Vote to end river pollution

Vote to end river pollution

Photo credit: Andrew Marshall/Go Wild Landscapes

Harry Kaye explains why we must free our rivers from sewage and agricultural pollution

The State of Our Rivers 2024 report, released by the Rivers Trust, has found that not a single stretch of river in England is in good overall health. Not only this, but the situation has not improved since the previous report was released in 2021.

According to the Government’s own estimates, our rivers will not reach a state of overall good health until 2063 – a staggeringly unambitious commitment. However, if we continue along the current trajectory, even this could become unrealistic.

That is why at BBOWT, as part of our Five Priorities for nature, we are urging candidates from all parties in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to commit to more ambitious targets for the upcoming General Election, to free our rivers from the scourge of sewage and agricultural pollution.

Vote for healthy rivers - Matthew Stanton, Conservation Strategy Director

If we want to see healthy rivers within our lifetime, we need you to do the same.

Across our three counties, we are repeatedly confronted with evidence of the lack of progress on this issue.

Despite promises from water companies to invest in infrastructure, residents are continuing to face raw sewage running through their streets and into their homes.

Despite calls from BBOWT and others to grant bespoke legal protections for chalk streams, Thames Water has continued to allow sewage to pollute these rare habitats, like the River Misbourne near Amersham in Buckinghamshire.

Split level view of the River Itchen, with aquatic plants: Blunt-fruited Water-starwort

England's chalk streams are one of the rarest habitats on earth. Photo by Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

Rather than take responsibility for this crisis, water companies have been pushing to increase bills and face more lenient fines for breaches. By way of reply, the Government has imposed a Growth Duty on Ofwat, which would require regulators to consider the economic growth potential of certain activities above their impact on the environment. The result – Ofwat are now looking to reduce the fines imposed for dumping sewage in our rivers for water companies struggling with their finances.

Not only does this disincentivise water companies to clean up their act, it will invariably result in the burden shifting to the taxpayer to do it for them.

Clearly, not only has the dire situation for our rivers not improved, the Government and private water companies seem set to continue to take us in the wrong direction.

In the midst of a sewage crisis, now is not the time for the Government to go easy on those that have done so much to contribute to this situation and done so little to avert or resolve it.

Rivers sustain the natural environment, wildlife and people in equal measure. The next UK Government should therefore make the protection of our rivers a priority and enforce the law to hold polluters accountable.

Make sure that your local candidate is committed to making this a reality, and whatever way you vote in the upcoming General Election, remember to vote for nature.