sewage Treatment works, expected to be completed in 2025. This project will provide an increase in treatment capacity, from 67 to 82 litres per second and reduce the need for overflows in wet weather.”

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