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Looking after our rivers

  • by JW

“The average farm in England could expect a visit by an Environment Agency Officer once every 263 years.”


Rivers are very much in the news.


The National Trust has just announced another ‘renaturalising’ project:

Working with and for nature: creating new habitat at Cotehele quay | National Trust

Meanwhile, on the River Otter:

Home: Lower Otter Restoration Project

Work starts on £15 million Lower Otter Restoration Project – GOV.UK

Although in spring this year, things had to be put on hold:

Concern for birds sees Lower Otter restoration work at Budleigh postponed

River Otter flood plain work delayed to protect nesting birds – BBC News

The campaign against the project started up in November last year – but seems to have petered out:

Plans to flood part of River Otter sparks opposition from campaign group – Devon Live

Petition · Stop the Lower Otter Restoration Project! ·

Otter Valley.pdf (no longer live)

And on the River Sid, there are thoughts of enhancing its biodiversity:

Helping the Sid River – The Sid


However, things are not progressing uniformly.

The Salmon and Trout Conservation group have lodged a complaint about discharges into England’s rivers:

The office for environmental protection (OEP) is being asked to investigate why water companies have been able to continually fail to meet duties placed on them by law to treat sewage. The secretary of state for the environment, George Eustice, and the financial regulator, Ofwat, had failed to enforce the law, the complaint said.

Lawyers for Salmon and Trout Conservation lodged the complaint with the OEP, whose role is to act as an independent to hold the government and public bodies to their commitments and environmental law. The complaint says water companies have for 30 years had a legal duty – enforceable by the secretary of state and Ofwat – to “effectually drain sewers” and “effectually deal with sewage”.

But the charity said that despite the legal framework, water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters in England more than 400,000 times in 2020, according to Environment Agency data. The spills via combined sewer overflows lasted for 3.1m hours. Yet the overflows are supposed to be used only in extreme weather to relieve pressure in the sewage system.

Government failing to stop sewage discharge into English rivers, says charity | Environment | The Guardian

And a further report shows that matters are really bad:

However, the Troubled Waters report for a coalition of charities, including the RSPB, the National Trust and the Rivers Trust, reveals how even wildlife-rich protected wetlands and rivers are threatened by pollution, while restoring water quality is hampered by a lack of effective monitoring and enforcement…

According to a YouGov poll in the report, 88% of people agreed that Britain’s lakes, rivers and streams were a “national treasure” but just 10% identified agricultural pollution as the biggest issue for water quality.

The report calls for the end to sewage discharge into rivers and tougher fines for polluting water companies, but said there must also be “systemic change” to the planning system and legally binding targets for biodiversity and freshwater systems.In addition, enforcement agencies need much better resources to monitor sites, according to the report.

In England, spending on monitoring protected sites, including freshwater, fell from about £2m in 2010 to £700,000 in 2019. Until recently, the report says, the average farm in England could expect a visit by an Environment Agency Officer once every 263 years.

Pollution is damaging UK rivers more than public thinks, report says | Rivers | The Guardian

‘Troubled waters’: Widespread water pollution devastating wildlife, say charities

With an even more critical and political take on ‘deregulation’:

The raw sewage dumped into the UK’s rivers reveals a broken model – New Statesman


The UK’s water conglomerates counter much of this with press releases – which are published verbatim by the local press:

South West Water welcomes new graduates as part of ambitious target to invest in new talent

South West Water’s new Graduate Management Programme | Sidmouth Herald

Not all their PR work is self-serving:

People urged to wash down paddleboards to protect wildlife | ITV News West Country

Water firms launch £500million plan for reservoirs as climate change advances  | Daily Mail Online

Although financial reports can include a PR spin or two:

South West Water owner Pennon Group announces half-year results