Formula 1 boss joins Southern Water protestors

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Saj Rahman and Andy Ford

Southern Water’s pumping station at Fullerton in Hampshire, on the banks of the River Test, dumps millions of gallons of raw sewage into the UK’s most famous chalkstream.

Locals say they’ve had enough. On 18 March 2024, organised by two local riverkeepers, they were joined in a protest of more than a 100 concerned citizens by an unexpected supporter.

Former Formula One boss Ross Brawn is a keen conservationist, shooter and angler. He says: “The regulatory authorities have failed to hold Southern Water accountable and, as a result, the Fullerton Works is dumping raw sewage continuously into the River Test.”

Ross Brawn at the protest

The protest is underway because a team of local river keepers are fighting back. Not only is the water company pumping effluent into the river, it is bringing it in tankers from elsewhere to dump. Sewage is seeping into local SSSIs and causing problems for wildlife, anglers and the local economy.

Ross Brawn adds a significant voice to the protest. He says: “I think to solve this problem, we need to recognise that utilities are private companies. We need to get a better balance between their profitability and their investment. At the moment it’s all profit.

“If a CEO of a water company turns to his shareholders and says, ‘I am going to make a massive rejuvenation of my facilities’, they’ll just sack him, because there is no one holding the companies to account. They find it cheaper to pay the fines than to fix the problem.”

Howard Taylor, an estate manager on the River Test, adds: “At the moment, the system is completely overwhelmed, as they are tankering in sewage from way outside the catchment of this sewage works, and exploiting their licence for a ‘Combined Sewer Overflow’ by discharging raw sewage straight into the river.”

Riverkeepers put their health at risk to look after this lovely piece of water – which is one of only 200 chalkstreams in the world. There are reports locally of disease spreading, even dogs falling ill after swimming in the river.

Stockbridge parish councillor Alistair Dougal says that Southern Water’s behaviour is outrageous. “They have been taking their profits and dividends all these years and not investing properly in the infrastructure. Now we are all paying the price.”

Riverkeepers carry out regular tests of water in local rivers. Ben Bottley and Paul Bailey collect samples from water running off the Fullerton discharge pie to see what’s there.

Less than 18% of the River Test, by volume, now meets acceptable water quality standards, according to their tests. It’s not good news for life in the river.

“It causes problems for invertebrates and for fish,” says Ben Bottley. “We can see the evidence from the kick samples.”

“It causes algal blooms in the rivers, that smothers the gravel and the other plants, and deoxygenates,” adds Paul Bailey.

The Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution initiative (sponsored by Orvis) put out this video about the protest:

It includes speeches by former Crown actor turned river activist Jim Murray, who runs River Action, and Angling Trust ambassador and former MP Martin Salter.

There are issues on many of Britain’s rivers, and the water companies claim they haven’t got the cash. While Southern Water did not respond to our request for a comment on the protest, the message back to the company from the protestors is clear: the protestors at Fullerton, including Ross Brawn, are demanding that it’s time the company cleaned up its act.

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