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Save the Deben campaign

The River Deben in Suffolk flows through largely unspoilt countryside for nearly 25 miles from its source near Debenham to the North Sea at Felixstowe Ferry. For about 13 miles, from Bromeswell near Woodbridge to Felixstowe Ferry it becomes a tidal estuary.

I’m very proud to be involved in the Save the Deben campaign. The river is a source of enjoyment for many. I’ve been walking beside it all my life and when I moved nearer three years ago, have since swam and paddleboarded on the river.

But there is significant raw sewage being released into the river Deben which is making river users ill. No rivers in Suffolk currently meet national pollution standards - not one. As a wild swimmer I have heard, anecdotally of friends seeing sewage and becoming ill from swimming in the Deben.

Last year, a significant amount of sewage was discharged into the river Deben from three sites: Debenham, Framlingham and Wickham Market. The discharges into the Deben were all made outside Woodbridge but come downstream to Woodbridge and beyond.

Studies by the University of Suffolk and Woodbridge Town Council show levels of the bacteria in the Deben are "way above" government guidelines. More research is needed but E.coli is a marker of other pollutants going into the river. Local swimmers, including myself, are now starting to test water at our favourite swim spots in the Deben for E.coli. Recently levels of E.coli over the legal limit were found at Hawkswade Bridge, known locally as Ufford Hole, which is a popular bathing spot for swimmers and children.

As a swimmer and paddleboarder, I was approached by local Visual Artist Ruth Leach, who is working with County Councillor Caroline Page and other members of the community. Ruth and Caroline have founded the Save the Deben campaign and their Vision is a river that can flow freely and is free from pollution. You can find out more information about the campaign on their Facebook page.

As a leader of Shingle Street Bluetits and Peninsula Paddlers I have a huge interest in the initiative. However small, we can make a difference!

Testing the water

Woodbridge open water swimmers, including myself, are now testing their favourite bathing spots at Waldringfield, Kyson Point, Woodbridge, Wilford Bridge and Shingle Street so that they can plan swims there, anticipating the quality of the bathing water in advance.

Following a meeting with local Town Councillor Eamonn O'Nolan and 'Save The Deben' campaigners, the swimmers were trained up and six areas are to be sampled, at chest depth, for the presence of E.Coli. Samples will be incubated for 24hrs as part of the citizen science programme at the Shire Hall in Woodbridge and the results will be shared.

This is being done within the context of E.Coli contamination of the river Deben and the unavailability of real time date from the water company, Anglian Water. The times and duration of the sewage releases at the outlets in Martlesham Creek and Melton have been requested and are not currently available to the public. Were this data accessible it would enable the recreational water users to plan activities to avoid the currents transporting the effluent out to sea. E.Coli have been found in the river Deben at levels exceeding recommended safety levels.

Event - 24 September 2022

On Saturday the 24th September ‘Save The Deben’ campaigners invite you to come along to Whisstocks Place in Woodbridge to see our recreational river users in action.

From 11.30 am watch the arrival of river craft and swimmers including ‘Dragon the Deben’ dragon boats, two Felixstowe Cornish Pilot Gig Rowing boats, Kayakers and SUPs as the Rights of the River Deben Declaration is relayed up the river from Felixstowe Ferry to Woodbridge Tide Mill Quayside.

At 12pm, on the Quayside, hear Woodbridge Mayor read the draft Declaration of the Universal Rights of Rivers with guest speakers. Visit the Environmental Awareness Market and local Food Fair; presented in collaboration with Transition Woodbridge, between 10am and 4pm and support the 5th Woodbridge Sea Scout’s Tea, Coffee and cake sale at midday at the Scout Hut.

Enjoy all of this against the backdrop of Jan Pulsford’s exciting ‘Woodbridge Ambient Music Festival Weekend’. A 3-day Community Arts Festival in Woodbridge, Suffolk celebrating ambient music with live performances, art, film, installations, workshops, talks, kid’s events, yoga, storytelling, mental well-being, river walks, poetry, music metaverse, environmental awareness & food market, bringing the community together to enjoy an uplifting and inspiring weekend. Ambient music provides the backdrop to all events.

We would love to see you, your friends and your family all there on the day all in support of keeping our river healthy. This campaign is dynamic and evolving - we welcome any ideas and comments that the public may have!

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