In 2021, River Action launched a new ‘Give Us Back Our Rivers’ campaign with a petition calling for immediate restoration of environmental protection budgets in both England and Wales. Calling to reinstate monitoring, inspection and enforcement capabilities so they can once again protect our rivers as they are supposed to!
Our rivers are flooded repeatedly with human sewage. In England, water companies released untreated human waste directly into our waterways for a total of more than three million hours in 2020 alone; in Wales last year, there were 100,000 sewage spills into rivers from more than 2000 plants spread across the country.
Agricultural pollution is also rampant: vast quantities of animal slurry and more than three million tons of precious and irreplaceable topsoil are washed into our rivers each year. Wales has averaged three agricultural pollution incidents per week over the past three years.
10% of our river species face extinction, including the Atlantic salmon and European eel, and 60% are in decline.
What is happening to those responsible for pollution?
Polluters responsible for causing this damage can carry on doing so secure in the knowledge that they are unlikely ever to be inspected – and almost never fined:
In England, court actions against polluters fell by 98% from 235 in 2002 to just three in 2020 and prosecutions of polluting businesses have fallen by 88% in the last decade. – Not one penalty has been enforced against agricultural polluters since the introduction of the 2018 Farming Rules for Water, despite hundreds of proven cases.
– Just 3.6% of pollution complaints to the Environment Agency’s public hotline result in penalties for those responsible.
– AND the true scale of illegal sewage discharge is estimated to be much higher than shown in official statistics, according to a recent BBC Panorama episode….
In Wales, there are also countless examples of failure to impose sanctions. For example, a plant on the River Teifi avoided prosecution for a 2018 slurry spill that polluted the river and killed 18,000 fish.
The same picture emerges in both England and Wales: Government agencies tasked with water quality and protection of the natural environment have had their funding slashed over the last decade.
In England, each farm can expect to be inspected only once every 263 years as agricultural enforcement monitoring has been halved in the past decade. A recent FOI request confirmed that the total annual budget in 2019/20 to inspect the country’s 120,000+ farms was just £0.32 million, equating to just 0.65 staff in each of the EA’s 14 regions
Monitoring of river water quality has also been cut in half over the last decade, resulting in much of the pollution caused by sewage and agriculture going unrecorded.
What Can You Do About This?
Sign the petition to call on the Government to properly fund environmental protection and give us back our rivers!