Environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey has dubbed campaigners the "real heroes" of the fight to protect British waterways.

During his 'Stop the s*** Show' tour on the banks of the River Swale in Richmond, North Yorkshire, yesterday (Monday, July 1), he criticised water companies for carelessly dumping sewage and lambasted the Environment Agency, Ofwat, and the government for their lacklustre approach to the problem.

Mr Sharkey, the former Undertones lead singer, is also the president of Labour's environment campaign, the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA). He was in Richmond to support Tom Wilson, Labour's candidate for the Richmond and Northallerton seat.

Labour candidate Tom Wilson, left, met with Feargal Sharkey in RichmondLabour candidate Tom Wilson, left, met with Feargal Sharkey in Richmond (Image: TOM WILSON)

Mr Sharkey said: "The River Swale is polluted and one of the biggest causes of that is sewage.

"In the Richmond constituency last year a combination of Northumbrian Water and Yorkshire Water spent 40,459 hours dumping sewage into just the Richmond constituency - the backyard of the Prime Minister and not even he can control it."

He said the river is classified by the (EA) as being in 'moderate' ecological condition, which he said means it’s "just about hanging on in there for grim death", adding: "One of the main reasons for that is sewage and sewage pollution by water companies."

Mr Sharkey prised 'citizen scientists' like members of the Save Our Swale group, who have been protesting over the state of the river.

Feargal Sharkey addresses the crowd on the banks of the River Swale in RichmonfFeargal Sharkey addresses the crowd on the banks of the River Swale in Richmond (Image: TOM WILSON)

He said he had been to more than 50 locations on his tour, adding: "This is by far and away the biggest turnout there has been and most of these people are just normal people who have taken an interest and seen how their river is polluted.

"They’re furious and fed up and they’re out there taking samples – they’re real heroes, not me."

And he had a message for the Environment Agency, adding: "How is it that these normal people have to go out there in the river doing your job for you?"

Hilary Plews of Save Our Swale said: "Save Our Swale campaign group were very pleased to have Feargal Sharkey recognise the impact of our campaign when he addressed Richmond residents concerned about the pollution in the River Swale.

"Save Our Swale is not affiliated to any political party. We welcome members and supporters from all political parties and none. We will continue to hold all parties and officials accountable for the pollution in our river."

Mr Sharkey backed Mr Wilson to win the Richmond and Northallerton seat from Rishi Sunak and urged people to vote for him.

Mr Wilson said: "It was a pretty stunning turnout. I think it was the biggest Labour rally we've ever had in Richmond and Northallerton by some margin.

"It was all local people, it just shows how deep-seated the local love for the River Swale is and just how much it's going to be a big issue in this election.

"Feargal is such a charming character, he hung around after the speech and gave everybody his time to chat to them. He's an absolute gentleman."

Feargal Sharkey was in Richmond during his 'Stop the S***show' tour to support Labour candidates in the General ElectionFeargal Sharkey was in Richmond during his 'Stop the S***show' tour to support Labour candidates in the General Election (Image: TOM WILSON)

He added: "People now have the chance, maybe for the first time in their lives, to make a real difference and a real say in who will be their next MP. They should listen to Feargal and protect the river by voting Labour."

A spokesperson for Northumbrian Water said: “We share our customers’ passion to have a healthy, thriving water environment and we know we need to do more to reduce our reliance on storm overflows. 

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“Our priority is to reduce our reliance on storm overflows and that’s why last week we launched a £20 million project called ‘Smart Sewers’ which will aim to reduce our spills by 80 per cent. The project is a UK first for the water industry and work has already started to ensure this project can be completed as quickly as possible.

“This project is one of many investments planned for our wastewater network, between 2020 and 2025 we will have invested over £80m on upgrading our wastewater network and we have ambitious plans to invest a further £1.7 billion from 2025 to 2030 to stop storm overflow spills and help improve our local environment.

“We would like to reassure our customers that we have some of the lowest amounts and durations of spills in the country. As well as this, we have the best environmental record of any water company in England, with no serious pollution incidents throughout the whole of 2023, or any since 2021.”