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Sir Brian May says ‘it’s bloody obvious’ what needs to be done to save UK rivers

Queen guitarist Sir Brian May has joined calls to clean up UK rivers saying that “it’s bloody obvious” what needs to be done.

Known for being a vigorous campaigner for animal rights, the writer of such hits as We Will Rock You wants to see the country’s waterways being looked after as well.

“I get depressed about things like this because it’s bloody obvious how you can clean up rivers – you just apply regulations to companies to stop them pumping out pollution. But obviously it’s not happening,” Sir Brian told i.

“I would have thought that, with the knowledge and capability we now have, it should be a foregone conclusion that we clean up the rivers. I would think it would be a no-brainer.”

He added: “I would have hoped by now the regulations would be enforced and companies are not allowed to pollute the rivers.”

Queen guitarist and campaigner Brian May has campaigned for animal rights, in particular those of badgers, for many years (Photo: Getty)

Sir Brian also took aim at the UK’s sewage systems and London’s in particular, after his Kensington house was flooded with sewage two years ago. The floor of his home was soaked in dirty water, which caused damage to his carpets and priceless childhood memorabilia, leaving him “heartbroken and angry”, he said at the time.

Looking back on the floods, he said: “I was recently the victim of flooding and London is in danger of drowning in its own effluent. We’re just waiting for the next event to happen. The sewage system in London is Victorian and hasn’t been updated properly.”

Ofwat announced this week that in two years’ time, water companies would be fined if they did not reduce their sewage discharges or failed to monitor them. The regulator will set binding targets for them to reduce their legal spills and penalise them if they fail to meet the benchmarks. Where monitors are not working, Ofwat will work on the basis that spills from the site are twice as bad as the current average and fine them accordingly. This, it said, would motivate companies to ensure their monitors were working.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the announcement as a step in the right direction but argued that it was not enough to shift the dial.

Addressing Sir Brian’s comments, a spokesperson for Ofwat said: “We are clear that companies need to improve their performance for customers and the environment. Recently, we secured commitments from companies to take urgent action to reduce sewage discharges and brought in new powers on dividends and unearned or risky pay-outs.

“We are pushing the agenda to get companies to step up and where they fall short, we act – over the last five years, we have imposed penalties and payments of over £250 million. We currently have our biggest ever investigation underway with live investigations into six companies,” the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for Water UK, which represents water and wastewater companies, said: “The Environment Agency reports very high levels of compliance at sewage works – 99 per cent last year. So while enforcement is vital if rules are broken, it will only ever be a tiny part of the effort to restore rivers to where they need to be. The vast majority of improvement will come from investment – where we are bringing forward £56billion to accelerate work on storm overflows”

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Organisations with flood management responsibility, including water companies and local authorities, must work together to create more permeable surfaces and Sustainable Drainage Schemes to slow down flows on the surface to the sewers do not become inundated. This would bring London in line with other major cities around the world which have experienced severe flooding, such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam.”

Alongside his campaigning work, Sir Brian is also the co-founder of Starmus, a festival of science communication which will hold its seventh meeting next year in Bratislava, Slovakia. The conference, which typically focuses on space, and brings together leading scientists and technologists, will look at the planet’s future, given the “mess” people are making of things here with regard to rivers, the badger cull and many other things, Sir Brian said.

“I’m very much in favour of exploration. But what bothers me is that we are making such a terrible mess of our own beautiful planet it is perhaps not wise for us to be going out into space – whether to colonise another planet or just explore it – and making a mess of everything else there as well,” he added.

“We weren’t very careful about sterilising those early landers on Mars and on the Moon so we may already have polluted other bodies in the solar system. I believe we should be really careful and that we are probably not advanced enough as a species to be trusted in space. It’s becoming harder to control now because space travel is now commercialised. How do you keep control of commerce? It’s never worked in the past.

However, Sir Brian will be taking a break from his campaigning efforts in order to relax on Saturday night, when he is planning to watch the Eurovision Song Contest.

“For a long time it was regarded as a joke by most people,” he said. “Not so much any more. There’s some great production values that go into it, apart from anything else.”

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