Just when you thought it wasn’t safe, or at least hygienic, to go back in the water, one of the biggest clean-up campaigns in the history of the River Thames has just got under way.

This week the Essex explorer and adventurer Paul Rose launched the Cleaner Thames Campaign, with the simple aim of keeping rubbish out of the river.

“We have to raise awareness of the harm rubbish does in the tidal Thames, and the straightforward things everyone can do to stop it getting there in the first place,”

says Paul.

Paul’s message concerns anyone living in south Essex.

“If rubbish isn’t disposed of in the proper way, it is likely to find itself, one way or another, to the Thames,” he says. “And from there, it ends up in the stomachs of seals, fish and other marine life.”

Nasty things are happening in the Estuary. A recent survey of waters off Southend (conducted by the University of London’s School of Biological Sciences) looked at two species of fish, flounder and smelt – 75 per cent of the fish had plastic in their guts.

Plastic that does not end up inside fish and seals will eventually drift out into the open sea, where it forms huge islands of floating garbage, some of them whole square miles in surface area.

Yet as Paul says, the solution could hardly be simpler. “If everybody just bagged up their plastic rubbish – their water bottles, their food wrappers, their cartons, their cotton swabs – the problem would go away overnight.”

The other environmental scourge of the Thames Estuary is raw sewage – 39 million tonnes of untreated poo and other even more toe-curling deposits pour into the river every year. This problem is being dealt with separately by the Thames Tideway scheme.

A 23-mile sewage tunnel will carry the waste to the Abbey Mills pumping station, and from there to Beckton sewage works.

Not for the first time, Essex, and Essex men, are playing a leading role in cleaning up the river. Although Abbey Mills and Beckton have now been absorbed into Greater London, they are old Essex towns. The works were built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the Victorian engineer who provided the answer to the Thames’ first great environmental disaster, known as the Great Stink of London.

Paul Rose, born and raised near the Thames shoreline in Rainham, has led a life of high adventure, yet says that nothing in his career has been more important than playing white knight to the Thames.

In terms of adrenalin, there has been quite a deal of competition in his life. After leaving school at 16, he worked on the production line at Ford, Dagenham, before training as a diver and mountain guide.

He has tutored US Navy Seals in diving, pioneered a new route up Mount Everest, and led scientists deep into the heart of Antarctica. He says the scariest of many near-death ventures was “having an iceberg the size of Hyde Park land on top of me.”

Paul became fully aware of the effects of pollution on rivers when he worked as a diver in the USA, installing and maintaining huge sluice gates at a steel works. The gates were an attempt to keep poisonous materials from the plant out of the water supply.

Now, at 63, he has returned to his home river. “I love the Thames,” said Paul. “I’m an Essex boy who grew up with the river as part of my childhood. Now I’ve come back to help raise awareness of its needs.”