‘Fix the Foss’: Campaign launched by Uni of York students in the Environment Department

The campaign aims to increase the profile of the river and the state of its health


A “Fix the Foss” campaign has been launched by Uni of York students in the Environment Department.

The campaign aims to increase the profile of the river and the state of its health, draw attention to the importance of rivers nationally and regionally, and instil a responsibility among the community for its management and conservation.

Four students at the Uni of York in the Environment Department have created “Fix the Foss” on behalf of the River Foss Society. Noticing the Society’s struggle to gain traction and maintain momentum when increasing the profile of the Foss and river-related issues in York, Lara Dalton, Maia Saad, Tess Fairbairn, and Arthur Janes decided to launch a campaign to solve this, supported by an interdisciplinary team of academics at the University.

The River Foss Society is a long-established community and volunteering group who are most prominent in aiming to promote the sustainable management of the Foss while restoring its natural habitat for the benefit of humans, vegetation and wildlife.

After an initial meeting with the River Foss Society, the students decided their main aim surrounded increasing the accountability of the organisations managing the river, and their associated supporters

The students launching the campaign have laid out the following aims:

  • To increase the profile of river related issues in the UK and York, using the River Foss as a case study 
  • To begin to get representatives to take accountability for river related issues in York
  • To provide information surrounding the importance of river health in York and what individuals can do to support our rivers
  • To increase awareness of the dire state of the Foss
  • To spread awareness of river and environmental volunteer groups like the River Foss Society and the importance of their work

The Foss runs directly through the centre of York down from the Howardian Hills. The river provides drinking and irrigation water, transportation and habitat creation for much of the land in the city and further north. However, toxic pollutants such as sewage, plastics and fertilisers are present along the entire stretch of the river at concentrations harmful to the ecosystem.

This is not the first river in York that has had its ecological standard questioned with concerns raised in the past over the River Ouse’s bacteria levels. The students told The York Tab: “Currently, the Foss is in the 85 per cent of UK rivers that do not reach a good ecological standard.”

This is not the first river in York that has had its ecological standard questioned with concerns raised in the past over the River Ouse’s bacteria levels. The students told The York Tab: “Currently, the Foss is in the 85 per cent of UK rivers that do not reach a good ecological standard.”

Rachael Maskell has been a big supporter of the Fix the Foss campaign, expressing that her views align similarly with our own: “I am both shocked and saddened by the state of the rivers in York and throughout the country.”

She added: “I have always enjoyed walking alongside rivers, including the River Foss and River Ouse in York, and enjoying the wildlife along their banks. Sadly, people today have a very different view of our rivers. Instead, we learn from the Environment Agency’s own figures that in the year leading up to March there were 4208 sewage spills into the River Ouse and 1023 spills into the Foss. Rivers in the north of England faring worse than in the south of the country.

“This level of pollution is impacting on the quality of the water as well as the health of animals, fish, birds and plants that live in and around the rivers. It is also extremely unpleasant for people using the river for leisure purposes such as rowing. Some of my constituents have told me that they find raw sewage on their oars when they are rowing down the Ouse. This is complexly unacceptable and a public health hazard.

She concluded by saying: “I want the water companies to stop paying their shareholders large sums of money in dividends and instead invest in cleaning up our rivers and seas. The Conservative Government have allowed this shameful state of affairs to happen and a Labour Government can do so much better”.

York MP, Julian Sturdy, has also been contacted by the team with the aim of making a similar contribution to his website and targeting both the Labour and Conservative parties.

The student team have created an information page for the York City Council in order to reach a wider audience. An information pamphlet has been created and distributed to national river organisations, including the Foss Society.

The York City Council have said they “welcome the input” of the campaign, but have also highlighted the need for the campaign to clearly express that “CYC has no formal role in terms of pollution and, aside from being a riparian owner, litter management on the river.”

The Council added: “No resources are available to deliver services in these areas.” However, they did say: “We do have a small navigation budget and provide support to the Foss Society for them to deliver volunteer-led river clean up.”

Speaking to the team of students about the campaign, Maia Saad, an Environment, Ecology and Economics student, said: “I didn’t know what to expect from our first meeting with the River Foss Society, but they have definitely made a big impact on our group with their motivation to protect the river. Before the meeting, I underestimated the importance of the river, but from spending the last few months researching, visiting the river, and talking to the Foss Society and local MPs, I can see that action is needed to protect it and maintain the benefits that the river provides.

“The team believe that going down the political route is the quickest way of achieving active change, and hope the Fix the Foss campaign makes an impact in increasing the understanding and profile of river-related issues in the River Foss to encourage action, as it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect the natural world.”

Tess Fairbairn, a Human Geography and Environment student said: “It is important that organisations such as the River Foss Society are able to safeguard the local environment. Their work is critical to everyone who depends on the river, including farmers, local communities and anyone who enjoys the beautiful natural landscape.

“As a small, local organisation, the River Foss Society understands how to manage the river sustainability, but there must be increased awareness and motivation on political, organisational and social levels in order to achieve these goals.”

Lara Dalton, another Environment, Ecology and Economics student, also told us: “It’s hard to see a small organisation such as the Foss Society become disheartened despite their drive and passion in improving the state of the river and benefit all of York. Action is needed and requires commitments from the whole community to protect the local environment and improve the state of our rivers.

“I hope the campaign makes an impact and benefits the River Foss Society, providing them the means to carry on the campaign and the awareness created from it.”

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