Citizen scientists in Richmond have revealed shocking results of water testing which show a 'clear increase' in pollution.

The group Save Our Swale have been working with microbiologist Dr Keith Thomas to carry out monthly testing of the River Swale.

More than 250 analyses have been done at points along the waterway from Upper Swaledale to Brompton-on-Swale.

Levels of potentially pathogenic coliform bacteria, like E. Coli, exceeded the recommended levels in 56% of samples taken - posing a risk to humans, animals, dogs and livestock.

One particularly high level was recorded from a Richmond location of 93,000 cells per 100ml and an even higher level of 650,000 per 100ml was taken at Brompton. 

The Northern Echo: Coliform levels pre and post Richmond treatment works.

Half of the samples show phosphate levels (from fertilizers and domestic detergents) higher than those recommended for bathing water status.

One sample from Richmond Station Bridge showed levels 18 times higher than the required level.

Microbiologist Dr Keith Thomas said: "Pollution is likely to arise from sewage overflow outlets discharging into the river as well as from direct release at treatment works.

"Overflow outlets discharge into the river at Richmond and may account for high levels recorded at Station Bridge.

"Analysis of river water samples taken before and after the Richmond sewage treatment works show a clear increase in phosphate and coliform bacteria downstream of the works.

The Northern Echo: Coliform levels in samples from the river Swale 24/09/23.  Red colonies are coliform bacteria.

"Samples taken at points upstream of Richmond tend to have lower levels of pollution indicators but can have sporadic high levels suggesting possible intermittent release."

A Yorkshire Water spokesperson said: "We are determined to improve the quality of our waters and are holding the water industry, farmers and anyone who pollutes our rivers to account on a scale never seen before.

“The River Swale and its surrounding catchments are affected by a number of complex factors and our team of specialist local officers work closely with others to address this challenge.

“This includes carrying out inspections of local sewage works and farms to ensure that they are compliant with their permits to prevent pollution from happening. Where there is evidence of non-compliance, we will not hesitate to pursue the companies or individuals and take appropriate action.

Save Our Swale plans to apply for bathing water status in the autumn.

If they were successful it would mean that the Environment Agency have a duty to keep the water clean enough for people to swim – with a knock-on positive impact on the health of wildlife, river plants, livestock and any dogs who decide to go for a paddle.