'Citizen scientists' take action on River Otter sewage pollution

River Otter view near Fluxton on a sunny afternoon

The River Otter near Fluxton - Credit: Alex Walton

Concerns about sewage discharges in local rivers have prompted an environmental group to start testing the water of the River Otter for pollution. 

It comes as South West Water is being asked for answers on the issue by East Devon District Council, following a proposal by the West Hill and Aylesbeare Independent councillor Jess Bailey. 

A few weeks ago there was a public outcry when the Conservatives voted to continue allowing water companies to release raw sewage into rivers during heavy rain. The Government was forced into a U-turn, announcing action to reduce pollution from storm overflows.   

The national debate increased local awareness of the threat to East Devon’s rivers, and the Tipton St John group Eager Beavers decided to take matters into their own hands. 

Co-founder Lisette Johnston said: “I had already been very concerned about the reports of sewage being discharged into rivers, especially as Tipton floods regularly, which is affecting our local school, community and wildlife. 

“Once I realised that we could undertake water testing ourselves, I contacted the West Country Rivers Trust and have initiated plans for this to take place ASAP. Their role is to suggest sites for sampling, send out kits which allow 'citizen scientists' to test turbidity, phosphates and solids and then report back to them with the data.” 

If the tests reveal serious contamination of the river Otter, the group will take their findings to South West Water and possibly the Environment Agency. 

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Meanwhile, the water company will be asked to attend a special meeting of East Devon district councillors to investigate the sewage contamination of East Devon’s waterways. 

On Thursday, December 2 the council’s scrutiny committee voted unanimously to support the proposal by Cllr Jess Bailey, who said she was very worried about the effects on the River Otter’s beavers and other wildlife. 

She told the Herald: “It is excellent news that the Eager Beavers are going to be testing the water at the River Otter. Sewage is discharged by South West Water from multiple points into the River Otter so it is extremely important that the water quality is tested.

"I fully support the Eager Beavers in this and their other environmental work and will do all that I can to assist.”