Press release: New State of Our Rivers Report reveals alarming scale of freshwater crisis on the Island of Ireland

The Rivers Trust has released its highly anticipated 2024 edition of the State of Our Rivers’ report, offering an in-depth analysis of river health across Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Britain.

Matthew Woodard


This groundbreaking report marks the first time that data from both Northern Ireland and Ireland has been included, reflecting the organisation's expanding presence in both members and project work and commitment to freshwater conservation on the island of Ireland.

The report features a case study on the blue-green algae pollution crisis in Lough Neagh, providing insights into the causes and potential solutions to address this pressing issue.

Published today, the report provides data-based insights into the range of pressing issues affecting water sources and proposes urgent actions to address these challenges.

According to the latest data, the situation across the is at a crisis point, with 100% of river stretches in Northern Ireland failing to meet 'good' overall status, and 12% receiving either poor or bad overall status.

Key statistics from the 450 river stretches surveyed in Northern Ireland include:

  • Ecological Status: Almost 70% failed to meet the requirements for good ecological status, with just 2 stretches reaching high ecological status.
  • Biological Status: Alarmingly, 47% of river stretches failed to achieve good biological status, indicating significant river health concerns.
  • Physico-Chemical Status: 53% were given good or high general Physico-chemical status, which looks at conditions that affect life in the river, such as temperature and nutrient composition.
  • Chemical Status: All rivers surveyed were given a moderate chemical status, with none achieving high status. Toxic chemicals from plastic (PBTs) and the presence of mercury in animal and plant life were common contributors to rivers failing to meet high chemical status.

Additionally, the report delves into the challenges facing groundwater, revealing that 29% of groundwater bodies failed to meet the criteria for 'good' chemical status, largely due to human activities such as leaks from sewerage systems, industrial spills, and agricultural runoff.

Agriculture and land management emerge as significant contributors to nutrient pollution, affecting nearly 300 of the river stretches assessed in Northern Ireland. Other major pollutants stem from sewage, urban runoff, and industrial activities, all exacerbated by increasing water and land temperatures and more frequent severe weather events.

The report also examines the devastating impact of toxic blue-green algae blooms on Lough Neagh in 2023, attributing the crisis to a combination of agricultural runoff, sewage, invasive species, and climate change.

The findings for Ireland are also concerning:

  • Just over half of all river stretches (1,602) achieved good or high ecological health status, while 17% are classified as in poor or bad ecological health.
  • Only 39% of rivers in Ireland have reached good or high biological standards, with 94% of rivers not assessed for chemicals.

Nearly half of all rivers in Ireland are below good ecological health standards, with agriculture emerging as the leading contributor, impacting 63% of stretches of river (1,023 in total).

In light of these findings, Mark Horton, Director of The Rivers Trust All-Ireland, emphasises the urgent need for action, stating: “The data in this report makes it clear that all rivers in Northern Ireland are in a desperate state and subjected to multiple cumulative pressures negatively impacting water quality.

“This is the first time data from Northern Ireland and Ireland has been included in the State of The Rivers report, reflecting increasing local concern for our water environment. This report is an alarm bell to every local community, citizen, politician, landowner, and our business community that we need to take collective action now if we want to improve and protect this vital freshwater resource that we all depend on and avert a deepening environmental and ecological crisis.

“I urge everyone to engage with our new report, contact their political representatives, and join us to take practical action. To make that process easier, we have included in the report a simple tool for generating draft emails to local political representatives, encouraging them to prioritise river protection and restoration efforts.”

Mark concluded: “Despite the dire current state of our rivers, I remain optimistic because, as this report shows, almost all the pressures negatively impacting our rivers, loughs and groundwater are caused by human activities and it is therefore within our gift to reverse some of these impacts.

“With the support of political representatives providing legislation and funding, as a society, we can work together to change behaviours and initiate catchment-scale, nature-based solutions to tackle the pressures polluting our freshwater resources.

“Our 2024 State of Our Rivers report underscores why The Rivers Trust will increase our efforts to create cleaner and healthier rivers across Northern Ireland, with communities empowered to protect and enjoy them.”

For more information and to access the full report, visit

For more information on this story, please email All-Ireland Advocacy & Communications Manager Joanna Braniff on [email protected]

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