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Give Us Back Our Rivers!

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Save Our Rivers

The ‘Give Us Back Our Rivers’ campaign calls on the Government for immediate restoration of environmental protection budgets in both England and Wales. The campaign calls for the reinstatement of monitoring, inspection and enforcement capabilities so they can once again protect our rivers as they are supposed to!

What is Happening To Our Rivers?

  • 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.

Why Are Polluters Not Punished?

  • 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 Are River Action Doing?

The UK government has committed to halt and reverse the decline of nature by 2030 both nationally through the Environment Act and on the international stage at the 2022 UN biodiversity summit COP15. We can’t possibly meet these commitments without healthy rivers. Governments must restore the environmental protection budgets of their respective statutory environment agencies so that water quality monitoring and agricultural inspections can be increased significantly and existing regulations are enforced rigorously by the routine prosecution of polluters.

We launched the ‘Double the Dosh’ petition calling for the UK government to double the budgets for environmental regulators so they can do their job in monitoring and holding polluters to account. The total annual cost of doubling environmental protection budgets will be in the region of £60m – the cost of the construction of less than a quarter of a kilometre of HS2.

A massive 65,000 of you signed the petition to ‘Double the Dosh for river protection’. We handed the petition in to Defra and the Treasury in May 2023 demanding immediate action from both departments to adequate resources regulators to enable them to do their job. We await the Government’s response!

In April 2023, we launched the Charter For Rivers, setting out what all political parties need to do to restore our rivers to health for people and nature by 2023 which include calls to adequately fund and resource regulators to hold polluters to account. Supported by over 50 organisation from The Wildlife Trusts and WWF to British Rowing and the The Nature Friendly Farming Network we want all political parties to adopt the Charter into their manifestos in the run up to the next general election.

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