Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Wild swimming in turbulent seas

Waving, fishing, thriving but not drowning.


Hi Counsellors, Mentors, Coaches, Change Agents, Leaders, Next Stage Radicals, it’s me with my water metaphors... again. 

I’m afraid of drownings in these turbulent seas of Covid, Consumer Shortages and Climate Change. I fear the swirling C's of chaos and catastrophe. So, I need to check out my analysis and some ideas that maybe help us improve our approaches being helpers.

I often quote Jack Nicholson’s character to his counsellor in “As good as it gets”,

“Hey, I’m drowning here and all you’re doing is describing the water!”

But I've just seen the wider context for that oft quoted line. Here it is and, remember, as you watch, that we helpers are the guy in the brown check dressing gown....


Seeing this clip nudged me to move on from nagging people like me ( us? ) infuriating colleagues and friends by constantly "describing the water" rather than looking to find ways to take helpful, positive action.  I'm especially concerned that people like us, charged with being the helpers, are now waving, not yet drowning. Many of us are struggling to cope too.


It’s clear that, in almost all sectors, morale is very low and pressure very high.  My recent conversations with several specific colleagues, in the NHS, Civil Service, Education and Business, and then more generally, plus reading the news and social media, suggests we are in deep churn (when a surfer is under the water, unable to breathe, or know which way is up to air - when organisations are under huge pressure and unable to do the basics, let alone develop)

"I’m stuck in a rut of, overwork, tiredness and feeling somewhat disillusioned environmentally, politically and at work..." (Chair of a Council)

“On top of this...personally, I’m juggling a mid-career, mid-life crisis with heavy family and financial responsibilities too… it is affecting my health”. (Civil Servant)

In a statement of the bleeding obvious, all of us have personal issues including health, relationships, finances. Each work team has their specific needs too. On top of these will be the organisational expectations, often Government and finance determined.  And with the C's seemingly unabated, how can we helpers prepare colleagues and friends to surf these waves of rising pressures, increased needs and wants and begin to find coherent sets of issues to address?

We all know that, especially in such turbulent times, the need to develop, adapt, change and improve continues…indeed it may well need to increase, to cope with the perfect storms.  This is all predictable but is the increased helplessness, self-preservation and survival mood of colleagues, leading to a push back against the development activity we are asked to lead? Any development activity?

"Oh no...not you again…. .look we are SO BUSY... we’re only just keeping our heads above water.. .... we can't cope with all this transformational change stuff… it will just have to wait..." 
(Department Lead Consultant - normally a keen change agent - quoted by NHS Trust Improvement Director)

The real fear, shared by those I have been talking to, is that many, who were once effective advocates, leaders for change, are themselves tired out, stressed, even ill. Is this a new reality, facing those trying to implementing transformational change during tough times of churn? Are we helpers too experiencing a critical increase in learned helplessness and hopelessness ourselves?  Tell me if I am catastrophysing.   I do remember being somewhere like this before.

I remember a School Improvement colleague going into a Special Measures, so called, “Failing" School, and facing a room full of demoralised faces. He suddenly realised they were expecting, when he overheard,

“Yet, another bollocking from another prat, who has no idea of what it’s like working here, almost certainly couldn’t hack it anyway and, has obviously escaped front-line pressures years ago”

But what really irked him was being given a motivational thump on the back by the Director of Education,

“Go in and work your magic, inspire them, motivate them, like you always do!”

It was a genuine attempt to fire him up, just once more, but it had the opposite effect. But they could all leave the school site and go into what we now refer to as a normal world.  How does that feel when the "new normal" is a world of increasing Covid and Climate Emergency?

In short, I fear the weaker, those charged with rescuing are, they won't be waving but drowning and will be useless as rescuing. This calls for well judged and modified points and natures of intervention.  Our clients need by someone energy enough to DO something rather than describing the water, the dead, the drowning and the waving.

What might we do?

How do we thrive in order to “create the permitting circumstances” for change, when morale is so desperately low? The priority has to be looking for strategies to help the helpers because if they ( we? ) are tired, weak and helpless, who will be there to help the most vulnerable, those we normally lead, inspire and nurture?

A recent discussion of these fears with an international group of colleagues, all keen helpers, “The Next Stage Radicals” seemed to suggest they too saw these fears and we began to tease out some thoughts.

Some stressed the critical starting point, for many of us commissioned to seek improvement, is to remind ourselves to work from “Where they are”, as individuals and teams, rather than take on the mantle of yet another who goes in to suggest ideas or worse, “hector them about where they should be”.  We agreed that creating the right circumstances for even thinking about development and change has to be a fine balance between listening and developing an honest understanding of the specific individual and team's current conditions and, only then, seeking a realistic set of explorations about what a more desired state of affairs might look like.

