UK Rivers Run Cleaner but Spoiled by Rubbish

LONDON, United Kingdom, November 5, 2001 (ENS) - Rivers and canals in England and Wales are cleaner than they have been since before the Industrial Revolution according to the latest survey by the government's Environment Agency, released today. Even so, one third of the rivers tested were rated "poor" or "bad" in their "aesthetic quality" the survey found.

Litter and trash from shopping carts to food and drink packaging and litter from sewers were the most common examples of impaired quality.

The agency said its survey demonstrates a "substantial improvement in the biological and chemical quality of rivers since 1995."

The agency's results for England and Wales mirror improvement in river quality across the United Kingdom announced today by the Environment Minister Michael Meacher.


UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher (Photo courtesy UK Government)
Of the more than 30,000 kilometers (18,600 miles) of rivers tested, 94 percent were classified as good or fair quality in 2000, up three percent from the year before.

This compares to 1990 figures of 83 percent good or fair for chemical quality and 86 percent for biological quality.

Some 96 percent of estuaries are of good or fair quality compared with 90 percent in 1990, the survey showed.

The report highlights as examples of best practice reductions in chemicals in the River Stour at Kidderminster and ongoing work with Severn Trent Water to reduce the amount of sewage based litter at Coleshill, Birmingham.

River water quality is one of the government's 15 "headline" indicators of sustainable development, the agency said. It comprises indicators of chemical quality and biological quality, and for the first time in 2000, aesthetic quality as well.


The River Thames, London (Photo courtesy
In its first ever assessment of aesthetic quality, 452 sites often visited by the public were rated. Two-thirds of the surveyed sites were rated of "good" or "fair" aesthetic quality, but the remaining third were spoiled.

In Midlands Region in 2000, 57 sites popular with the public were visited and graded based on the presence of litter on banks and in the river - sewage waste such as sanitary towels, the color and smell of the water, the presence of oil, scum, and foam; and dog fouling.

Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, claimed the "billions" of pounds being invested in cleaning up rivers are bearing fruit.

He said, "As a result, otters, salmon and an abundance of fish and birds have returned to waterways, including many in industrial and urban heartlands. Our cleaned up rivers are putting pulsing green veins back into communities across the country."


Family boating on the Norfolk Broads (Photo courtesy
"Thriving, accessible rivers provide quality space, which provides economic as well as social benefits, from the boost it can give to improvement and regeneration of local environments."

The majority of high quality rivers are in Wales and the West, while the greatest proportion of low graded rivers are in the north west and north east of England, especially in and around the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and rural East Anglia.

The Environment Agency said the improvements are largely the result of the capital investment it has promoted across the water industry in new sewage infrastructure and treatment and pollution prevention measures.

The government's headline indicators of sustainable development are a "quality of life barometer" says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. They measure concerns such as housing development, health, jobs, air quality, educational achievement, wildlife and economic prosperity. River water quality is one of the 15 headline indicators.

The indicators are intended to focus public attention on what sustainable development means and to give a broad overview, the agency says, "of whether we are achieving a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come."