Rivers used as open sewers’: all hope is not lost

Emily Cooper


A recent report featured by the BBC highlighted the dire state of rivers in England, with WWF claiming that they are being treated like 'open sewers'. At present, just 14% of rivers in England are considered in 'good' ecological health under the EU Water Framework Directive. The Environment Agency believe that by 2027, they can increase this figure to 75% - however, the WWF stated that this was "very unlikely" to be achieved without more stringent regulations and on-the-ground river conservation work. As a charity whose sole mission is to protect and improve our rivers, we are deeply saddened by their current state. The true scale of the threats facing our rivers is alarming; in between pollution from sewage and plastics, abstraction, industrialisation and urbanisation, many of our rivers are struggling to survive. Some rivers which once blossomed with life now lie barren, a mere shell of their former selves. With news like this dominating the headlines, it's easy to grow despondent about our planet's future. However, it's worth remembering that there are people fighting for our rivers. Hardworking, dedicated people from local Rivers Trusts battle day in, day out to protect rivers across the UK. Last year alone, they...
  • Planted over 220,000 trees
  • Worked with more than 590 schools
  • Opened up more than 320km of river to fish passage
  • Addressed 414 pollution incidents and water quality issues
  • Assisted 128 communities at risk of flooding
  • Worked on over 1000 farms
  • Improved over 550km of river habitat
  • Eased, passed or removed over 80 fish barriers
  • Created or restored over 70 wetlands
We wouldn't have been able to achieve this without the help of people like you. Ordinary people who volunteer, fundraise or donate to our cause are the lifeblood of the Rivers Trust movement. We have already seen huge improvements in rivers that our Trusts and volunteers have worked on, which just goes to show that change is possible. The fight isn't over yet; we still have time to bring our rivers back from the brink. Rivers play a huge part in our lives, whether we notice it or not. They are the veins of our ecosystems, transporting water, flora and fauna across the land. They are havens for rare species, acting as thriving hubs for biodiversity. They provide the water we need to live, bathe and eat. They form an integral part of so many childhood memories, providing a place where children can immerse themselves in nature and develop a deep appreciation of the natural world. Rivers do so many amazing things for us, and it's time for us to give back.

How is sewage getting into our rivers?

During periods of heavy rain, combined sewer overflows are used to prevent homes from flooding. Unfortunately, when this happens, rainwater mixed with raw sewage is discharged into our rivers. This means that everything which gets flushed down the toilet - including non-biodegradable items like wetwipes - ends up polluting the river. Visit our campaign page to find out more.

If you want to save our rivers, PLEASE consider helping our movement.

  • Donate to fund vital river conservation projects
  • Fundraise to support the protection and improvement of our rivers
  • Volunteer to help restore rivers to their former glory

Find out which industries are affecting your river:

To find out more about the EU Water Framework Directive and the issues impacting our rivers, head over to our How Healthy Are Our Rivers blog post.
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