So, we felt, unless we show acceptance of individual views and respect differences, we will be greeted with a wall of cynicism, distrust, even fear. Cynicism is an understandable bastion against any extra work that “feels false”, especially if it parades itself in complex terminology and, as a cynical colleague observed,  "endlessly circular diagrams".  This becomes hopeless when it comes on top of waves of cuts, an already excessive workload and staff shortages.  

My personal warning. I well remember dealing with an apoplectic staff team who had felt their "Well-being training day" had been an utter, and complete, waste of time.  Later, I was surprised by serious twitter pile-on when I suggested that well-being was far more than handing out happy bags and smiley badges and promising "one evening a week with no work to take home".  I was arguing for a genuine reappraisal of the ways work was allocated and how we could reduce workload.  Any new leader, change agent or, heaven help them, those who carry the label “consultant”, who leaps in keen, energetic and optimistic spouting about opportunity in adversity maybe deserves the silent derision and deep resentment, they get.  We all have to be uber-sensitive, emotionally alert, thoughtful.

Some maybes…. (offered in the hope they may coalesce into strategies)

FIRST, maybe counterintuitively, it might mean us soorting the pressure SYMPTOMS as a priority and leaving the longer term transformational stuff for later.  So, to start, it's going to be about ensuring that those of us still with strength, survive ourselves.  We have to regroup and stop ourselves just describing the water and wringing our hands...if only because it infuriates. We have to rethink too - we can't keep doing what we did before.  We have to set about rescuing and sustaining our strongest, closest, change-agents, those who are still waving. Yes, it will be about throwing in life-lines, life-belts - anything that floats - especially good ideas.

“I’m doing shifts on the wards to ease the pressure - because that’s what they need” (NHS Trust Improvement Director)

“I run several 4 hymn assemblies - to give staff some extra prep time” (Headteacher)

In metaphor mode it’s about pulling them out of the water, drying them off, making them warm, helping them thrive. Only when they have the strength to help others, will they be able to get on with their day job and maybe be ready to properly prepare for transformational change activities.

Extending another water metaphor, it’s not either eating a fish or learning to fish - it’s more sensible to cook them a fish meal, so they are sustained, and only then, judging when they are in a state of readiness to learn how to fish.

This reminded me of, “reading readiness” that state young children move into when the groundwork of storytelling and letter shapes has been grasped and a real desire to read drives them to read. It is impossible for them to become 
readers until they are in readiness.  It’s even more difficult to teach reading to 14 and 15 yr olds, who missed their readiness the first time around, but it can be done, we did it.  Maybe “change readiness” is the similar state we need to achieve and yes, it is likely to be most difficult with those who have been around the block a few times and are especially tired.  But we have to believe it is never impossible.  A colleague told me that flogging dead horses is not cruel, but that flogging dying horses is, so he said, "Tell them to lay off and give me some recovery space".

As we approach that point of change readiness, not a minute before, it will be about digging out, discovering and sharing practical, universal, proven approaches that will really help, and tailoring these for our local rescuers to use, in their specific settings. We all know
 that the basic skills of helping: facilitation, empowering, coaching, respecting and listening - all sharpened and honed, with emotional intelligence - help us uncover and meet individual need.  But in a crisis there is a magnetic and urgent pull to quick action - resisting quick fixes is hard but often necessary. We have to take it slow.

SECOND, as we sense our newly sustained change agents are becoming re-empowered to take over the rescuing and seeing to their colleagues, maybe they need to see us standing back a little, looking at the water and, rather than just describing it again, seeking to involve colleagues fully in identifying the CAUSES, of the symptoms that have to be addressed.

Back to the water metaphor it's now about going upstream and looking for: the causes of the flood; how to stem the flow, and maybe challenging those who threw us, and our colleagues in?  It's at this point that more sophisticated but still bespoke approaches like systems thinking, forensic financial reviews, studying psychologically informed environments and critical incident analysis may be useful.  What is certain is the urgent need for some early improvements, ideally visible, tangible, meaningful and broadcast widely.  These should go to the the heart of purpose.  We will also need to be consensual as we create solid plans to properly challenge the lack of thought manifest in the "unintended consequences" that caused the turbulence and failed to sort the causes that got us into these crisis situations. We also need to apologise, profusely and openly for any of our work that failed to help as the waters rose and promise to do better immediately.  We are all judged by what we do, nit what we say.


