UK rivers ‘being used as open sewers’ by water companies and agricultural industry, charity says

Rivers in the UK are being treated as “open sewers” by water companies and the agricultural industry, it has been claimed. It is also “very unlikely” that targets would be met for 75 per cent of rivers in England to be in a healthy state by 2027, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) warned.

The charity said that the aim was unlikely to be met unless there was tougher regulation and work to restore rivers to a more natural state.

“Our rivers are the lifeblood of the countryside – vital for wildlife and people, as well as our economy,” said Dave Tickner, chief freshwater advisor at the WWF, in comments first reported by the BBC. “As we prepare to leave the EU, the UK Government must fast-track flagship legislation to better protect and restore our waterways and invest in effective monitoring and enforcement to ensure water companies and agricultural industry can no longer use our rivers as open sewers.”
a person riding on the back of a boat in the water: An investigation revealed nearly nine in ten of Britain's rivers are beyond the EU's safe levels of pollution (Photo: Getty)© Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

An investigation revealed nearly nine in ten of Britain’s rivers are beyond the EU’s safe levels of pollution (Photo: Getty)


The WWF added there needed to be a “strong and independent watchdog” to hold the Government to account on the state of the environment.

In its 25-year environment plan, the Government has said it is aiming for three-quarters of the UK’s rivers to be “close to their natural state as soon as is practicable”.

Under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the latest this can happen is by 2027. According to the Environment Agency, only 16 per cent of England’s rivers and lakes currently class as close to their natural state.

‘We are not complacent’

The Environment Agency said its work, combined with £25bn of investment it requires from water companies, meant water quality was now “better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution”.

“To sustain this improvement, we are taking robust enforcement action against those who pollute our waters,” a spokesman said.

“In the last four years we have prosecuted water companies 40 times with fines totalling £33m.

“But we are not complacent. Climate change and population growth are adding to the pressures on water and this is a big challenge for all of us – landowners, regulators, businesses, government and society as a whole.”


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