England’s rivers, lakes and streams “among the worst in Europe”, amid growing concern over sewage and agricultural pollution

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England’s rivers, lakes and streams have some of the lowest water quality in Europe, and ‘drastic action’ is now needed to restore them enough to allow wildlife to thrive, a damning new report has warned. .

Every body of freshwater in England currently does not meet chemical standards and only 16% are classified as “ecologically healthy”, compared to 53% on average in the EU, according to Wildlife and Countryside Link, the largest coalition for the environment and wildlife. in England, made up of 61 organizations.

The report warns that the climate crisis is worsening conditions in England’s “already besieged waters”.

Increasing water use during droughts and flood damage, both of which are becoming more frequent due to the effects of climate change, exacerbate existing problems of overuse, chemical pollution, water waste and plastic pollution, all of which are already the source of water, rivers and bodies of water are deteriorating, according to the authors.

Ali Morse, Head of Water Policy at The Wildlife Trusts, part of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “Nature and society are already paying the price for the overuse and pollution of our waters and our wetlands – wildlife struggles to survive, our rivers are not safe for swimming and playing, and as customers we pay millions to clean the water so it is safe to drink. And that price is going to get even higher as we feel the effects of climate change.

“We face a dangerous future of water shortages, flood damage and the loss of iconic species like the water vole and Atlantic salmon in England. We should all be concerned that none of our rivers, lakes or streams are healthy and that we have one of the worst water qualities in Europe. It’s time for a new vision for English waters, with the right investments, solid pollution prevention and sustainable water use.

The report proposes three key challenges for government. It’s about restoring water and wildlife through large-scale habitat restoration, cleaning up pollution through an effective monitoring and enforcement regime with ambitious goals, and also “rethinking our relationship with water ”, to help make water use more sustainable and to provide better health and well-being.

The research comes as new data from the Environment Agency shows water companies left raw sewage in English waters more than 400,000 times in 2020.

The inability of water companies to treat their wastewater has prompted a complaint to the new Office for Environmental Protection.

The complaint, from Salmon & Trout Conservation, alleges that both Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice, and financial regulator, Ofwat, failed to enforce the law.

Guy Linley-Adams, lawyer for S&TC, said: “As the government bustles about tabling amendments to its own environmental bill and claims to make huge concessions on sewage pollution, the the truth is that he and successive governments have simply failed. use the enforcement powers of the 1991 Water Industry Act to compel water companies to treat wastewater to decent standards.

He added: “There has been an unhealthy conspiracy of silence between the government, OFWAT and the Environment Agency for many years, motivated by the political will to reduce water bills, whatever. it happens, but it has happened to the detriment of the environment. . “

Concerns over UK water quality have risen sharply in recent months.

A scenic stretch of the River Wharfe in Ilkley, Yorkshire, known as a popular spot for swimmers, last month became Britain’s most polluted bathing site, just a year after it was awarded the designation.

In the south-east, the Southern Water company was fined a record £ 90million last month for dumping billions of liters of raw sewage into the waters off North Kent and on the Solent between Southampton and Chichester between 2010 and 2015, as she this year released so much wastewater drains into Chichester harbor, the region is now threatened with ‘environmental disaster’.

On the Welsh-English border, the River Wye, much of which runs through a designated Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty, has deteriorated rapidly, with local media describing the river, which until recently was open, as having become “a murky, mud-riddled waterway.”

According to the Save the Wye action group, there has been a surge in chicken farming in Powys and Herefordshire near the river, producing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chicken waste.

Poultry litter contains high levels of phosphorus, which makes it an effective fertilizer. But when it gets washed out in streams, it causes algal blooms, depriving the river of oxygen and killing aquatic life.

Tuesday, the British government rejected a petition calling for controls on pollution from agriculture in the watersheds of the Wye and Severn rivers, suggesting that the Welsh parliament was solely responsible for both rivers, despite the fact that most of the Severn crosses England and that the Wye itself forms the border between the two countries over a significant part of the river.


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