In times of great pressure, even crisis, it’s crucial we look after our people first. So, a respect for and consideration of their wants and needs “For me” is first: (keep fit; eat well; get relationships right). Then, only when we/they are ready for change, can we move on to considering wants and needs “for us”: (supporting and caring for those closest; at home and in work teams and identifying our ideas about better future conditions). Only then, if enough energy remains, can we move on to consider the expectations, hopes and requirements, “for everyone”: (in the organisation; community; society and world.)   It’s here we must feed in a realistic view of organisational and government expectations and demands.  They have to be faced. They might be finessed. They can't be ignored. But beware of raising them too soon! 

 Paradoxically, the priority often left to last is the one we all must all care about most, “for everything”: (our Earth’s climate change, its warming, melting ice-caps, depleted environment, flora and fauna,) There is a strong and growing sense of extinction around and that consciousness is depressing and weighing down colleagues who care. Some are still denying, others are rebelling, most are despairing, 

So, part of this is about 
asking ourselves and each other, “What is the point of getting the hospital, school, our business, neighbourhood, community and charity functioning better, only for it to be swept away in a hurricane, fire, or flood?  What can we do, whilst we are thinking about our immediate future? 

For too many, in 2021, the rising waters are literal and no longer metaphorical.

John Pearce October 2021

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Crack Willow Blues

On May 8th, this year, I was walking the dogs by, this, my favourite tree, a huge Crack Willow.
It was a cold, wet afternoon and I was thinking about a friend's burial.
I felt a blues brewing, so, standing by my tree I drafted "Crack Willow Blues".
But there's more to the story - see below...

Crack Willow Blues

Well I’m walking the woods the other day
Down by the stream where the willows sway
I spy my willow, the tallest there
I’ve a rope to climb it if I dare.

Cry willow, Crack Willow
Will you loose me some slack?

Then I saw an Old Man staggering round
Dragging a shadow around on the ground
And there’s an Old Woman sat by the tree
She ain’t got no shadow I can see.

Cry willow, Crack Willow,
Will you crack at my back?

I ask the Old man, “What do you see?
He turns, looks and points to me,
Holds his head and begins to cry,
“Have you seen a woman walking by?

Crying willow, Crack Willow
Will she come back?”

I said, “I’m staying my side of this rickety fence
Cos, she ain’t got no shadow
And you ain’t got no sense.
But it’s good to be thinking and it’s good to talk
I've got to go now and be on with my walk.

Cry willow, Crack Willow
I’m not coming back.”

He called, “I had two women who walk with me”
I left my first under this tree,
The other said she’d follow on
I keep on looking but I think they’re gone.

“Cry Willow, Crack Willow
Will they ever come back?”

So, I climb the fence and am looking around
I can see no shadows on that ground
Now, there ain’t no woman and there ain’t no man
And I’m left here thinking what I am.

Cry will you, Crack Willow
When will you crack?

Yeh, the Old Crack Willow began to crack
And I’m trying so hard to get me back
But I can’t get through this rickety fence
Now I ain’t got no shadow and I ain’t got no sense.

Crying willow, Crack Willow,
You cracked at my back.

So I sit a while and worry some more
When I see a shadow there on the floor.
She says, “Leafman, why're you hiding away?
I came to find you this Summer’s day!

Crying Willow, Crack willow
I just came back”

Now I see a young man walking by
I hold my head and begin to cry
Shouting, “Don’t you climb this rickety fence
Stay that side and make your sense!

Cry willow, Crack Willow
Won’t you cut him some slack”

Don’t walk in the trees and avoid the woods
They’re full of will you’s, coulds and shoulds.
Stay well clear of the rickety fence
Beware the shadow of recompense

Cry willow, Crack Willow
I’m not coming back.

John Pearce Draft II
July 6th Dawn at the kitchen table

12 bar blues in CFG - Style "What fools believe" - Tempo 95 - Memory 8

After the first Draft of "Crack Willow Blues" I wanted to take a photograph of the tree and, to do so, I needed to step back off the path. I took some photos, including the one at the top of this post, and there was a sudden, very loud, crack and the sound of something falling through the branches above. I cringed as a limb of a Cracked Willow fell behind, missing me by a a body length.

I realised I was surrounded by these huge, heavy trees and, obviously, felt vulnerable. I then realised that "my tree" had not yet cracked.

The second Draft, above, written in July, incorporated the experience

May 8th By the Crack Willow

Monday, 15 March 2021

A Musical Metaphor for discussion and argument.

Effing Metaphors

A musical metaphor for discussion and argument


Social media, The National Press and TV News is bursting with different thinking, conflicting views. Ponder on recent events: "Brexit", "Trump", "Covid Responses", "The Meghan Markle Interview" and this week-end... "How the Metropolitan Police handled "The Clapham Common Vigil" after the murder of Sarah Everard. Each struck very different chords for different people... Lots of the "argument is war" metaphor at play. Where was and is the music?

