NEWS: Save Our Rivers

Your river needs you! Charlotte Clark reveals why environmental groups have joined forces to give you a say about the future of local waterways

Gloucestershire floods

In February a large amount of central heating oil was released into the River Ouse in Sussex, creating a 10km long slick. The spillage could have been a terrible disaster for local wildlife, but luckily a quick thinking local alerted the Environmental Agency (EA)  and the oil was cleared, minimising the damage on local wildlife. This shows just how important people power is when it comes to the future of our waterways. You can make a difference.


Over the next few months, the EA will put the final touches to its River Basin Management Plan, which aims to dramatically improve the water quality of the 11 river basins that cover all waters in England and Wales. Water quality in British rivers has improved significantly in recent years, but in order to meet the demanding environmental objectives of the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD), changes must be made. Under the current system of water quality measurement, 70 percent of rivers in England and Wales achieve a good standard. However, under the new WFD classification system, this figure falls to just 23 percent.

Once the EA’s findings are finalised, they will be presented to the government in September, before Hilary Benn, the secretary of state for the environment, approves the plans in December.

However, British environmental groups say that the EA’s draft plans are not ambitious enough and that they need the assistance of locals with first-hand experience of the affected areas. Tom le Quesne, freshwater policy officer at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says: “The EA have so far failed to effectively involve river users and campaigners in their proposals.”

The Our Rivers campaign is designed to highlight the problem in a way that everyone can understand. Funded by the HSBC Climate Partnership, the website brings together four well-known organisations: WWF, RSPB , Angling Trust and the Association of Rivers Trusts. Tom le Quesne explains: “Our Rivers provides the opportunity for people across the country to take an active role in the consultation and tell government what needs to be done to protect our rivers for years to come.”

Rivers are a recognisable part of the British landscape. As well as giving us pleasure in the summer months they are home to hundreds of species, from the majestic heron to the humble pond skater. The river habitat is extremely fragile and can easily be upset by changes in the environment. There are several factors that will influence the health of waterways in the coming years, the most recognisable being climate change, population increase and pollution.

But how will it affect us? Despite the wet summers over the last couple of years, we are being told to prepare for drought. The EA has uncovered some startling figures. By 2050 climate change in the UK may have reduced the amount of available water by 10-15 percent and with people living longer there will be an estimated two million additional people. 

Drastic changes obviously need to occur in order to conserve water and protect wildlife, but the EA’s plans are being criticised for their lack of ambition and inaccessibility. Our Rivers intends to take into account the fact that people who work, live or play near rivers will quickly recognise changes in its composition. Mark Avery, the RSPB’s director of conservation said: “What is so exciting about this campaign is that it will be using local knowledge from people who care passionately about the rivers on their doorstep.”