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Press Release: Spending Review 2021

River Action welcomes Spending Review acknowledgement of need to tackle river pollution; criticises inadequate funding allocated

27.10.21: River Action welcomes the inclusion in today’s Spending Review of ‘tackling nutrient pollution in rivers and streams’ as a highlighted priority for Defra spending over the next three years. However, the group criticises the inadequate scale of funding pledged and the Government’s failure to take this opportunity to address the collapse of environmental protection.

The Spending Review 2021, published today, states that the departmental settlement for Defra includes more than £250 million in public investment over three years to include implementing the Environment Bill, supporting 30-by-30 protected area targets, expanding the Species Recovery Programme and ‘tackling nutrient pollution in rivers and streams’. No further detail is available at this stage as to how that £250 million will be broken down by year or by topic.

Charles Watson, founder and Chair of River Action said: “The fact that every single river in England is polluted beyond legal limits is hugely embarrassing, particularly ahead of the UK’s hosting of a major global environmental conference. It is certainly encouraging that the Government has recognised the level of public outrage around the atrocious state of our rivers and acknowledged that tackling the nutrient pollution in our rivers and streams must be a priority for Defra spending over the next three years. However, our rivers are in crisis and there is absolutely no way that a slice of a total spend of £250 million across three years can deliver anything near sufficient resources to save them.”

“We will be seeking urgent clarification from the department as to how much of this £250 million will be spent on tackling river pollution, how this will be spent, and whether today’s departmental spending uplift will include any increase to the grant allocated for monitoring, enforcement and incident response activities by the Environment Agency, as called for by River Action. The simple truth is that without restored environmental protection budgets all of the flagship nature recovery schemes announced today will be rendered meaningless.”

In June of this year River Action launched a petition calling on the UK and Welsh Governments to double environmental protection budgets to fight river pollution, which has by now received 53,000 signatures demonstrating the strength of public feeling on this issue.

River Action also made a formal submission last month of a representation to the Treasury calling on the UK Government to commit funding to address the river pollution crisis, including doubling its £40m annual grant-in-aid to the Environment Agency for environmental protection activities, to enable effective monitoring and enforcement to support river protection and restoration and safeguard wider government investments in nature recovery. River Action’s representation highlighted that:

  • Every single river in England is now polluted beyond legal limits, with water companies releasing untreated human waste into our waterways on more than 400,000 occasions in 2020 alone.
  • A major contribution to this dramatic deterioration is the complete collapse in environmental protection in this country – Government funding for the Environment Agency, as the body responsible for the protection and enhancement of the environment, has fallen by more than 70% in real terms over the past decade.
  • As a result of the above, river pollution monitoring and enforcement activities have been decimated: each farm in England can currently expect to be inspected just once every 263 years and prosecutions of river polluters have fallen by 88% in the last decade.


Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns and Policy at Surfers Against Sewage and River Action Advisory Board member said: “The Environment Agency’s work has been held back for many years by a lack of funds. While the reference in today’s Spending Review to ‘tackling nutrient pollution in rivers and streams’ is a welcome recognition of the severity of this issue, the failure to announce commensurate funding indicates that the Government has still not understood just what a threat inadequate environmental protection poses. Quite simply, with barely any monitoring and enforcement in place, polluters will continue to act with impunity knowing that they are extremely unlikely to ever be caught or prosecuted. Money spent on nature recovery will continue to be undermined, and the cost of pollution will continue to be passed on to society. This is not good enough from a government which claims to be an environmental leader.”

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River Action is a registered UK Charity launched in February 2021 that aims to tackle river pollution resulting from UK food supply chains by placing direct pressure on major agricultural suppliers and producers. The group has formed in response to concerning evidence that reveals the declining state of many of the UK’s rivers, including data from the Environment Agency in 2020 that showed for the first time no river in England met quality tests for pollution.

The group was founded and is chaired by Charles Watson and is guided by an Advisory Board which comprises:

  • Francesca Carnibella, Senior Associate, European Climate Foundation (strategic communications team)
  • Ruth Chambers, leads the Greener UK coalition’s work on the Environment Bill and new Office for Environmental Protection
  • Marina Gibson, Ambassador for Angling Trust, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Fishing for Schools and Orvis Fly Fishing
  • Isabella Gornall, Founder and Managing Director, Seahorse Environmental
  • James Macpherson, former Deputy Chief Investment Officer at Blackrock’s Active Equitybusiness
  • George Monbiot, award-winning writer and journalist
  • John Randall, House of Lords Peer
  • Feargal Sharkey, environmental campaigner
  • Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns & Policy at Surfers Against Sewage
  • James Wallace, Chief Executive, Beaver Trust

Find out more at

Contact: Amy Hammond, Seahorse Environmental –

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