I have often thought we could change the aggressive metaphor - Argument is War!
Why not try, at least to reclaim, a more harmonious, "Discussion is music"
With thanks to George Lakoff, Mark Johnson and Andy Brogan *

How well do we deal with comments that are "out of tune" with our normal thinking? Do we reject them as discordant, bad notes, out of tune within our echo chamber? Or do we seek ways to find some kind of harmony by incorporating new thinking in a different key? Can those new chords work? How do we resolve discord? Isn't there a danger we find it just too easy, even joyful to sing our favourite tunes, in our favourite places, with our favourite friends, who agree with us...

Here it is... Effing Metaphors - a piano piece

It started as a giggle - a humorous composition, an improvised musical metaphor, for a reasonable discussion, in an echo chamber, between folks who are composing, their line of argumental melody. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a new comment, seems out of tune, discordant. What to do?

I wanted to explore when, and if, a bad note can become a good one. Hear what you think..

As you listen, think of a pleasant discussion, interrupted by comments that jar, out of tune, with the accepted and developing melody. Such notes can be folded back into the melody and harmonise within it... often these incorporations enhance the piece.... Sometimes, as we discuss, or improvise in discussion, or an instrumental piece, we feel the need to reject an obvious bad note... We want our music, like our discussions to be tuneful.

For the musically minded...

I play with E&F, especially, at one point, as I love how they sound discordant together, and so much better just a little apart... I wanted to test how our ears can "learn" to correct an impression. Hence the title. "Effing Metaphors".

It's easier, and more fun, to demonstrate the discussion metaphor in music, rather than words...
Remember, "Where there is discord, let us bring harmony" (OK, that's a bad example)

And the moral...

Maybe we should listen again to the discordant, and try to fold new notes into a melody of agreement and create more harmonies... (careful John, you're approaching fingers down throat time now...)

Maybe we should discuss more in an improvised jazz, frame of mind? Rather than insist on replaying the predictable, known sheet music. Maybe Jam, with others more often than singing from the same hymn-sheet.

Certainly, we'd do well to let others into our echo chambers to make music with us, not war... Do we dare knock on the doors of new echo chambers and music studios?

And... perhaps be mindful - Timing is all. Think of the times when we stood up, in the midst of the orchestra, or band, to play that wonderful solo we had in our heads.... and all there was discord, and then a slow cacophony down to silence. We sat down, withdrew, and the band played on.

Or, perhaps most importantly, it's how we react, when we see an individual, hesitating, offering to play a solo and we see our fellow instrumentalists readying themselves to play louder to drown out this new, unwanted sound.


* There is a great book that had a profound impact on me, when I first read it, "Metaphors We Live By" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Essentially, it argues, we try and use metaphors and allegory, even stories to describe our world. There is a but.... a big but... a huge but in my head.... that the metaphors we choose delineate our thinking and mould our future behaviours. Lakoff and Johnson pointed up one metaphor, in particular - discussion, becomes argument and "Argument is war!" Accepting that we say things like:

"He attacked their weak argument"
"What you just said was indefensible"
"She demolished his argument"
"Don't take the moral high ground"
"He was shot down in flames"
"You're missing the target"
"Are you going to fight me on this?"
"That idea bombed didn't it"

I remember thinking, then, we should reframe argument as discussion and use the metaphor of music and dance - when we can.

* Andy Brogan is convenor of the "Next Stage Radicals" Facebook Group.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Virtuosi Solos For Christmas and New Year 2020/21

I was delighted when my old friend Tarquin Fothergyll-Stanley asked if he could bubble with us over
Christmas and new Year. Even better, once ensconced he asked me to record his Christmas Message for 2020.

When such a gentleman, wants to spread his generous virtuosity who can resist?
When he shines a light into our darkness, illuminating the shadows who can say, "No!"?
I give you Targuin Fothergyll-Stanley - enjoy...

After the video's success, accelerated by excess of my Christmas spirits he was thrust into a conversation with his muse.  He scribbled for hours.  Then tired and emotionally he wanted to record a New Year Lament... an expose, dire warnings about men with daft hair.  It is truly an epic poem for our times

Tarquin remains a great friend.  In many ways I will be sorry when he leaves but not in all ways...

Friday, 12 June 2020

The Global Citizens’ Oath

The Global Citizens’ Oath

I offer this Oath for all who want to work together
to build a caring and sustainable human and natural environment

Will you take this Oath?

