Mention the word ‘poo’ to anyone under eight and you will be met with hysterical laughter, or barely stifled giggles at the very least. And, I must confess when we first floated the idea of a ‘Poos in the Ouse’ protest, scatological remarks, puns and jokes abounded because poo is funny … except when it isn’t.
False promises on water standards post Brexit
During the EU-referendum campaign, the risk of dilution of environmental protections was hotly debated, with many expressing concern that Brexit could weaken UK environmental standards. These concerns were dismissed as a lack of vision and a failure to believe in the true greatness of our nation.
We were assured that EU environmental standards would remain post Brexit, and that with our newfound ‘freedom to set our own standards’ they could be even higher. This was despite the fact that, as pointed out on numerous occasions, it had always been possible to set our own higher standards whilst members of the EU, but it had never been done.
In January 2018, the government published the policy paper ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’, setting out “what we will do to improve the environment, within a generation”. A commitment to the environment also featured in the Conservative Party manifesto 2019.
And yet, here we are with the recent rejection by parliament of the Lord’s amendment (proposed by the Duke of Wellington) to the environment bill requiring water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent sewage discharge. This despite the fact that in September this year, a report from 21 nature organisations called for urgent measures to help lift England’s rivers, lakes and streams from the bottom of the water-quality league table.
Treating nature like a toilet
A replacement amendment from the government instructed only that water companies make a “progressive reduction” in raw sewage discharge. This is a nonsense. With no targets for timed reduction, even a reduction of less than 1 percent could be deemed “progressive”.
The Angling Trust, Surfers Against Sewage, The Rivers Trust (see its interactive map of raw sewage discharge) and Gary Lineker “I’m not an enormous fan of pumping raw sewage into our seas and rivers” agree. Byline TV has reported on the issue, interviewing Yorkshire underwater filmmaker Mark Barrow about his own experiences filming England’s rivers for the past 30 years.
It is all too easy to see this issue as one purely of water company greed and negligence, but we must not lose sight of the reality that Brexit has played its part, with the downward pressure on standards made easier by the UK’s departure from the EU, driver shortages and the shortages of sewage treatment chemicals.
And so it came to be, that York for Europe campaigners gathered at the Cholera graveyard (where else) outside York Railway Station on 13 November, to express dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to protect our waterways. It would seem that York residents going about their business, and visitors to York arriving by bus and train, agreed with us. And we demonstrators recall with pleasure a number of earthy jokes that we probably hadn’t cracked since childhood.