HUNDREDS of residents and riverkeepers gathered to demand immediate action from the Government, regulator OFWAT, and Thames Water to save chalk streams north of Basingstoke.

The protesters said raw sewage has been overflowing from Thames Water infrastructure for three months now, plaguing homes, streets, and rivers.

They added that the continuous discharge of untreated sewage is endangering the unique river ecosystems and posing health risks to local communities.

The event on Sunday, April 14, was held by a coalition of concerned groups and individuals, led by the Kennet Catchment River Keepers Association (KCRA), and supported by the Angling Trust, Action for the River Kennet (ARK), residents, and angling clubs from Reading to Newbury.

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Politicians who addressed the crowd included Baroness Jenny Jones, Laura Farris MP, West Berkshire Council head Lee Dillon, and Olivia Bailey.

The award-winning Stonebridge Wild River Reserve has been inundated with more than 300 hours of sewage this year alone, according to protesters.

The once wildlife-rich chalk streams of Lambourn have also been impacted by raw sewage overflows.

More than 250 people rallied to call for government intervention to hold Thames Water accountable, an urgent investigation by OFWAT, and upgrades to Marlborough Wastewater Treatment Works, which is currently not planned for completion until 2026.

The protesters also demanded priority to tackle groundwater ingress, a major contributor to the sewage overflows.

Sam Marshall, Riverkeeper, chairman, KCRA, said: “The River Kennet, like all our chalk streams, is a jewel in England's river systems, yet it is being treated much more like an open sewer and waste disposal system than a globally rare ecosystem. The sheer lack of investment from water companies has led to rivers being sucked dry in the summer months, and then filled with sewage in the winter months, subjecting them to year-round undue stress."

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Anna Forbes, Action for the River Kennet (ARK), senior project officer said: “We want to see long-term solutions, not the expensive sticking plaster reactive responses happening at the moment.”

Speaking at the rally, long-time Kennet angler and Angling Trust head of policy, Martin Salter, said: “What is happening right now in Lambourn, with raw sewage flowing down the streets and into the river, is an absolute disgrace.

"The storm overflows discharging straight into the Kennet, a so-called protected SSSI chalk stream, is a disgrace. But what is even more disgraceful is that Thames Water has no plans to fix groundwater infiltration until 2045 or to tackle the failings of Marlborough STW until 2035. And even if their business plans are approved what confidence do, we have that this bankrupt and failing disaster of a water company will deliver on even these inadequate commitments?”

Thames Water has been contacted for a comment.