Saturday, 24 August 2019

Diver cleans up river bed

Diver cleans up river bed

A SCUBA instructor from Henley is to  sweep the bed of the River Thames for rubbish.

Tony Rudelhoff will tackle a stretch of water between the southern half of the royal regatta course and Mill and Marsh Meadows over five Saturdays in the next few weeks.

He will trawl along both banks of the river picking up litter discarded by visitors during the regatta and events such the Henley Festival and Rewind.

Mr Rudelhoff, 59, says he often sees walkers on the towpath and the occupants of passing boats throwing items into the water, from plastic cutlery and drinking glasses to champagne bottles and other large objects.

He says these are visible on clear days and he would like to improve the look of the river for residents and tourists.

Mr Rudelhoff, who lives in The Close, said: “A lot of people in Henley make money from those big events but no one’s doing much about the impact on the river and I want to make a difference.”

He will venture up to about 10m from the bank but will not venture into the middle of the stream, where the water is deeper, to avoid the risk of suffering “the bends”, a painful and potentially fatal condition in which inhaled gases form bubbles in the body due to rapid changes in surrounding pressure. He expects to get through up to six oxygen tanks in a day, costing a total of about £85.

Henley Town Council has agreed to pay for four days’ worth of oxygen tanks and town councillor David Eggleton, who frequently clears litter from the streets, will fund the fifth day from his own pocket.

Mr Rudelhoff said: “I’ve always noticed how Henley becomes a ‘trash town’ around those big events and although the council is now getting a grip on the problem you get a lot of stuff thrown in the water.

“I’m expecting to find all sorts of things — traffic cones, picnic hampers, plastic bags and all sorts of things that don’t break down quickly. It’s possible that we might find props or even engines from boats.

“I won’t be going to the really deep bits, just where it’s a few feet deep and it can be seen from the towpath. It’s shallow enough that I should be able to bob up and down all day without any danger to my health. I’ll have a marker buoy but I reckon only a small number of people know what that means so I’ll need someone watching out on the riverbank as well.

“Once the town council has got a plan for how the rubbish will be disposed of, I’ll be putting a team together.”

Mr Rudelhoff, who moved to Henley from London about a decade ago, was introduced to diving on a holiday in Spain more thasn 20 years ago.

He fell in love with the sport and spent three years training before becoming an instructor.

He owned dive schools in London and Thailand and has dived around the world, including Belize, Egypt, and the Maldives. In the Bahamas he fed sharks under water without a protective cage around him.

While diving in St Vincent last year, he discovered a coral reef which was covered in discarded waste so he spent much of his visit clearing this to make the area more hospitable for sealife.

Mr Rudelhoff said: “You get spoiled doing all the tropical stuff and then you come back home to dive in England and it’s not quite the same experience. It can be a lot more challenging.

“I’ve never dived in the Thames before and it will be interesting to see what I find. The big danger is getting tangled up in fishing line but there shouldn’t be too much of that.

“I’m glad to have the support of the council.”

Kellie Hinton, who chairs the council’s recreation and amenities committee, said: “I think this is a brilliant idea. 

“We’ve seen all sorts of initiatives to clean up the river and this suggestion takes it a step further to really make it clean from top to bottom. It will make the river better for wildlife and biodiversity.

“I will be very interested to see what he brings up. I imagine much of it will be familiar litter that we all know and hate but there could be a few surprises.”

• Mr Rudelhoff will have a surface marker buoy warning boat owners when he is diving and will also have a volunteer on the towpath with a loudhailer to warn anyone who doesn’t notice it. Last month, the Henley Standard told how a swimmer was struck by a boat while diving in the Thames at Shiplake despite having a bright orange buoy.

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