The River Severn as it flows through Shrewsbury was once one of Britain’s premier fishing spots, hosting national-level events.
Now, thanks to pollution, Andy Jones, the local fisheries coordinator, isn’t even sure if he’ll host the annual local championship this year.
Anglers no longer want to come, he told i, because the state of the river was so poor that they were more likely to catch sanitary products than fish.
“Anglers were saying, ‘Look, we don’t want to come to Shrewsbury anymore because, we love the venue, but we’re not catching much and all we’re catching is disgusting things on our lines all the time,’” he said.
Shrewsbury has an ageing Victorian sewer network and dozens of storm overflows that discharge into the Severn when flows are too high. Around Quarry Park, where the fishing events take place, there are 28 combined sewage overflows.
Severn Trent, the local water company has plans to fully upgrade the local sewage works by 2025, which it expects to eliminate sewage as a factor in the river’s reduced ecological status. It also employs a local ranger to monitor the river.
A spokesperson for the company told i: “Severn Trent is moving faster than sector targets to improve the quality of the region’s rivers, including those around Shrewsbury. We’re consistently recognised for our industry-leading performance and are committed to being open and transparent about our performance and our plans.”
Kate Halliday, a councillor on both Shropshire Council and Shrewsbury Town Council, told i that walkers regularly found sewage debris on the river path. “People find sewage and tampons and wet wipes and all sorts on the footpath by the river,” she said.
Alison Biddulph, a local wild swimmer, said that the loop of the river around Shrewsbury was a beautiful place to swim but that swimmers had had to learn when not to go in the river.
“When you have all the sand martins flying around your head and there’s a lot of kingfishers it’s just a really beautiful place to absorb yourself in nature,” she told i.
Ms Biddulph is campaigning for the area to get bathing water status in an effort to force its cleanup.
“The main thing is to get the focus from the Environment Agency because they’ve had their funding cut so much”, she said.
On Monday last week, the town council adopted a motion by Ms Halliday to create a working group aimed at turning the situation around, they are also backing Ms Biddulph’s efforts.
Mr Jones, however, is pessimistic about the river’s future having seen its decline over decades.
The stretch of the Severn along Quarry Park in the Shropshire town used to have ideal angling conditions and in the Seventies and Eighties it was home to major national competitions.
“In Shrewsbury in those times, we had anglers coming all from all over the country. It was always sold out, and it’s always been an iconic place for silver fishing and competition fishing,” said Mr Jones.
Mr Jones worked to revive its status in the new millennium and by 2018 had lured the Angling Trust’s Grand Final and the following year an England home international match. A lack of fish for two years running, however, meant the competitions didn’t return.
“Fish need clean gravel. When I was fishing here in the seventies we had clean gravel, but now they are covered in a thick green slime and that’s a result of sewage dumping and high phosphate from the farms,” Mr Jones said.
Without clean river beds, fish won’t spawn and those eggs that are released are more likely to die. On top of that, the poor state of the river meant that during last summer’s heatwave, it suffered toxic algal blooms.
Mr Jones said there had also been sewage discharges last year during dry weather, with low waters, meaning the release was extra concentrated.
“The fish don’t like it. It’s just the same as you going home and if somebody smeared your home with sludge time and time again, you wouldn’t go home either.”