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River Action Spending Review Submission 2021

Earlier this year, River Action UK submitted our Spending Review submission – highlighting the crisis in our rivers and the collapse of of UK environmental protection.

We have called on the UK Government to double Environment Agency funding in the Spending Review 2021 to ensure river protection and enable effective monitoring and enforcement.

On the 27th October 2021, the Government will deliver Budget and Spending Reviews to the Commons.

Please support our petition and help us get to 75k signatures to urge the Government to #giveusbackourrivers.

If you would like to read more, please download our full submission.


Spending Review Submission – Summary

Our rivers are in crisis:

• Every single river in England is now polluted beyond legal limits by nitrates and phosphates resulting from human, agricultural and industrial waste.

• The UK was ranked last in Europe for bathing water quality in 2020.

• In England, water companies released untreated human waste into our waterways on more than 400,000 occasions in 2020 alone.

• More than 10% of the UK’s freshwater species now face extinction – including iconic species such as the Atlantic salmon – with around 60% in decline.

• This crisis is only becoming more urgent in the face of a climate emergency as the growing challenge of securing supplies of clean water is directly linked to our ability to regulate pollution in our waterways.

A major contributor 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.

• The Environment Agency’s ‘Environment and Business’ budget which covers activities including agricultural regulations, waste crime and incident response was cut from £117 million in 2010/11 to £40 million in 2020/21.

• As a result:

  • Each farm in England can now expect to be inspected just once every 263 years.
  • Prosecutions of river polluters have fallen by 88% in the last decade.
  • Just 3.6% of pollution complaints to the EA public hotline result in penalties for the polluter.

• Essentially, polluters can currently dump waste into our rivers, placing the cost on the whole of society, secure in the knowledge they will neither be monitored nor prosecuted.

• The EA has has highlighted in correspondence with Government that these cuts are having “real impacts (e.g. on our ability to protect water quality) for which we and the government are now facing mounting criticism”.

River pollution is an immediate crisis and one which has attracted substantial and growing public outcry over the past year or so, both at the national level and through community and citizen science groups which have formed around the country to protect their local rivers

We are therefore calling on the UK Government to commit adequate funding to address the river pollution crisis, including by doubling its 2020/21 grant-in-aid to the Environment Agency to cover its ‘Environment and Business’ activities for the next financial year and into future years, to ensure that river protection and recovery efforts are supported by effective monitoring and enforcement activity.

At a cost of £40 million per year, the doubling of that grant-in-aid is a small investment which would have immediate and tangible impact for our freshwater ecosystems and the people who use them, would be delivered through existing agencies and structures, and would command huge public support (as evidenced by the 50,000 signatures which River Action’s petition on this topic has secured in just three months).

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