An Environment Agency annual report into the health status of rivers in England and Wales has shown that while chemical pollutants have fallen slightly, river wildlife has suffered.
The assessment covers both chemical and wildlife components, with the wildlife statistics showing a two per cent drop in the quality of river life. However the chemical component has improved meaning there has been a slight increase in overall river quality of less than one per cent. This means that 72 per cent of rivers in England and Wales are now failing European targets.
Furthermore, just four rivers out of nearly 6,000 assessed remain ‘High’ status waterways of near pristine condition, one less than last year. The Caletwr in North Wales was rated ‘High’ last year but it is now rated as ‘Moderate’.
The figures for rivers show there are 26 per cent in the ‘Good’ category, the required European standard. The report states 56 per cent are classed as ‘Moderate’, 14 per cent are ‘Poor’ and two per cent are ‘Bad’.
The Our Rivers campaign – backed by a coalition of the RSPB, WWF UK, Salmon and Trout Association and the Angling Trust – is calling for more to be done to protect threatened river wildlife such as water voles, brown trout and eels.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust added: “This official report from the Environment Agency demonstrates that the vast majority of our rivers are in moderate or poor condition and that little progress is being made to shift them into good condition. Many of the failures to meet these European standards are because of failing fish populations; anglers are determined to see action at a local and national level to address this situation urgently.”
Ralph Underhill, Our Rivers campaigner, said: “There has been a modest overall improvement which is something we can take heart from. But the results show wildlife is still suffering and we have lost one of our few pristine rivers to the pressures facing many of our rivers today.
“The fact remains that more than 70 per cent of rivers in England and Wales are failing European targets, and not enough is being done to change this. There are small moves in the right direction but the level of ambition needed to protect our river wildlife from the threats of agricultural diffuse pollution, over abstraction and poor town planning is just not there.
“The UK’s environment secretary Caroline Spelman is currently in Nagoya at the world biodiversity summit where delegates are discussing how governments can halt the decline in wildlife by 2020. Improving the health of our rivers is vital if we are to achieve that aim.”
The news comes as people across the country are voting in the final few days in the first Our Rivers awards. A public vote is currently underway to find the best loved river in England and Wales – as well as the worst.
The Wye, The Thames and The Dart are currently in the running for the best river. The Thames is also riding high in the votes in the ‘worst river category’ alongside The Kennet and
The Trent. Voting closes at the end of this month and the results are due to be announced in mid November.
“The response to these awards has been fantastic,” added Mr Underhill. “It really goes to show how much people care about their local rivers.
“We really hope that as well as inspiring the public to think about the threats their rivers face, these awards will show decision makers the strength of opinion out there, and illustrate the need to ensure our waterways are kept healthy and clean for the benefit of wildlife.”
To vote in the awards visit www.ourrivers.org.uk