Our rivers are in crisis. Every single river in England is polluted beyond legal limits. Our wildlife is disappearing, and our rivers are not fit to swim in. The level of pollution entering our waterways is unacceptable, particularly from two of the biggest culprits – agriculture and sewage. In 2022 alone, raw sewage was discharged into waterways over 300,000 times and 40% of river quality target failures are caused by agriculture and land management.
Extreme climate change-related weather conditions are worsening the situation, with more intense storms increasing sewage overflows and agricultural runoff and drier, hotter summers leading to an increase of life-smothering algal blooms.
We are seeing water availability decrease before our eyes, with the Environment Agency warning that water demand will exceed supply in England within 25 years. Our rivers are no longer suitable homes for wildlife: over 10% of UK freshwater species are threatened with extinction and two thirds are in decline.
The last decade and a half has also seen a systemic collapse in environmental protection with regulatory agencies defunded and regulations designed to protect rivers from pollution deliberately not being enforced.
This is a crisis – and one which the UK public wants to see resolved as a matter of urgency. The UK Government has long-standing targets for our rivers which it will not meet, and regulations that are at risk of being scrapped. We, the signatories of this Charter for Rivers, call on political leaders to commit to ambitious yet achievable actions to make our rivers healthy for nature and people by 2030.
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