A couple have received an award for finding clean sources of water for villages in Africa using an ancient art – dowsing.

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Over six years, John and Liz Baines, from Scole, near Diss, took part in a Rotary Club campaign to provide clean water for poor communities in Zambia. Using their dowsing skills, they worked in a team which established 100 wells in villages where disease was rife because of contaminated water supplies.

Now they have been recognised for their lifesaving efforts (locating almost 30 wells themselves) by receiving the prestigious Roy Talbot Award from the British Society of Dowsers because of their work in Africa from 2006-11.

Mr Baines, 87, a retired chartered surveyor who has been dowsing for more than 40 years, said he was introduced to the art through geologists and farmers he met, but one experience in particular set him thinking.

“I was asked to go and look at a house a chap wanted to buy and I said, ‘Don’t take it, there’s water running underneath.’ There was water running down a nearby hill and it was obviously flowing somewhere under the property.

“He got a couple of copper dowsing rods out and said, ‘You’re right.’ Then he put a line of rods into the ground outside, directing the water either side of the house. I couldn’t understand why, but it worked.”

Seeing a connection with the bow wave of a boat (Mr Baines served in the Navy), he was hooked and started to find out more about this traditional skill which, he said, was used by the Romans to find minerals and the Phoenecians to find tin and probably dated back to early civilization.

Then, a few years ago the Rotary Club decided to focus on helping poor communities to access clean water and Mr and Mrs Baines, along with fellow Rotarian Richard Pither, who was then president of the Diss club, linked up with a charity called Village Water and headed out to Zambia in 2006.

Mrs Baines, a retired lawyer who has been dowsing for about 20 years, said: “When we first got there it was quite an eye-opener. The children had diarrhoea and eye infections because of the poor sanitation and contaminated water.

“The water table in Zambia is quite near the surface, but the trick is to find the right location, near the village, but not affected by the latrines.

“They used to just dig a hole in the ground and scoop out the water, but the water in these scoop holes was very contaminated.”

Mr Baines said: “We look for the best place to sink a well, ascertain what depth they need to go down and what the quality of the water is likely to be.”

Local research and a good knowledge of geology were important, he explained, but dowsing helped to pinpoint the best site.

First, he assesses the lie of the land, then uses copper rods to dowse for water courses and tributaries (a water flow of 10 gallons an hour is the minimum; at least 20 if water is also needed for irrigation), and a pendulum to check its depth and quality (including mineral content).

Mrs Baines added: “We dowse for minerals because, for example, one village had a well but they wouldn’t use it because there was too much iron in the water, so we found them a source away from heavy iron deposits.”

Once a good spot was found, a concrete ring was sunk around it and then local workers dug out the middle until they hit water, the well was finished off and it was ready for use.

Mrs Baines added: “The people were so friendly and welcoming. When we first arrived, you could see the huge difference in the quality of life and incidents of illness between the villages with wells and those without.”

As part of the project, health visitors also went into the villages to teach hygiene and sanitation.

Asked how dowsing worked, Mr Baines said: “I can’t explain it – it just works. But you have to be open minded and, like any skill, practise.”

If you would like to find out more, call Anne-Marie Clark, of the Society of Dowsers, Diss and District, on 01953 887424 or email ivan@ivanclark.orangehome.co.uk

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