Christmas floods sewage spill discovered as wet wipes, tampons and sanitary towels pollute Kettering watercourse

The discovery was made by a volunteer Kettering litter picker

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 2:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 2:06 pm

A veteran Kettering litter picker has described his heartbreak at discovering a Kettering nature reserve and beauty spot had been polluted by thousands of sanitary products.

Nick Urquhart made the grim discovery earlier this week as he set about his scheduled clean-up on a stretch of the Slade Brook in Wicksteed Park.

Last Christmas Eve, the usually calm Slade Brook flooded homes on the Venture Park Estate, after the tributary of the River Ise was turned into a fast-flowing torrent after rain battered the area.

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Some of the items picked from the Slade Brook

With focus on the damage to homes, and the return to lockdown in the new year, the major sewage spill has only just come to light as volunteer-led spring cleans have begun along the length of the watercourse.

Mr Urquhart said: "I was heartbroken when I saw it. After eleven years of picking I felt abject desperation and despair. Having cleaned up that river for over a decade you feel like you're getting somewhere and feel in control.

"It's the worst pollution I have ever seen in my whole life. The river is dead. Before there might have been 100 pieces of litter in a 100-metre stretch but this made me feel powerless."

Mr Urquhart had planned a river clean up from the confluence of the Slade Brook - where it flows into the River Ise behind the fishing lake at Wicksteed Park - to its source at Harrington.

l-r Nick Urquhart and Tim Boddington on the site

When he went down to start the task that he thought would take one or two days, he was horrified to discover the river bed and banks awash with sewage waste.

He said: "I put my litter picker into the water and wherever I put it I picked up rubbish. There must be 20,000 pieces of waste in 100 metres. You can tell it was from the Christmas floods because there are wet wipes and sanitary products hanging in the trees 12 feet up.

"It must have been the sheer volume of water, it was so quick.

"I've been told it was a CSO - a combined sewer overflow - a safety valve in case sewers get backed up into people's houses.

"There is foul water that goes into the rivers but the sheer volume of wet wipes and sanitary towels was incredible.

"The river bed is dense with wet wipes - I've never seen anything like it."

In their litter picks, Mr Urquhart and volunteer Tim Boddington have already picked up 11,300 pieces of litter including plastic of but estimates 20,000 are from the disgorged sewer.

Mr Urquhart, 47, is not surprised by the contents of the pipes that ended up in the river.

He said: "I'm cognisant of human nature. It's whatever is easiest, comfortable, quick and convenient. Convenience trumps nature.

"The companies that make the products know that people will do what is easiest. You can smell it along the bank. There's sewage waste, mostly tampons, pads and wet wipes, in and on the banks of the river.

"The total amount could exceed even our worst fears, as the sewage may have contaminated the Slade Brook and River Ise throughout other sections in Kettering."

Mr Urquhart, founder of the Instagram page Brandsthatcreatelitter, is hoping to use a kayak to reach the more inaccessible parts of the river and hopes members of the Kettering Wombles volunteer litter-picker will join in.

"He estimates that instead of taking one to two days, he will be working to clean it for the next two to three weeks.

He added: "We can become part of the collective voice, to put pressure on the brands who make this pollution, to make positive changes to the sustainability of their products and packaging. Fish will be eating these things. All the wipes are synthetic and will break down into micro-plastics and they get into our water."

A spokesman for Anglian Water told the Northants Telegraph: "We are aware of the incident as it is a result of the significant wet weather events over the winter which resulted in the flooding of some properties from the watercourse.

"This, in turn, would have triggered our combined sewer overflows and caused the volume of unflushable items that Mr Urquhart would have found.

"I believe some of our team in the area are in the process of completing litter picks to help remove the unwanted items that have appeared.

"It is a normal procedure that happened during high rainfall events, as the storm overflows act as pressure release valves to protect homes and businesses from flooding.

"They are permitted to do so by the Environment Agency, because of the job they do, the majority of what comes out is rainwater, not sewage.

"As always, we remain committed to investigating storm overflows spilling a high number of times and resolving any environmental impact, but know they are just one contributor to river water quality.

"As is clear from Environment Agency river quality data, there are many contributing factors outside of water company control that cumulatively have a more significant impact on the health of our waterways."

It is not clear which area the sewerage came from but the Slade Brook flows from the Pytchley Road side towards Wicksteed Park, before meeting the River Ise and flowing towards Burton Latimer to eventually join the River Nene at Wellingborough.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “We have received reports of pollution at this site and have passed the details on to Anglian Water. We will work with them to find a solution.

“If people suspect a pollution incident has taken place they can report it to our 24 hour incident line on 0800 807060.”