Save the Wye
August 2023,  Environment,  EXTRA,  FEATURES,  Features

The Goddess of the Wye

Awe, reverence and joy – this is what puppeteer and activist Kim Kaos has brought to the Save the Wye campaign through his latest creation, a figure of hope for cleaner waters. By Abigail Whyte

“The Goddess of the Wye has come ashore, and she is, quite rightly, enraged.”

Professional puppeteer Kim Kaos is telling me about his latest creation – a 10ft- (3m) high puppet of blue and green, with watchful eyes and water-weed for hair. “She’s pissed off, you know?” Kim tells me. “She’s come out of the water demanding who did this? Who’s been shitting in my river?”

We’re walking in the meadows surrounding the local Steiner school both our children attend. It’s just before school pick-up, and Kim has taken time out of his busy schedule of performing with his Goddess of the Wye, appearing at events highlighting the river’s recent demise.

A shocking decline

The River Wye made headlines in 2020 when photos showed a stretch of the water looking a luminous green, overcome by algal blooms that starve the river of oxygen. In May this year, Natural England officially downgraded the status of the river to “unfavourable – declining.” Scientists from Lancaster University say the pollution is caused by manure from livestock – including roughly 24 million chickens – when it is spread on land as fertiliser.

Save the Wye
© Squiff Creative Media

Thanks to the dedication of citizen scientists and local campaigners like Kim Kaos and Angela Jones (pictured above), the plight of the Wye continues to be at the forefront of people’s minds, stirring them into action to save the ‘nation’s favourite river’ from ecological death.

“My home is right on the riverbank,” Kim says. “Every day I see the river and it’s very evident there’s been a massive decline in its health. When you see something you love being killed in front of you, it’s impossible not to act.”

Putting a face to a crisis

Alongside working with Extinction Rebellion and Dirty Water, Kim has been a prominent activist with Save The Wye, which makes full use of Kim’s artistic expertise. For previous Wye campaigns his creations have included a giant egg box and a giant toilet. This summer, he ventured something rather different.

“We knew we wanted to make a really big puppet that was impactful and very visible at large events,” Kim explains. “When things don’t have faces, we have real problems relating to them. A river is such a big thing – it’s hard for people to relate to the whole of it, so to give it a face is useful.”

Harnessing the creativity of local volunteers, Kim used recycled, salvaged and repurposed materials to create the Goddess, with her core made from willow and her water-crowfoot hair finger-knitted by WI groups and schoolchildren.

“A lot of people had input into her creation, which really stirred the magic,” Kim tells me excitedly.

A moment of reverence

The magic heightened when the Goddess took her first steps along the riverbank, with spectators and campaigners awed by her size and presence. Kim tells me about a special impromptu moment that occurred at an event the previous week, when there was a quiet interlude after the parade and campaigners started coming forward one-by-one to be blessed by her.

“It was just incredibly powerful,” Kim says. “These campaigners have been putting so much time, effort and love into saving the river. For them to meet the Goddess, it was like mummy turning up and saying ‘You’re doing really good.'”

“And it’s important to have moments of reverence and ritual like this in a campaign, when it can often feel like being locked in battle,” Kim continues. “These rituals are important parts of our society that we’ve moved beyond and neglected. There’s a real role for the Goddess for tapping into that.”

International to local artist

Kim’s creative expertise comes from 25 years of working as a street performer and puppeteer. It’s a role that has taken him all over the world, but in recent years, international travel is an aspect of his work he has felt the need to reign in.

“The world has changed,” Kim tells me. “I used to go abroad for my work but I can’t justify that anymore. So recently, it’s been about trying to work more locally. To be the change you want to see. The only way to treat an emergency as an emergency is to stop pretending that you can do business as usual.”

Since deciding to work locally as an artist-activist, Kim has joined Patreon, a membership platform that allows creators to earn money based on their projects.

“This supports me to directly support all of these different campaigns,” Kim says. “And these groups like Save the Wye need support and skills, because they’re going up against companies that have billions of pounds worth of resources.”  

“But ultimately, when people come together and work for free, for love, it’s very powerful,” Kim continues, with a childlike twinkle in his eye. “And when creativity comes into these actions – it’s playtime.”

Find out more about the Save the Wye campaign at You can support Kim Kaos’ work at and learn more about his projects at

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.