Our iconic rivers are vital habitats for a vast array of species from the salmon to the otter. They provide important spaces we can all enjoy – something that is increasingly beneficial to our health and wellbeing.
With the increased popularity of activities like wild swimming, as well as more people connecting with the natural environment during the last year, the health of our rivers is under more scrutiny than ever before.
Water companies are passionate about their role as custodians of the environment, and are more committed than ever to enhance our rivers, and waterways for the benefit of everyone now and in the future. However, with 40% of water bodies impacted by pollution from rural areas and 18% by pollution from urban areas* – it is clear they cannot do it alone.
The issues affecting our rivers are complex, with no quick fix. But if we work together, we can bring about the change we all want to see.
What we are doing
Since 1995 companies have invested more than £25 billion on environmental projects, including improving more than 15,000km of rivers – a further £5 billion is planned over the next 5 years. Improved monitoring of overflows, technology such as AI and the greater use of nature-based solutions, are all being adopted by UK water companies in their efforts to improve our waterways.
However, many sources of pollution are outside our control. Dealing with all other sources of harm – including from agriculture, mining, roads and heavy industry – means it’s essential we work collaboratively with landowners, businesses and local community groups to achieve our collective goal: making rivers the best they can be.
How the Government can help us
We need the Government to build on recent announcements focused on storm overflows – which represent only 4% of the reasons why rivers don’t reach good ecological status – to ensure other important changes are made. This includes providing the right framework so companies can invest in natural solutions to tackle flooding and pollution, while also ensuring rivers keep flowing.
Video used with permission from the Environment Agency
The Environment Bill, currently completing its passage through Parliament, is a timely opportunity for government to provide some legislative help for tackling this complex challenge. The prioritisation of sustainable drainage in urban developments, supporting greater use of upstream nature-based solutions over traditional steel and concrete, and taking the opportunity to focus on targeted outcomes, would all help deliver improvements in our water quality. Such changes also create and improve biodiversity, provide better spaces for public well-being, and reduce our carbon footprint.
How you can help improve our rivers
We also need everyone at home to make some simple changes so they can play their part in protecting our rivers and waterways.
A major investigation of sewer blockages found that non-flushable wet wipes could make up around 93% of UK fatbergs. One quick and simple action we can all take is to never put unflushable items, like wet wipes and sanitary products, down the toilet or pour fats, oils and grease down the sink.
Flushable wet wipes do now exist, but you must ensure these carry the industry-approved Fine to Flush logo to show it’s safe for our sewers and the environment. If in any doubt, show these wipes the bin.
We are working hard to enhance our rivers, and we hope you can help us in our efforts to do better.
*Environment Agency data on impact on water bodies from different sectors