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‘Total failure’ on English river water quality

“All of the rivers, lakes and streams in England are polluted”, says the Environment Agency.


The figures released recently by the Environment Agency (EA) reveal that none of the river, lakes and streams are classed as in good health in England. The Governments’ target in its 25 Year Environment Plan for 75% of waterbodies in England to be in good condition ahead of 2027 is now widely viewed as all but unachievable.


Raw sewage spilling from thousands of storm overflows and fertiliser and manure flowing off farmland are among the main reasons for the poor quality of water in rivers.

According to the data, England’s rivers and lakes are the least healthy in the UK, with waterbodies in Scotland at 65.7%, rivers in Wales at 46% and 31.3% of rivers in Northern Ireland classed in good health. In 2016, 97% of the surface water bodies passed the chemical pollution test. However, since then new substances have been added to the assessment list. Put simply, the new assessment is more sensitive and has revealed what many have suspected – that 100% of England’s rivers, lakes and waterways are polluted.

This new data come amidst reports that the EA is hamstrung by huge cuts to its budget and a reduction in its water monitoring regime. In a report released by civil society group Unchecked UK in 2019, it was revealed that EA funding fell by 63% between 2009 and 2019, staff numbers by 25%. This loss of capacity is has serious consequences for England’s rivers. In 2019, Greenpeace revealed that the EA’s water quality sampling and sampling points had fallen by nearly 50% since 2013. In 2013 the Agency took water quality samples at 10,797 sites and while that number gradually tapered off over the ensuing years, it dropped to just 5,796 sampling points in 2018 — nearly 40% less than the year before.

In a statement by the Rivers Trust’s Deputy Technical Director, Michelle Walker, says: “The latest assessment showing the sorry state of our rivers highlights the importance of environmental monitoring, and it is really worrying that the Environment Agency and Natural England monitoring budgets have been severely cut recently – how can we identify problems, target cost-effective solutions and monitor improvements if we don’t collect good quality data?”

“Shocking state of English rivers revealed as all of them fail pollution tests”, The Guardian, September 2020

“Every river and lake in England fails pollution test” The Times, September 2020

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