Following a catastrophic fish kill linked to a pollution spill on the River Lagan, The Rivers Trust is urgently calling for a clearer and better-funded strategy to protect local waterways.
All-Ireland Director of The Rivers Trust, Mark Horton said: “The polluted stretch of river at Thornyford Bridge, Dromore, is known for its wild brown trout population and it is devastating to see hundreds of these fish floating dead on the surface of the water.
“Pollution events like these almost instantly turn a healthy river into a dead zone which can impact fish and wildlife populations for decades afterwards. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. It is vitally important these events are taken seriously and more needs to be done at all levels to protect our rivers because we rely on them for our drinking water and much more.
“Because the damage happens underwater and therefore out of sight of the public, often the seriousness of these incidents is not really appreciated. But this is the equivalent of burning down a forest both in terms of environmental damage and the length of time it will take the delicate river ecosystem to recover.”
The Rivers Trust is calling for urgent action and a more joined-up strategy between stakeholders in government departments, statutory bodies, detection and enforcement agencies and business and industry to work together with a carrot and stick approach to protect waterways.
“We can’t just keep throwing our hands up in horror every time there is a pollution incident and fish kill and just hoping it doesn’t happen again. There needs to be a better strategy and more education to help people understand and therefore better value our rivers and prevent pollution,” Mark said.
“The situation is fast deteriorating and needs urgent intervention and a multi-agency approach. Just four years ago, over 150 rivers, lakes and coastal waters in Northern Ireland were recognised for good overall status. Worryingly, the Water Framework Directive Statistics Report released by DAERA last December concluded that no local rivers achieved a good or high overall status. We are collectively failing our rivers and more needs to be done to reverse the damage that’s already been done and start improving water quality.
“We want to see polluters held to account with fines appropriate to the level of damage caused. These pollution incidents can impact a waterway and its fish and wildlife populations for decades and can cost the river economy millions of pounds and that should be reflected in the fines and act as a financial deterrent. We are also calling on our local government to ring-fence the money collected in fines and invest it back into supporting the health of our rivers.
“But we also want people who do care about their river and want to protect it to be rewarded with incentives and support when they use water-friendly practices. We want the public to love their local river and be guardians of its health by training with us to become citizen scientists and supporting the work of The Rivers Trust.
“Everyone has a role to play when it comes to protecting rivers. Prevention is always better than cure. Let’s work together for the sake of our precious rivers.”