wetwipes in gutter

New EA water quality statistics show failure at a national scale

Rebecca Duncan


Alarming new data has revealed that none of England’s rivers are in good overall health.

The latest Water Framework Directive Classification Status data, published by the Environment Agency, shows the state of the country’s rivers throughout 2019 based on ecological and chemical factors. The percentage of rivers with good ecological status remains at 14% from 2016, whilst an increase in the number of chemical pollutants assessed for means that 0% of rivers met good chemical status. Since a river must be considered ‘good’ in both categories to be good overall, none of our waterways meet the criteria. This is the first time we have had a more detailed national picture of the extent of chemical pollution in our rivers and blue spaces. Several chemicals are being measured for the first time, meaning that the number of rivers in bad chemical health has rocketed from 3% to 100%. The ecological data is not much more promising, showing no improvement over the last three years. The Rivers Trust’s Head of Policy, Dr Rob Collins, says: “Whilst the increase in the number of chemicals being monitored and the improvement in methodologies is welcomed, the fact that not a single surface water has achieved good chemical status is a truly damning statistic. "Numerous chemicals, including those that are persistent, bio accumulative and toxic, are now ubiquitous in our aquatic environments. This presents an urgent threat to people and wildlife, and as this pollution moves through our landscapes, it represents a chemical time-bomb which we have detonated for the next generation. It is our responsibility to stop polluting now, and every sector from agriculture to transport has a role to play.” Despite an increase in efforts from civil society and NGOs, such as The Rivers Trust, these results show that we are drastically failing national targets for all rivers to be in good overall health by 2027, and we cannot lose anymore time to stalled reporting, slow change, and failure to protect and restore our environment. Transparency from government and water companies and an accelerated implementation of a genuine Green Recovery is vital. We need much stronger enforcement in holding all polluters to account and accelerated upgrades to storm and sewer systems, as well as a faster transition to regenerative agriculture. The latest data also highlights the importance of a robust monitoring plan for the future of the environment.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?"

Through its work, both on a grassroots and a policy level, The Rivers Trust hopes to play a key role in improving the nation’s river health for generations to come.

Our CEO, Mark Lloyd, says: “These results demonstrate how far we still have to go to restore all our blue spaces to good ecological health. I hope that government takes notice of this lack of/slow progress, along with the huge upsurge in public interest in halting the decline in biodiversity. “In the next budget, we need to see really meaningful investments in nature-based solutions in every river catchment in the country. This must be supported by improving the evidence base for action and in enforcement of environmental regulations. Rivers are the frontline in the battle to save biodiversity and these results tell us that we are retreating and need more reinforcements.” Click here to download the full press release.
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