Saturday, February 17, 2024

Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Take notice

There has been a lot in the news recently about the polluted state of many of Britain’s rivers. The River Wye, for example, is undergoing an ecological crisis due to the levels of phosphates in its waters, a state of affairs that has been attributed to run-off from the many intensive poultry farms near its banks.* Other rivers have enormous amounts of untreated sewage dumped into them, because Britain’s sewerage system cannot cope with the demands placed on it by an increasing population and climate change. This is a situation that needs urgent attention.

I was reminded of this by an old sign I spotted in Ewelme, when my mind was on other things (the church, the almshouses, and so on). Its message: don’t dump things in the local river, and don’t allow anything ‘injurious to health’ to run into the water from your home or business (please click on the picture for improved legibility). I don’t know how old this sign is – I’d go for a vague estimate of something like ‘early-20th century’, though it could be older. It certainly goes back to the era of admirable hand-painted lettering, which is what drew me to it before I even read what it says. Looking at it as a piece of craftsmanship, I like its bold heading and the careful italic script of the main message. I admire the trouble people took with painted signs when there weren’t computerised versions that are easy to produce – although ease of use should not be confused with the ability to come up with a visually pleasing result.

But I’ll resist getting dewy-eyed about the past. At least since the industrial revolution, people have been large-scale polluters, and there need to be both exacting laws and proper enforcement to prevent damage to the environment. The people of Ewelme, clearly, tried hard to protect their brook. Perhaps the sign was enough to make a few local malefactors think before taking the easy way with waste material. Now we need a more national, and more hard-hitting, effort to deal with our rivers and with those who pollute them. And this needs to happen soon.

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* See for example this newspaper report.

† See this, from Surfers Against Sewage.

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