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Public health “all clear” given on the River Kennet as the chalk stream continues to suffer

Charlotte Hitchmough, director of ARKCharlotte Hitchmough, director of ARKAn “all clear” message to the public on the state of the polluted River Kennet has been announced by the Environment Agency with the removal of restrictions on people bathing in the river or eating fish caught in it.

But the famous chalk stream that flows through Marlborough still continues to suffer as experts continue to investigate the pollution source and have repeated appeals to the public for their help.

Samples taken last week and over the weekend show that the pesticide has dissipated naturally with the water flow and levels have now dropped significantly.

The Environment Agency reported: “Public Health England continues to work in partnership with the Environment Agency and Wiltshire and West Berkshire Council and, following the latest round of water sample results, it has advised that the previous restrictions asking the public and pets to avoid skin contact with the water can be removed.

“The Food Standards Agency has also advised that there should be no restrictions on eating fish caught in the river.”

Paul Hudson from the Environment Agency, told Marlborough News Online: “It is obviously great news that the pesticide has dissipated naturally and that the precautionary restrictions put in place have been removed following advice from Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency.

“We are still trying to trace the source of the pesticide, and we would appeal for anyone who has information to come forward so that we can take steps to educate those responsible and others to try to prevent it from happening again.

“We are also meeting with business owners along the Kennet regularly to keep them informed of the latest information.”

Nevertheless, 10 days after the pesticide Chlorpyrifos entered the River Kennet at Marlborough, the river is continuing to decline, life in the river proving to be far from back to normal.

The layer of dead freshwater shrimps and mayfly is providing an excellent food source for algae, which is now a brown scum plastering the bottom of the river and smothering the oxygenating plants.

Usually fresh water shrimp graze the river bed, helping it to stay clear, but the balance has been upset, and the river is deteriorating by the day.

Local residents have reported finding dead crayfish, but there is no evidence of fish deaths yet.

“Fish will be looking hard for alternative food,” Charlotte Hitchmough, director of Action for the River Kennet (ARK), whose volunteers discovered the pollution, told Marlborough News Online.

“They can be quite adaptable and will be altering their diet to include bugs which fall into the river from trees, and even smaller fish, but we are expecting to see some fish deaths caused by starvation.”

Officials from the Environment Agency and Thames Water are investigating the sewer network to discover at what point in the system the pesticide entered, in an attempt to identify the culprit.

ARK’s chairman, Geoffrey Findlay added: “This is indeed a disaster for the Kennet and its wildlife.  It is vital that we find out how it happened, and how it can be prevented from ever happening again.

“Anyone with any information about this incident, or any pollution or environment incident, should contact us by calling our hotline number 0800 80 70 60.”

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