River season underway with dire health warning

by Freddie Sandford |
Published on

With the pollution crisis showing no signs of relenting, official guidance has been offered to anglers to help ensure safe fishing on our rivers this season. Following a rise in illnesses caused by contact with sewage in our waterways, the Angling Trust has detailed six steps to minimise the risks for those tackling running water over the coming weeks.

Bacteria such as E. coli and infections including Hepatitis A remain a real threat, as seen during the closed season when participants in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race on the Thames were warned not to throw their cox into the water at the end, due to the high levels of bacteria present. Illnesses caused by contact with sewage pollution are “increasingly common and of great concern,” says the Trust, so it’s essential that simple measures are followed to avoid repercussions.


We all love our river fishing but it pays to stay cautious with high pollution levels.
We all love our river fishing but it pays to stay cautious with high pollution levels.

In its Health Risks for Anglers document, the Trust says: “Waterborne diseases can be spread while angling, bathing, washing, drinking water, or by eating food that has been exposed to contaminated
As a result, it’s urging us to follow basic guidelines to ensure contact with harmful bacteria is avoided. These include washing or sanitising hands before eating, and not putting any tackle that’s been in the water into your mouth.

The Trust is also encouraging anglers to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of waterborne

“Vomiting and diarrhoea are the most common symptoms, but skin, ear, respiratory or eye problems can occur,” it says.

Kris Kent runs the Trust’s Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) – a citizen science drive in which angling clubs test local rivers for pollution. More than 200 venues have now been examined by volunteers, and he’s seen concerning results.

“Anglers shouldn’t expect to get ill when they go fishing, but water testing by clubs has revealed worryingly high levels of harmful bacteria and viruses which can present a significant risk to human health,” he said.

Excessive nutrient levels also contribute to algal blooms, which can be highly toxic. To solve this issue long-term, we need to end the discharge of untreated sewage into our rivers and seas, and adhere to the Farming Rules for Water to stop the inappropriate spreading of slurry, both of which put anglers’ health at risk.”

Water testing sites have produced some horrifying results.
Water testing sites have produced some horrifying results.

Angler Mark Erdwin can attest first-hand to the consequences of coming into contact with sewage pollution.

“Last season I spent the day roving on the River Blackwater and had forgotten my bottle of hand sanitiser,” he told us.

“I hadn’t had much to eat, and when my friend offered me some crisps, stupidly, I ate them with unwashed hands.” Back home early the next morning, Mark became violently sick.

“At 9am I threw up again before the room started spinning, and I then passed out on the kitchen floor."

“My mum found me there and called an ambulance. I was taken to hospital and put on a drip. They also ran a set of blood tests which showed up toxins for E. coli.

“My advice to anyone is to always carry a quality hand sanitiser, and wet wipes too,” he added. “If possible, eat using the wrapper.”

Six steps for safer angling

- Never put wet lines, or any other item of terminal tackle that has been in the water, into your mouth.

- Wash your hands with soap and water, or use a sanitiser before eating and after fishing.

- Cover any cuts and grazes with good quality, waterproof plasters before fishing.

- Clean any wounds as soon as possible, and cover them with protective clothing.

- If you do fall in, try to keep your mouth closed and not swallow any water.

- Shower as soon as you get home if you’ve been in potentially infected water

Hand sanitiser is well worth using when on the bank.
Hand sanitiser is well worth using when on the bank.

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