A tide of effluent, broken laws and ruthless cuts is devastating the nations’ waterways. An academic and a detective have dredged up the truth of how it was allowed to happen – but will anything be done?
Peter Hammond’s house is so picture-perfect – honey-gold stone, scarlet postbox by the door, pink roses climbing towards the first-floor windows – that it could host a murder in a detective drama. It is a converted mill, and the garden is long, narrow and exuberant, with water on both sides. To the south is the millrace that once drove the stones that ground the corn; to the north is the River Windrush, which runs through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire on its way to join the Thames.
Hammond, a retired professor specialising in machine learning, arrived here two decades ago, and delighted in the variety of wildlife he could see in his garden: voles, otters, deer, foxes, badgers, grass snakes, lizards, swans and ducks, as well as chub, barbel and grayling swimming among the long fronds of the water-crowfoot as it swayed over the gravel beds. Kingfishers perched in the willows. It was only in 2013, when he gained a new neighbour – a keen angler and retired detective superintendent called Ashley Smith – that he realised something was wrong with his Cotswolds paradise.