Water pollution in UK rivers – BBC News highlight

The BBC News highlighted today that rivers in the UK are becoming increasingly contaminated due to sewage dumping, agricultural activity, and road run-off. It was estimated that only 14% of England’s rivers are in “good condition” – while up to 66% were considered in good condition in Scotland.

Increasing pollution from chemicals (e.g. pharmaceuticals, pesticides, personal care products, etc.), biological pathogens (e.g. bacteria, virus, fungi, etc. ), and plastics (e.g. car tyre particles, wet wipes, microplastics) is resulting in increased costs and intensive treatment to treat water, and also increased damage to natural water environments.

Disease from pollution and deteriorated water quality were attributed to 38% of fish health check failures in Wales and England, according to the Wildlife Trust. This has also been cited as increasing the risk of extinction of freshwater and wetland species.

40% of water pollution in England was attributed to agricultural activity – while the release of untreated sewage (e.g. during storm events) was responsible for 35% of water pollution. This varies across regions – with more heavily urbanised areas under the greatest stress from industrial and sewage pollution.

The new 25-year Environment Plan (approved in November 2021) has cracked down on sewage release into rivers (and other pollution events), but more is needed to monitor and enforce regulations. Budget cuts and lack of investment were cited as major obstacles – while co-operation and stakeholder engagement is also needed to ensure appropriate and sustainable action.

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