If not, how would you edit it, so you could?

I promise to preserve the finest traditions of human behaviour, by acting in the ways of a good and thoughtful citizen of the World. Therefore:

  1. I  willingly accept my responsibilities to care and support: myself; my family, both chosen and blood; my community and my country, as contributors to a thriving human, and natural, world.

  2. I will uphold the best traditions of human belief, religious or secular, as expressed in the Articles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1).

  3. I accept my responsibility for helping all, especially the young, to reach their full potential by working, interdependently, for the common good of others in our global community.

  4. I recognise that not all my fellow world citizens have shared experiences, cultures and beliefs, so I will take time to listen, understand, respect and celebrate our difference, whilst seeking the Common Values we can pursue together.

  5. I will respect the natural world and will support efforts to create a sustainable natural environment.

  6. I will think through ideas, facts, opinions, be critical about what I see, read, hear and think, in order to come to considered and fair-minded views.

  7. I will not be a silent witness. When I see acts of love, care, compassion, and support, I will praise them. When I see injustice, hate, harm, oppression, and abuse, I will speak out and work to reduce them.

  8. I will do no harm and strive to uphold the highest traditions of law and order, developed through representative, democratic systems.  

  9. I will work hard in all this to help create a world we can be proud to hand on to our children and those who follow on.

  10. I will strive to do all this, in peace, with goodwill, good humour and good sense.

John Pearce 15th June


(1)https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.  This has been accepted by most countries as law and to be promoted in schools.




Thursday, 28 May 2020

Something rotten in the state of DurhamGate

This Prime Minister and his Special Adviser (SPAD) are proving to be both unaccountable and irresponsible. It’s time for the nearly powerful to exercise what power they still have, if we are to avoid becoming a “rotten state”

The current saga of Dominic Cumming’s Lockdown behaviour #DurhamGate is a SYMPTOM of a deeper CAUSE.  That is we now have  2 men, one unelected, de facto, running the country.  Indeed, there are occasions when the unelected man admits making key decisions, without reference to others.

Another symptom spawned from the same cause, which caused a similar public outcry, was the prorogation of Parliament and it that case it required a  Supreme Court Judgement to correct it. 

In both cases, the news of what was happening was kept close to very few and the Cabinet was not initially informed.  In the second case, they were unaware. In the first case, there was public unrest and demonstrations - it’s unlikely there would be with #DurhamGate, the irony is Lockdown rules, if obeyed, forbid them. 

The cause in for both and the most significant issue here is that normal British governmental checks and balances were not used, or ignored.  Significantly, in the #DurhamGate” scandal, for that is what it is, not only did the PM’s SPAD, take action but he did so without informing the PM,

“I did not ask the prime minister about this decision. He was ill himself and he had huge problems to deal with.” (Statement by DC in No 10 Press Conference”)

Dominic Cummings added a comment that should concern us more because it highlights the more significant cause...

“Critically every day, I have to exercise my judgment about things like this and decide what to discuss with him...."

This is the nub of the systemic rot.  An unelected, and because he is not a Civil Servant, unaccountable, Prime Ministerial Special Adviser, at the heart of Government, is making decisions, without informing the Prime Minister unless he deems it necessary.  Note too this the closest Dominic Cummings approaches to an admitting a mistake.

"Arguably, this was a mistake, and I understand that some will say that I should've spoken to the prime minister before deciding what to do.”

What other decisions and actions has he taken? What actions might he, further emboldened, take in future?

In this latest symptom, the Prime Minister and his Adviser refused to answer legitimate Press enquiries, pre-publication. This would have allowed them to correct fake-news they retrospectively abhor.  Then when, what was known, was published, the PM made his own enquiry and, despite obvious disquiet, refuses to involve the Cabinet Secretary.  In the absence of any independent investigation, we see the problem, the cause, the rot, laid bare.  There are allegations of impropriety and no objective scrutiny, so far.  There is more than a whiff of irresponsibility and no accountability.

So, what happens next?  Who is looking at these symptoms and diagnosing the cause? An apposite metaphor is Covid19 - Where is the testing, tracking, tracing and remedial action? Who is responsible for that? Yes, we are all in this together but who will, “Take Back Control?”

The Cabinet?  So, far all supportive of the PM’s stance, if not his SPAD’s actions.

Government Ministers and MPs? 40+ Conservatives now openly asking for DC to resign, or be sacked, many MPs in other parties want him to go.

The Press and Public Opinion?  It rumbles on in its usual murmurations - seeking direction - lacking agreed direction - rolling about an amorphous mass.

We shall see whether these groups take any further action.

