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  • Writer's pictureAltered State


10TH FEB 2024

Given his brilliance at communicating the shocking state of Britain’s rivers, the reasons for that and passionate demands for improvement, it would appear that full canonisation awaits everybody’s perfect cousin, Feargal Sharkey. Our waterways have become a cause celebre, uniting communities in these divided times and empowering citizen scientists to try to shame water companies and regulators into action with adroit use of social media. If only it were that easy.

Our second talk ‘Wye oh Why - how Britain dumped in its rivers’ explained the complexities and recent history of the sh*tshow and gave upbeat answers to the many questions posed by a rapt audience in the Hen and Chicken. Our panel comprised:

  • Charlotte Hitchmough, Director of Action for the River Kennet and fresh from making national news in the week with her exposure of the absence of monitoring of toxic road run-off into our waterways.

  • Water and sustainability guru Will McBain, environment leader at consultants ARUP.

  • Simon Evans of the Wye and Usk Foundation, two mystical rivers who are in real danger of dying. 

  • Our Altered State host was the suave Rudy Millard, and we had a packed house. 

We’ve all read the prevailing narrative, that the water companies are public enemy number 1 due to rampant profiteering. We’re told dividends, bonuses and eye watering levels of debt have contributed to creaking infrastructure and that we’re going to have to spew up more on our bills to fix it. But we heard from experts that there’s more to it. We blanched at the unfit-for-purpose methodology of the regulators and we also learnt about the intense farming armageddon on the banks of rivers. The most dense collection of chickens in the world pecks away next to the River Wye and it’s supplying unprecedented consumer demand. Farming is the cause and can be a solution to much of the crisis, the mismanagement of soil in river catchments now means Hereford city centre floods every 8 months when it used to be 8 years and that can be reversed by improved land management. Climate change is heating water up and killing cold water species like salmon. We were shocked by the malign influence of some of the products of our behemoth chemical industry and the detritus that starts on our roads and ends up in our rivers. The much touted Brexit bonfire of regulations has also been bad news, rivers need regulation. Fatbergs, wet wipes, waterproof clothing, dog treatments and non-stick cooking utensils all took a mauling from the panel and this helped all of us consider how we can positively effect the issue with our choices.

Charlotte’s road gunk on the national news 

Not flushing the toilet when it rains seemed to be the limit of imagination from one member of the current Government, but not so our panel. Household consumption ideas from water-scarce places like Australia and Arizona were shared, consumer choice with regard to supply line behaviour was talked about (take a bow M&S and Tesco) and we listened to technological solutions, the need to give regulators teeth and how we must surely all change habits in the face of the colossal impact of climate change (jaws dropped when Simon told us peak rainfall and river flow has increased by 70% in some areas of the UK). 

If only it were that simple


Our panel were fantastic and Rudy made sure they conveyed complex scientific information in plain English. We managed to get through the evening without referencing ‘wild swimming’ (that’s, er, ’swimming’ to you and me) or getting bogged down by the never-ending game of musical chairs in the office of the Secretary of State for the Environment. Our TOOLBOX, in which the panel give us all succinct advice to take away and enact change the following day, was fabulous: Charlotte wants us all to build a rain garden and look after every drop that lands on our properties. After the trad sing-song, birthday boy Will made the case for “frugal hedonism”, to enjoy the simple things that we love and to curtail mindless consumerism.  An impassioned Simon then let rip about eating less meat, wet wipes, chemical monstrosities and (to hearty applause) an imbalanced consumer system. Bravo. 

A great evening. Whilst it’s bad, it’s not all bad and we can all help make it better.


Our rivers-inspired playlist that we spun on the night featured:

Beth Gibbons - Sand River

Talking Heads - Take Me To The River

PJ Harvey - Down By The Water

Fela Kuti - Water Got No Enemy

Nick Drake - River Man

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds with Kylie Minogue - Where The Wild Roses Grow 

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River 

Ike and Tina Turner - River Deep, Mountain High

Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers To Cross

The Byrds - Ballad of Easy Rider

Nick Cave - Sad Waters (solo version)

Low - Weight of Water

Simple Minds - Waterfront

Stone Roses - Waterfall

Jon Hopkins - Water

Portishead - Deep Water 


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