Monthly column: Standing room only as Don’t Lose the Ouse campaign launched

Don't Lose the Ouse logo (positive)
Don't Lose the Ouse logo. Image: BedsGOVET

It was standing room only this week as 100 Bedfordians packed a University of Bedfordshire lecture theatre to witness the launch of Don’t Lose the Ouse, which could be the most important environmental campaign Bedford Borough has ever needed.

On Wednesday (27 March), environmental activists, the Bedfordshire Great Ouse Valley Environmental Trust (BedsGOVET), launched the Don’t Lose the Ouse campaign, which aims to:

  • protect our river from further harm by undertaking high-quality scientific research
  • identify the causes of water pollution
  • join forces with others to mitigate the devastating effects on biodiversity and public health across the county

The Don’t Lose the Ouse campaign has quickly gathered momentum and is supported by key stakeholders in Bedfordshire and beyond.

Phase 2 monthly testing (January – July 2024) is sponsored by Wells & Co who have been brewing in Bedford for around 148 years.

They are just one of many local businesses who depend on the quality of water in the county to support sustainable economic growth and who are working hard to protect the environment for future generations.

Ed Robinson, sustainability manager for Wells & Co said: “We will continue to support BedsGOVET to secure a cleaner, healthier environment for all residents.”

Several Bedford Borough councillors have also contributed Ward Funds towards Phase 3 testing which will be used for advanced technology to provide real-time continuous testing.

The Bedford Independent is also supporting this vital campaign.

BedsGovet has been given a dedicated monthly column to raise awareness of the Don’t Lose the Ouse campaign, give readers updates, and also show how you can get involved to help.

Dangerous levels of faecal bacteria

The packed meeting of concerned residents heard Dr John Strutt, chair of BedsGOVET, reveal the latest results of citizen science testing and the toxic state of the river in Bedfordshire.

The river is tested for nitrates, phosphates and faecal bacteria, with many sites failing UK safety limits and some recording levels up to x10 these safe limits.

He explained that recently released Environment Agency data for 2023 sewage ‘spills’, showed a 129% increase in national discharges of raw sewage into English waters.

BedsGOVET table of Phase 2 latest results – combined e-coli, nitrate and phosphate. Click/Tap to see a larger version of the table.

There had also been a steep rise in recorded ‘spills’ in Bedfordshire since the 2022 data.

He quoted the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report concluding that a ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, slurry and plastic is polluting English rivers and putting public health and nature at risk.

Graphic design students Elise Baylie, Nathaniel Guy and Ben Graham from Bedford College revealed the Don’t Lose the Ouse logo design and campaign ideas created with fellow student, Ellie DiCarlo.

BedsGovet had asked them for their ideas to increase awareness of river pollution in Bedfordshire and generate youth and community engagement in solutions.

They not only delivered, they exceeded expectations.

Resources for schools

Bedford College graphic design students (l-r) Ben Graham, Nathaniel Guy and Elise Baylie present their Don't Lose the Ouse branding to a packed room.
Bedford College graphic design students (l-r) Ben Graham, Nathaniel Guy and Elise Baylie present their Don’t Lose the Ouse branding to a packed room. Image: Bedford Independent

Their ideas for free and adaptable curriculum resources to be used by educators up to Key Stage 3 provide exciting opportunities for everyone to be “part of the solution”.

George Willimott, course manager for Art and Design at Bedford College believes strongly in giving students “real-world challenges” to prepare them for the world of work.

BedsGovet would like local schools and educators who can help develop these resources to get in touch.

The event was hosted at the University of Bedfordshire and chaired by Dr Diana Pritchard (as lead on education for sustainability, representing the University’s Sustainability Steering Group) and by Bedford Climate Change Forum.

It was supported by Surfers Against Sewage and attended by Parish Councils, river users, environmental and community organisations, businesses and farming representatives.

If you would like to hear more about the Don’t Lose the Ouse campaign, or get involved as a volunteer to help with testing and campaigning, please contact BedsGovet via email at

You can also find out more at our Facebook page.

By Tricia Lennie