The 10 Spookiest Facts About Rivers

Emily Cooper


Halloween is the spookiest time of the year—but there's some pretty terrifying stuff happening to our rivers all year long. Our terrifying facts about rivers will leave you shaking in your waders...
  1. 40% of all rivers in England and Wales are polluted with sewage.

Many people don’t realise that sewage is released directly into our rivers on a relatively frequent basis. During periods of high rain, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) release untreated sewage into rivers and streams. This prevents our homes from flooding, but has devastating side effects. Following these releases, the ecosystem can verge on collapse.
  1. Freshwater species have seen an 83% decline since 1970

This is faster than the decline of species in any other type of habitat. If we don’t intervene, we could stand to lose a huge number of intrinsically, ecologically and economically valuable species. Even losing just one species can set off a chain effect of other losses – scary, right?
  1. Hundreds of sites in rivers around the are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics

A recent study has discovered that the concentration of antibiotics in some rivers exceed ‘safe’ levels by up to 300 times. Antibiotics can enter waterways through both human and animal waste, as well as leaks in wastewater treatment and manufacturing facilities. As these drugs begin to accumulate, they can contribute to the growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance, as well as negatively impacting wildlife.
  1. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish

If we carry on the way we are, our oceans will be more populated with plastic than they are with fish. A lot of this plastic is transported to the ocean by polluted rivers–so we all need to work together to clean up our act (literally!). If we start to clean up our rivers and riverbanks, we could make a huge dent in ocean pollution while making our rivers healthier in the process.
  1. Globally, wetland extent is estimated to have declined by more than 50% since 1900

Wetlands are incredibly important habitats. They are home to a huge number of rare and common species, making them hotspots for biodiversity. In a climate crisis, their disappearance is doubly worrying; they are one of the greatest carbon sinks on the planet. In other words, wetlands draw down polluting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their soil, reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. When we lose wetlands, we also add the carbon they stored back to the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.
  1. Since 1970, there has been a 70% in the numbers of invasive alien species across 21 countries

Increasing tourism and trade have had the unfortunate side effect of introducing species beyond their native range. When this happens, it’s possible that this species will become invasive in its new habitat, causing harm to local flora and fauna. In some cases, this can even lead to the extinction of native species. Rivers and other freshwater habitats are particularly susceptible to invasive species, which can have terrible effects for the ecosystem.
  1. 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped into the world’s waters annually.

That’s 300-400 million tonnes of waste polluting our rivers and seas every year. How can we expect wildlife to survive in a toxic cocktail of chemicals? If we wouldn’t drink it, we shouldn’t expect them to live in it.
  1. Only 1% of the rivers in England, Scotland and Wales are free of artificial barriers.

Barriers prevent rivers acting in the way nature intended. Fish are prevented from migrating; sediment accumulates in unnatural patterns; flooding can worsen; and water temperature can change. This can have a terrible effect on ecosystem function, reducing biodiversity and the delivery of ecosystem services.
  1. Less than one in five rivers in England and Wales are classed as in good ecological health

Rivers are like the veins of our countryside, yet so few of them are healthy. They feed reservoirs which supply our drinking water; house huge amounts of biodiversity, vital to the functioning of different ecosystems; facilitate the migration of fish which we rely on for food; and provide a place for us all to immerse ourselves in nature.
  • A third of water taken from our rivers is wasted

Through the combined impact of leaks, treatment losses, and inefficient home use, a third of the water we abstract from rivers is lost. If you've seen the photos of our dried-up chalk streams, you'll know why this is such a huge problem.

How you can help

If you've been left feeling a little rattled by these terrifying facts about rivers, fear not. Our local Trusts are out on the ground every day, working their hardest to protect and improve our rivers - but they need your help!
  • Donate to help support vital conservation projects
  • Fundraise to generate funds for our work
  • Volunteer and make a practical difference to your local river
With your help, we can turn these facts about rivers into scary stories of the past.
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