Environment Agency warns of Thames 'hidden dangers'

The Environment Agency (EA) has urged people to be safe in and around the River Thames, which can pose ‘hidden dangers’.

An easing of the lockdown and increase in temperatures have seen more people take to the river for a spot of swimming.

Cold water shock, strong currents, passing boats and varying river depths are some of the dangers the EA has warned swimmers about.

EA experience shows it is often young people who get into trouble while swimming in open water, particularly in and around locks, weirs and bridges.

People jumping off bridges – known as ‘tombstoning’ – has also become a familiar issue.

Russell Robson, River Thames operations manager for the EA, said: “During lockdown, people have discovered that rather than go to the seaside, there are all sorts of water bodies up and down the Thames Valley.

“The river is a great place to play and enjoy – there is just an inevitability that somebody will get into trouble.

“Jumping off structures is like playing Russian Roulette.

“And the water can be cold. Once you have gone through that first 15-20cm’s, the water below can be about 15 degrees. If you jump in, there is the whole issue of cold shock.

“Never go in water when you do not know how deep it is. And parents should really know where their kids are going.

“If you go in a river you have got to expect to get yourself out – there are no lifeguards.”

In this area, Russell said he has heard of people jumping off the Windsor feeder road bridge, Eton Bridge, Marlow Bridge, playing on the weirs in the Jubilee River, and jumping in the lock at Cookham.

Police have warned people of the dangers of ‘tombstoning’ as children as young as nine were stopped from jumping into water from a height in Windsor.

Thames Valley Police told its followers on Facebook on Monday that the act can have ‘severe and life-threatening consequences’.

Russell added that there are other consequences of the lockdown that could have an effect on swim-mers, as waste centres were shut earlier in the pandemic.

He added: “With the dumps being closed, people fly-tipping has gone on over bridges. We are finding builders' waste, barbed wire.”

And there is one more invisible danger – COVID-19.

With gatherings of people on the riverside, Russell has urged people to ‘stay safe and social distance’.

“The lockdown has eased and people are congregating, and there is the possibility of the water safety issues, but also COVID-related issues,” he said.

“The two together will be putting a strain on the NHS. We have still got COVID in the background.”

For information on designated bathing waters in England visit www.gov.uk/quality-of-local-bathing-water

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