River Thames users warned of dangerous currents

Thames River Cruise boats
Image caption Thames River Cruise has had to cancel their scheduled services

The May bank holiday traditionally marks the beginning of the leisure boat and rowing season on the River Thames.

However, this weekend the Environment Agency is warning boaters to stay away from the river due to dangerous currents, high water levels and debris causing navigational hazards in Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

Russell Robson, strategic specialist for recreation at the Environment Agency, said the river levels are the highest they have been for a year, and have swept large amounts of potentially dangerous debris into the river.

"The high water has mobilised a lot of debris on the banks such as large trees, wheelie bins, bits of motorcycle, which have been washed off the banks down the river," he said.

"If you're out there and collide with some submerged object you could get into trouble.

'Big effect'

"It's not just the speed water is flowing at, it's the debris in there affecting people's ability to navigate."

He said although flood warnings may now be subsiding, the River Thames will remain treacherous for boaters over the weekend.

"Even the ducks are staying out of the water," he said. "They are standing on the side of the river looking at it. It's flowing very very fast."

Part of the reason why water levels have risen so high and so quickly is because of the dry weather which preceded April's rainfall, he said.

"Because it has been so dry the water doesn't permeate, it has run straight off straight into the rivers, and the rivers have risen quite quickly for four or five days."

Annette Seager, facilities manager at Reading Rowing Club, said the water levels had had a "big effect" on preparations for a race at Dorney Lake at the weekend.

"No crews have been able to go out," she said.

Weather 'disaster'

"Regatta season starts at the beginning of May, but Marlow Spring regatta has been cancelled in Marlow on Monday, and that's a really good event for junior racing."

Reading-based Tim Deaton, managing director of Thames River Cruise, said the weather had been "a bit of a disaster this year".

Image caption Tim Deaton is unable to run a scheduled river cruise service

"The bad weather hit just as our season started, which runs from Easter to the end of September," he said. "That's when we advertise our cruises.

"Normally this weekend we would be going to Mapledurham House, they've got a big craft show this weekend, but the landing stages at Mapledurham are under water.

"It's near a lock, so the river is about 5ft up from its normal levels there."

Mr Deaton said he was still able to operate some private cruises, but was unable to run a scheduled service as it is taking much longer to navigate the river.

"We can still operate our private cruises but we keep between the locks," he said. "We can't keep up to time either due to the speed of the water, you couldn't run a scheduled service."

Dick Mayon-White, a River Thames Society river warden near Oxford, may go away for the weekend rather than boating on the Thames as he normally does.

"People who boat quite a lot and see the May bank holidays as one of the first weekends they could be out on the water are thinking there's no chance of that," he said.

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