Microplastics, car tyre particles, pesticides and wet wipes are just a few of the toxic ingredients contributing to our ‘chemical cocktail’ rivers, MPs have said. Immense amounts of pollution from sewage discharges, agricultural run-off and chemicals are destroying our delicate river ecosystems, threatening ocean recovery, and jeopardising the health of over 4.3 million people who swim in the UK’s freshwater fortnightly.
The warnings are stark – only 14% of UK rivers currently meet ‘good ecological status’, not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination, and rising pollution levels place 10% of freshwater and wetland species at risk of extinction, according to The Wildlife Trusts.
However, it’s difficult to get a clear understanding of our river’s health due to outdated, underfunded, and inadequate monitoring. Budget cuts to the Environment Agency have hampered the ability to monitor water quality in rivers, nor detect permit breaches and pollution incidents from the water and agricultural industry. The Environmental Audit Committee heard that, until the passing of the Environment Act in 2021, there had been a lack of political will to improve water quality, with successive governments, water companies and regulators seemingly turning a blind eye to antiquated practices of dumping sewage and other pollutants in rivers.
Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said: “Rivers are the arteries of nature and must be protected. Our inquiry has uncovered multiple failures in the monitoring, governance and enforcement on water quality. For too long, the Government, regulators and the water industry have allowed a Victorian sewerage system to buckle under increasing pressure.”