New figures reveal biggest threats to rivers in England and Wales

Posted: Thursday 19th November 2009

Over use of fertilisers, demand for drinking water and poor town planning are putting our river wildlife in danger, new figures reveal.

Anglers, conservationists and river enthusiasts have called on the Government to take action after a new survey exposed the top three threats to waterways in England and Wales.

Earlier this year the RSPB, the WWF, the Angling Trust and the Association of Rivers Trusts joined forces to form the Our Rivers campaign - Feedback from the campaign’s many supporters across the UK in the six months since it launched indicate that the three biggest threats to rivers are: Chemical and sediment pollution from agriculture, over abstraction by water companies, and run-off water from urban areas.

The results follow two alarming stories which have gained public attention in recent weeks - an Environment Agency report which revealed that three quarters of rivers in England and Wales are failing European targets, followed just days later by a major cyanide pollution incident on the River Trent which caused the death of thousands of fish and left local residents, anglers and conservationists fuming.

The new survey findings will heap extra pressure on the Government to take action as they prepare legally binding plans outlining how they will care for the country’s rivers and meet European water quality targets by 2015. Unfortunately, the drafts that have been circulated suggest little new action to tackle pollution from agriculture or urban areas while abstraction pressures could take decades to deal with under the current proposals.

“The information gathered from local people and groups in the first six months of this campaign has been extremely useful, and we are urging the Government to take notice,” said RSPB conservation director Mark Avery.

“Our army of supporters have used their local knowledge to identify the biggest threats to rivers in England and Wales. This makes for alarming reading, but the silver-lining is that our experts know the solutions to these problems – all we need now is for them to be properly implemented.”

Tom Le Quesne, Senior Policy Advisor at the WWF said: “It’s been great to see the campaign picking up pace in the six months since it was launched – there are clearly a lot of people out there who care passionately about their local rivers and the fish, birds and mammals that rely on them for their survival.

“We hope to present a united voice and tell the Government that when it unveils its final plans for rivers in December, they must be tough, robust and do the job properly. We won’t stand for a political fudge on this issue – our precious river wildlife cannot survive if we carry on treating our waterways the way we currently do.”

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust, said: “The millions who go fishing on rivers every year are usually the first to notice when fisheries and insect life decline.

“Often these problems on our rivers are cumulative - many species and fisheries are experiencing a slow death by a thousand cuts. Most of our rivers receive heavy loads of sediment, fertilisers and pesticides, suffer low summer flows and then get hit with intermittent sewage and other pollutants from urban drainage. Our members want to see action plans which are actually implemented to deal with these problems.”

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