RSPB
Print page

Call for action after new report reveals worrying state of rivers

Last modified: 22 September 2009

Dyfi bridge reflections

Image: The RSPB

Just five of the 6,000 rivers in England and Wales remain in pristine condition, according to new figures published today.

The Environment Agency assessment reveals that just five rivers remain ‘High’ status waterways – all in remote areas of Northumberland and Wales. The report lists 26 per cent of rivers as ‘Good’ status, the required European standard.

This means 74% of rivers are failing – including 117 rivers (2%) which are classified as ‘Bad’ making them among the worst in Europe. Amongst these are the Stour estuary and a stretch of the river Trent.

Tougher action needed

The Our Rivers campaign – backed by a coalition of the RSPB, WWF UK, the Association of Rivers Trusts and the Angling Trust – has reacted to the report by calling for tougher action to protect waterways and ensure they remain clean and healthy for the benefit of wildlife.

'There is no doubt that the millions of pounds invested by the water industry over the past two decades has brought real improvements to our rivers and coasts,' said RSPB director of conservation Mark Avery.

'But these alarming figures really show just how far we have to go to tackle the problems faced by our rivers. There are just five rivers in pristine condition left and they are all in some of the least densely populated corners of the country.

'Elsewhere we are having a devastating impact on our waterways. Pollution from agriculture, over abstraction and poor town planning are all factors threatening what is an extremely important habitat for wildlife. Otters, water voles, kingfishers and more than 30 species of fish all rely on our rivers and we have a responsibility to keep them healthy and clean.

There are just five rivers in pristine condition left and they are all in some of the least densely populated corners of the country

'This report should serve as a wake up call for the Government to do more to protect rivers. We will be examining the Environment Agency’s proposals for action being released today and challenging Government to ensure the final plans have a far reaching effect on the problems affecting our rivers, lakes and coasts.'

Tom Le Quesne, WWF freshwater policy advisor, said: 'Unless we take action now to stop the decline in the health of our rivers then we are storing up a raft of problems for the future. We are heavily reliant on this precious resource and our legislation and actions must deliver a positive improvement to its state.'

Caring for our rivers

The release of these figures coincides with the Environment Agency setting out its plan for how it will care for rivers in England and Wales over the next decade – and achieve the new European Water Framework Directive which requires the UK to bring all of its rivers up to ‘Good’ status, or above, by 2015.

While the plans list hundreds of actions, many of which reflect long-standing commitments to improve the environment, disappointingly only 5% more rivers will be at ‘Good’ status by 2015. Environment minister Hilary Benn now has three months to decide whether this is really ambitious enough.

The report on the environmental status of rivers is the result of a huge amount of work by Environment Agency staff. It is the first time factors such as fish and plant life have been taken into account giving the fullest ever indication of the ecological state of our waterways.

The Our Rivers campaign is the largest river action campaign ever seen in the UK and was launched in April this year. Its website features an interactive map of the UK’s rivers and the environmental problems they face.

How you can help

Let us introduce you to some amazing wildlife at one of our date with nature events across the UK

Back to basics

Related websites

Share this