My simple argument here is that we must not see #DurhamGate in isolation, that would be dealing with a symptom.  We must check our collective eyesight and see the CAUSE and deal with it.  An unelected SPAD acting unaccountably and many feel irresponsibly at the heart of our Government is driving his passenger on...

We must not focus on just this instance - we need long sight.  DC resigning, or being sacked will not deal with the cause because another SPAD could be appointed and act with identical impunity.

Finally, before I am accused as being party political... imagine a new different Government (and as this festers on that becomes more likely) imagine a Labour Government with a PM refusing to allow his chosen SPAD to be investigated for alleged impropriety... How would that be greeted in the court of Public Opinion?

We must take back control...

Monday, 11 May 2020

Can Coronavirus/Covid19 be spread via human waste?

This is my 11th May Paper/Report requested by Mark Fletcher, Member of Parliament for Bolsover, who also wants an answer to my simple question: 

Can Coronavirus/Covid19 be spread via human waste?

Dear Mark,

As requested I am detailing my research and commentary. I have edited the original material I sent and updated my initial question because, as I learned more, the issue became clearer and potentially more serious than I had first imagined.

I hope that the paper is helpful and above all I hope my fears are unfounded. I suppose I was being alert before it became fashionable!

Thank you for your genuine interest and willingness to take this up.


Can Coronavirus/Covid19 be spread via human waste?

· In public toilets, especially via urinals
· In our watercourses, rivers, lakes and seas, when sewage is discharged


I first raised this issue, with local Councillors, Severn Trent, and Environmental Health at the end of March 2020. My initial concern began a couple of years ago, whilst walking my dogs, by the side of Normanton Brook between Hilcote and Huthwaite and Westhouses, in Derbyshire.

As a walker and sometimes wild swimmer, I already knew that there were issues about disease spread through sewage discharge into watercourses, lakes, and seas. See links to Surfers Against Sewage and Channel 4 below. So, I asked a technician, testing the water, about sewage discharge and regular testing by Severn Trent Water. He told me that there were high levels of raw sewage discharged into the brook, from two sewage treatment plants, after heavy rain and advised me not to let dogs, or children, play in the brook, at such times.

The Covid19 outbreak raised further concerns when I noticed far more families than usual walking along the brook footpath in Lockdown. So, at the end of March I tried to find an answer to the question, “Could sewage discharge into watercourses spread Covid19?”

(Jumping ahead, you'll see that my concern peaked on reading that research was starting on testing for Covid19 spread through sewage. If it can be detected in sewage - can it contaminate, as other pathogens clearly can?)

I emailed and telephoned Severn Trent, Environmental Health and Public Health England and, as Mark Fletcher MP did later, received unhelpfully standard, or no replies, from all. Two District Councillors passed on my email and one advised me not to let my dogs in the water. So, I did some more rudimentary research and it became obvious, as a layman, that this could be a potential national and international issue around the spread of Covid19, on top of the, well established, serious concern about Water Companies, legally, discharging sewage into watercourses. I wrote to friends, I knew had knowledge, or interest, in the issue and floated the issue on twitter (all puns intended) The best of the information I have found, so far, is in the Research section and the main tweets are in The Appendix.

RESEARCH: (NB my underlining for key phrases)

1. A good initial source of information about the dangers of sewage discharge generally and Covid19 specifically, was from Surfers Against Sewage. They state here https://www.sas.org.uk/news/campaigns/what-is-the-risks-of-covid-19-transmission-from-sewage-discharge/

“Given the new status of COVID-19, the transmission risk from an infected person’s faeces and through sewage systems is not yet known, but a better understanding can be achieved looking at other coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)[2].

Can I catch COVID-19 if I enter the sea?
COVID-19 has been detected in the faeces of infected patients. However, the amount that is shed, how long it is shed, and whether it is infectious in the stool itself is not yet known. However, given COVID-19 is likely to behave like other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, our understanding of these viruses suggests that the risk is low. So far, there have been no reports of faecal-oral transmission of COVID-19[3].


[1] Heymann, D. L & Shindo, N 2020, COVID-19: What is next for public health?, The Lancet, viewed 19 March 2020, .
[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020, Water Transmission and COVID-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viewed 19 March 2020, < https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/water.html>.[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020, Water Transmission and COVID-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viewed 19 March 2020, < https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/water.html>.
[4] World Health Organization & UNICEF 2020, Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the COVID-19 virus, viewed 19 March 2020, <https://apps.who.int/iris/rest/bitstreams/1272446/retrieve>.
[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020, Water Transmission and COVID-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viewed 19 March 2020, < https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/water.html>.
[6] World Health Organization & UNICEF 2020, Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the COVID-19 virus, viewed 19 March 2020, <https://apps.who.int/iris/rest/bitstreams/1272446/retrieve>.

