Rivers, streams and freshwater marshes across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are being devastated by diffuse agricultural pollution and sewage, according to a new report.
Although only 14% of England’s rivers meet the criteria for ‘good’ ecological status, 43% of those polled in a new survey believe Britain’s freshwater systems are in good condition.
However, the Troubled Waters report by a coalition of charities, including the RSPB, the National Trust and the Rivers Trust, reveals how even wetlands and protected rivers rich in wildlife are threatened by pollution, while restoration water quality is hampered by inefficient monitoring and enforcement.
Less than half of Welsh rivers are in good ecological condition and 28 of the 45 monitored areas of the River Wye are not meeting targets for controlling phosphorus levels caused by diffuse agricultural pollution. Nonetheless, planning approval continues to be given to intensive poultry farms, with around 20 million chickens currently raised each year in the River Wye watershed.
Only 31% of the water bodies in Northern Ireland are of good or high quality, with 76% of the lakes in the Upper Lough Erne region classified as less than good, in large part due to the washing of fertilizers from the land farming in rivers and streams.
In places, sewage is also putting wildlife-rich sites at risk, with Leighton Moss, the largest reed bed in North West England and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, also home to 30 properties that depend on pits septic and are considered a threat to springs. that feed the marshes.
According to a YouGov poll in the report, 88% of people agreed that Britain’s lakes, rivers and streams were a “national treasure”, but only 10% identified agricultural pollution as the biggest problem for water quality .
Jenna Hegarty, RSPB deputy policy director, said: “It’s no surprise that so many people regard our waterways as a national treasure and revel in the magical sight of otters playing in our streams, dragonflies soaring. like jewels above our lakes and the vibrant flash of kingfishers in flight.
“But nature is in crisis and the incredible freshwater wildlife that people marveled at as they explored our countryside this summer is only a fraction of what should be there. It is disturbing how it has become so normal that our waterways are polluted and contaminated, and that many people do not realize that there is something wrong.
The report calls for an end to wastewater discharges into rivers and harsher fines for polluting water companies, but said there must also be a “systemic change” in the planning system and legally binding targets for biodiversity and freshwater systems.
In addition, law enforcement agencies need much better resources to monitor sites, according to the report.
In England, spending on monitoring protected sites, including freshwater, has increased from around £ 2million in 2010 to £ 700,000 in 2019. Until recently, according to the report, a Average farm in England could expect a visit from an Environmental Agency officer once every 263 years. .
It has been estimated that the cost of an effective application in England would be £ 10million per year.