World Environment Day: George Cook

Emily Cooper


This World Environment Day, we're celebrating the role rivers play in the functioning of our wider environment. Today, we hear from George Cook. If you have ever found joy or peace on the banks of a river, please do consider making a donation. With your help, we can make our dream a reality: wild, healthy, natural rivers valued by all.

On a scorching hot day in late May, my girlfriend and I set off, sunscreen on our faces and binoculars around our necks, to walk to nature trail along the banks of the River Avon. We were both excited to spend a day outside enjoying the river and its many inhabitants- just last month, there was great excitement as reports came in of a seal-spotting right here in Bristol!

Rivers are an amazing place to go to see and celebrate biodiversity, which is the theme of this year’s World Environment Day! Taking place on the 5th of June, World Environment Day is run by the United Nations to raise awareness about the many problems facing our natural environment and how we can take action to protect it. Rivers and other wetland habitats are home to a huge variety of species and, although we didn’t get to glimpse a seal on our walk this time, there was still plenty of other life to enjoy! Dragon and damselflies skimmed over the surface, schools of fish gently swam up stream, wrens rattled loudly from the tree tops, swallows and swifts zoomed overhead and butterflies and bees enjoyed the vibrant wildflowers growing on the riverbank.

Although all looked well in the sunshine, unfortunately this isn’t the case! Fresh water species have declined by more than over 80% since 1970, decreasing much faster than any other habitat as a result of increased pollution, climate change, changed management, and habitat loss. Only 14% of rivers in the UK are of a good ecological status and, unfortunately, the River Avon isn’t one of these. I was also alarmed to find out one of the reasons for this is continuous sewage discharge into the river! I can only imagine how much more wildlife I would have been able to enjoy on my walk if we could improve its ecological status. If we want to be able to celebrate biodiversity around our rivers in the future, something has to change.

Rivers are important to celebrate on World Environment day for more reasons that just their biodiversity. We all rely on rivers for water, either for drinking or to water crops, and as a crucial flood defence. They also offer recreational enjoyment that we all benefit from- on the day of our sunny walk we weren’t alone on the trail as many people had come to walk dogs, paddle, bird watch or just sit and enjoy the calmness and tranquillity of the river (being outdoors is great for both improving our physical and mental health! )

On this World Environment Day, I encourage you to enjoy local environments near you. Perhaps head down to your nearest river and celebrate the huge variety of species that live there and think about how we can all do more to protect them.


This article has been supported by the NSR Interreg project, WaterCoG.

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