2. I saw that Channel 4 News had covered sewage discharge earlier. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1AmHDByodI&feature=youtu.be Whilst there was an agreement that sewage is a health risk, it seemed that politically and systemically, despite warnings, as a nation, we are far too accepting of this dangerous and filthy practice. There are many proven high risks from sewage in our rivers lakes and seas. It was clear to me that the Coronavirus Pandemic raised, potentially, another, possibly more serious risk. As Channel 4 stated this is, “The Water Boards ‘ dirty little secret”

3. In early April I began to read that several countries were beginning to test sewage in order to trace the spread of Covid19. That led me to hypothesise, “if it can be traced can it not be spread too?” (See the Dutch example and note there are emerging examples in UK at Newcastle and Bangor Universities) https://amp.dw.com/en/coronavirus-in-sewage-foreshadowed-outbreak-in-dutch-city/a-52972980

For example a BBC News report on 5th May focussed on Bangor University: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/uk-wales-52544247

4. I made contact with David Graham, Professor of Ecosytems Engineering at Newcastle University, who is also investigating testing foir Covid19 spread in sewage. He replied,

“Coronavirus are highly unstable in water, including sewage. There has never been detection of infective virus in wastewater, although virus debris can be detected on occasion. That debris is what one can detect, although it is not intact virus. Therefore, your concern is not warranted. We are doing background monitoring, but this is for completeness……. Exposure is NOT the same as risk. Virus in sewage is fragmented and dead. Droplets can contain virus fragments, but the combination of events that could cause transmission is so rare that it (is) not a practical concern.”

5. The World Health Organisation seems, similarly, unworried:

“Safely managing wastewater and faecal waste
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus has been transmitted via sewerage systems with or without wastewater treatment. Further, there is no evidence that sewage or wastewater treatment workers contracted the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is caused by another type of coronavirus that caused a large outbreak of acute respiratory illness in 2003”


The same paper does outline detailed procedures for dealing with the high risk of "fresh human waste" in hospitals etc.

6. I was somewhat reassured, about the sewage discharge concern but kept remembering two lessons from history:

· Beware of the negative hypothesis: “there is no evidence, therefore, there can be no problem”.
· Don’t underestimate ignorance, plus a determination to minimise reputational damage… it often leads to suppression of critical information and censorship. The chilling, apposite, example was when our intelligent antecedents dug wells next to sewers unaware that it caused cholera. When Florence Nightingale uncovered this and wrote a damning, self-critical, report it was embargoed by the Government of the day.

7. Then, on 6th May, Richard Quilliam Professor of Environment and Health, at Sterling University, alongside Professor Manfred Weidmann, Dr Vanessa Moresco, Heather Purshouse, Dr Zoe O'Hara, and Dr David Oliver, was reported in the Scotsman and Independent Paper as publishing serious concerns about the lack research into Covid19 being transmitted via sewage, stating:

"there is a significant risk of “widespread” distribution of the coronavirus through sewers because most patients are either asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms and remain at home.”

News Report here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-sewage-spread-research-professor-richard-quilliam-wastewater-sewers-a9501386.html?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter&fbclid=IwAR3dmSImlYkXvHEXlBk4lVGSpncq4GSkPOgD30NzHjxMVk8F3SmFZ2N6MS0#Echobox=1588775214

Richard Quilliam’s paper, makes very interesting reading. It has a strong and powerful bibliography. here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412020312873

8. At the time of writing, reports are beginning to appear, about the need to find out more and questions are being raised in the press and more publicly, by myself and others. I am indebted to (you) Mark Fletcher MP, for progressing this issue with Ministers. In your reply to my email, you wrote,

“The Covid19 virus being spread through sewage was not a risk that I had personally considered, and I thank you for bringing this to my attention. I would be grateful if you could send me a document of your research and tweets… for me to pass over to the relevant minister for their response.”


To be blunt: If Covid19 can be spread by droplets from a cough, and we know it is, it is reasonable to explore whether it can also be spread in droplets from urine and faeces.

I wrote to those I expected to know and was disturbed to receive no answers, or worse, be fobbed off. It became clear and obvious to me, as layman, there is growing concern that Covid19 spread via sewage must be investigated.

There are good examples of best practice in mitigating the risk of Covid19 spread from “fresh human waste” including the use of PPE by those dealing with it in hospitals and, sadly less so, in Care Homes. There is however no agreement on any practice regarding the discharge of sewage waste, with respect to its potential risk to spread the disease. Indeed, it remains legal, and seemingly acceptable, to discharge waste into UK watercourses and seas, as a matter of course. Like many others, I believe this is unacceptable at any time but particularly so during the Covid19 pandemic, when the implications are demonstrably unknown.

