Bed race entrants urged to ‘keep your head above water’ when crossing polluted Nidd
by
Jun 8, 2023
bed race
Bed race competitors crossing the Nidd. Pic: Richard O'Brien

Great Knaresborough Bed Race competitors crossing the polluted River Nidd this weekend have been urged by organisers to keep their heads above the water.

Last week a young child was reported to have been taken to hospital with an E. coli infection after playing in the river at Knaresborough. 

It came after a report by Professor Peter Hammond, a retired professor of computational biology, last month revealed the equivalent of 317 Olympic pools of raw sewage were discharged into the river at four sewage treatment works in 2020. 

Nidd Action Group and Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones are campaigning for a stretch of the Nidd at Knaresborough Lido to be granted bathing water status, to ensure the river is cleaned up. 

Saturday’s bed race will see hundreds of competitors crossing the river as part of the course.

Bed Race chairman Martin Brock, of Knaresborough Lions, said: 

“It goes without saying that we wish the youngster a speedy recovery from their infection. We know for our teams and the crowds that the river crossing is an integral part of bed race and one that they look forward to every year. The teams recognise when signing up for the event that they are participating at their own risk.  

“We will flag at the team briefing about the Nidd, although it is local knowledge that the water isn’t perfect, and that when crossing, you keep your head above water.” 

Safety measures

Last year, the Nidd saw 870 sewage dump incidents, according to Environment Agency figures, and recent water testing by researchers from the University of Leeds has shown the harmful bacteria E. coli is at unusually high levels. 

E. coli is a bacterial infection that can cause severe stomach pain, bloody diarrhoea and even kidney failure. It is found in the gut and faeces of many animals, particularly cattle. Its presence at such high levels in the River Nidd is thought to be caused by either sewage dumps or by run-off from livestock farmland – or both. 

Mr Brock added: 

“Ultimately, no one is forced to go through the river and we do implement safety measures if teams choose to cross including limiting the number of beds in the river and having divers from the Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association in the Nidd.

“The final decision to cross the river is taken on the morning of the race and if advice is given that it is unsafe, we would cancel the crossing. However, as things stand, with the recent spate of fine weather and a low river level, we are planning for the traditional river crossing on Saturday 10th.”


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Harrogate and District Green Party said today the bed race was “an incredible event… being put at risk by Yorkshire Water’s cavalier approach to their sewage problem”.

It accused the government, supported by local MP Mr Jones of “putting profits before people”.

Mr Jones replied by saying recent data showed E. coli levels had drastically dropped and urged the Greens to join the Nidd clean-up campaign. He added:

“Politicians laying blame at one another’s door for a situation that has existed ever since the Victorians built our sewerage system is not constructive.”

The annual bed race was first held in 1966, and sees 90 teams of seven complete a 2.4-mile course around the town. This year’s theme for the pre-race fancy-dress parade is “That’s Entertainment”.


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