ILKLEY’S clean water campaigners have hit out at warning signs put up near the River Wharfe, saying they are just not hard-hitting enough.

Prof Becky Maltby of the Ilkley Clean River Group says that the new warning signs do not give the full picture about the level of pollution in the river and are not a deterrent to swimmers in the warm weather.

As a result, claims the group, several children fell sick after swimming in the river in recent weeks, with one missing a GCSE exam.

The group has long been campaigning about a nearby Yorkshire Water Sewage Treatment Works which discharges raw sewage into the river, especially after heavy rainfall.

With the area around Ilkley’s Suspension Bridge especially proving a draw to people for relaxing and swimming in summer, the group pushed for signs to warn people about the state of the water - but say the wording they wanted on the signs has been ignored.

Prof Maltby said: “For three years Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency and Bradford Council have known that the river below the suspension bridge is highly polluted from sewage. The Ilkley Clean River Group testing for E Coli shows that the river is not fit for people to paddle, play or swim in.

“Last year the group agreed the correct wording for the signs with the Agencies and Yorkshire Water. No signs went up. This year the signs are wrong. Why is it so difficult to provide correct information to the public?”

The wording on the signs currently in place reads: “Bathing is advised against owing to pollution from run off from agricultural land, urban areas and occasional discharges from storm overflows. During or after periods of heavy rainfall the impact from these sources of pollution can increase the risk of reduced bathing water quality.”

The sign also says that the Environment Agency is working with Yorkshire Water and Bradford Council to investigate and reduce pollution in the area.

The wording that the Ilkley Clean River Group say was agreed with the various agencies over the course of two years of negotiations is: “The bathing water is currently contaminated with sewage and compliance monitoring is not carried out at this point. This water is located downstream of regular untreated discharges from Ilkley Sewage Treatment Works which can be avoided by swimming or paddling upstream of the suspension bridge. You are advised not to paddle or swim in the river until further notice.”

Prof Maltby added: “It is false to say that the pollution below the suspension bridge is from occasional discharges from storm overflows. These are frequent, operating a third of the year. The treated sewage is also a big risk to public health as demonstrated by the Ilkley Clean River Group and the Environment Agency’s testing.

“The signs are placed above the suspension bridge and not where people heading downstream will see it. People using the riverbank below the bridge come across the bridge and then head left onto the beaches below the suspension bridge- which means they don’t pass the sign!

“Last week a number of children got very sick as a result of going in the river downstream of the Sewage Treatment Works, with one missing a GCSE as a result. They had no idea that the river was so polluted it is a risk to swim there.”

She added that when people were swimming near the sewage outfall last year they were horrified to learn what it was and one family “said they thought it was a waterfall”.

In January this year Yorkshire Water said it was committing up to £13m investment in a range of measures that aim to improve the Wharfe upstream of the bathing water.

A Bradford Council spokesperson, said: “The current signage meets the national regulations but we are talking to the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water on the suggestions made by the Ilkley Clean River Group.”