Whilst some scientists state the risk is low, they also state, presumably in support of that conclusion, that there is little evidence. I am wary, even suspicious, when not having evidence is cited as a reason for there not being a problem. History shows us this is not a sensible conclusion. I am no conspiracy theorist, but I do sense a stubborn reluctance to face up scrutiny by almost all I have contacted.

We are in the midst of a deadly World Health Pandemic and the UK’s statistics are not good. We have been told to be alert. I am alert and being so, encourages me to recommend the following URGENT actions:

1. That URGENT research be scheduled, along the lines suggested by Professor Richard Quilliam, to ascertain any level of risk of Covid19 spread through human waste, together with any recommendations for mitigating action by all, but particularly those living and working where human waste is prevalent. This to include:
- a study of “fresh waste” risk in hospitals, care homes and especially urinals in Public Toilets where there is an obvious and considerable splash back of urine.
- a study of ‘sewage waste” risk at treatment plants, discharge points and beyond in our watercourses and sea
- Consideration and recommendations are proposed for any necessary mitigating measures for workers in settings where fresh human waste, or sewage is dealt with and for members of the public exercising in, or nearby, watercourses, lakes and seas.

2. If the risk levels merit it (I accept this will be a balanced decision) that actions are taken to both warn those likely to be exposed to it and to advise them of actions they must take to stay safe and save lives.

3. In the meantime, whilst urgent further work is underway it seems sensible to alert and advise the Public to a potential risk from human waste by:

a. Providing more detailed “wash hands regularly” advice to include cleaning in and around toilets
b. Providing sewage workers with both advice and PPE
c. Holding Water Authorities legally responsible for alerting the public if and when a sewage discharge is being made into a watercourse (NB there are already established risks form several pathogens in our rivers, streams, lakes and seas

4. Monitoring, more effectively, than hitherto, how the Water Companies, Environmental Health, Public Health England (etc?) work together in an open and transparent way to identify, clarify and respond to risks inherent in their practices.

John Pearce

APPENDIX. See initial Twitter thread on @JohnPearce_JP

Text only:

(1st tweet) 11:58 am · 25 Apr 2020·Twitter for iPhone

Serious ‪#Covid19 question:

Can ‪#Coronavirus be transmitted via ‪#Sewage outflow?

This thread charts my failure - so far - to get an answer from ‪#EnvironmentalHealth, ‪#SevernTrent and others. NB If there is a risk it should be publicised (see thread)

(2nd tweet) 12:09 pm · 25 Apr 2020·Twitter for iPhone
My first tweet suggests there is a risk of ‪#Covid19 being spread through ‪#Sewage discharge. We know there are rivers and watercourses where animals and humans swim which have known discharges.

See ‪#channel4news. https://youtu.be/x1AmHDByodI

Should this risk be publicised wider?

900,000 hours of human sewage and rainwater flow into UK rivers in...
Untreated sewage is being released into rivers across England and Wales - perfectly legally - and campaigners are calling it a 'dirty little secret'. (Subscr...

(3rd tweet) 12:18 pm · 25 Apr 2020·Twitter for iPhone

Further evidence that ‪#sewage outflow might be a spread risk for ‪#Covid19 is that several countries, including ‪#Australia, ‪#Netherlands and ‪#UK, are tracing ‪#Coronavirus spread by analysing sewage discharges. One example from many:


(4th tweet) 12:29 pm · 25 Apr 2020·Twitter for iPhone

‪#WHO states “While there is no evidence to date about survival of the ‪#COVID-19 virus in water or ‪#sewage, the virus is likely to become inactivated significantly faster than non-enveloped human enteric viruses with known waterborne transmission” but WHO fails to say there is no risk.

Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19

(5th tweet) 12:37 pm · 25 Apr 2020·Twitter for iPhone

I await more detailed responses about the risk of ‪#COVID19 spreading in ‪#sewage discharge in watercourses from: ‪#SevernTrent ‪#EnvironmentAgency and have alerted ‪#Guardian Investigations and

I hope my concern proves to be misplaced. Meanwhile stay dry!

(6 tweet) 12:52 pm · 25 Apr 2020·Twitter for iPhone

6th tweet exploring risk of ‪#COVID19 being spread through those known watercourses subject to ‪#sewage discharge. There is some evidence
Walkers, dog owners, parents and wild swimmers need to be informed of any risk, as we exercise outdoors in ‪#lockdown