Patricia Carswell |

Life on the river: the environment

Award-winning blogger and journalist, Patricia Carswell, shares her thoughts in her exclusive British Rowing blog – Life on the river

Remember the days before the pandemic? When we rowed and socialised with *gasp* other people? When a single-household crew was something you put together for fun and photo opps at the local regatta, and social distancing was only practised when somebody made an off-colour joke?

Back then, the thing that preoccupied us most (apart from the endless quest to get better at rowing) was the environment. We’d look aghast at riverbanks festooned with plastic-bag bunting, see riverbeds either bone-dry and cracked or swamped by the latest flood, and observe algae blooming in our beloved waterways, thanks to phosphates being poured in upstream. And we wanted to do something about it.

As I wrote in my final article for the Feb/March edition of Rowing & Regatta magazine, the rowing community was finally waking up to the problem and clubs were starting to make tangible progress in implementing eco-friendly practices, from plastic-free regattas to imaginative power and water-saving measures.

Single-use face masks and disposable gloves have been found in seven major European rivers

But what now? Our committee meetings (on Zoom, naturally) are taken up with discussions about cleaning products and hand sanitiser rather than reusable bottles and litter picks. And the official advice talks of paper towels and disposable wipes – the very things we’d been busy rejecting in favour of more eco-friendly options.

But here’s the thing. Just because we’re in the midst of a global health crisis doesn’t mean that the climate crisis has come to an end. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way. Yes, the planet might have had a brief period of respite when we all stopped flying and driving for a few weeks, but our roads and skies are filling up again.

Worse still, single-use face masks and disposable gloves – the must-have accessories du jour – have already been found in the waters of seven major European rivers, and scientists predict they will release microplastics that will eventually make it into the ocean.


At the rowing club, we can actively seek eco-friendly ways to stay safe

What’s more, there’s a significant danger that when the full impact of the inevitable financial downturn is felt, the environment will no longer be seen as a priority. During the last recession it was dismissed as the luxury of boom times, almost overnight, and took a long time to creep its way back up the agenda.

So, what can we, as a rowing community, do?

Well, we can start at home, buying or making reusable face coverings instead of disposable, plastic ones and continuing to make those small changes around the home that have a powerful cumulative effect.

And down at the rowing club, we can actively seek eco-friendly ways to stay safe.

Some clubs have rejected the bleach-and-water solution in favour of (equally Covid-busting) soap and water for cleaning boats — and have asked members to bring their own hand towels instead of using paper ones.

Keeping indoor equipment clean and sanitised is more of a challenge, but some clubs have chosen to use multi-use, compostable cloths to disinfect them.

Of course, those of us on our club committees have a responsibility to put safety first — that’s our job. But if we can all be mindful of the planet’s needs, too, and keep talking to each other to share ideas and tips, we’ll find our way through, one clean, green, socially distanced stroke at a time.