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Angling Trust calls on political parties to deliver a clear plan to tackle river pollution in General Election manifestos
UK’s largest citizen science water testing community finds 83% of rivers monitored failed phosphate standard for good ecological status in at least one test.
44% of site averages for phosphate failed standard for good ecological status.
The Angling Trust has released details of the first annual Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) report, a crucial citizen science initiative and part of the Anglers Against Pollution campaign.
The comprehensive report not only highlights the tremendous efforts of volunteer citizen scientist anglers but also sheds further light on the state of our rivers and the urgent need for action.
Anglers, who have long served as stewards of our rivers, have been disturbed by the deteriorating water quality impacting rivers and the angling experience. Frustration has mounted as essential testing by the Environment Agency and water regulators has been reduced, and information about pollution remains elusive from the water industry and the agricultural sector. In response, the Angling Trust launched the WQMN pilot in May 2022, mobilising a community of angler citizen scientists to monitor and understand what is happening below the surface.
Under current Government targets to reduce phosphate pollution in rivers, water companies could meet environmental goals by simply stripping phosphate only on their largest sewage works serving large populations and at the bottom end of rivers. This would mean that targets could be achieved with the lowest level of investment. However, the majority of rivers upstream and those with smaller wastewater works would still suffer from high levels of phosphate and pollution.
Jamie Cook, Angling Trust CEO, said:
“The Angling Trust’s WQMN initiative harnesses the passion our members have for rivers and enables them with tools and training to create a rapidly expanding community of citizen scientists who monitor, understand, and actively contribute to the preservation of their local rivers.
“Due to regulatory failures, it often falls to the Angling Trust’s sister organisation, Fish Legal, to take legal action against polluters on behalf of anglers. The first annual WQMN report proves that across the country rivers are suffering from too much phosphate which is extremely damaging in freshwater. We need to see much more enforcement and an update of existing laws to tackle the scourge of river pollution and hold polluters to account.”
As of December 2023, 641 anglers from 240 angling clubs actively monitor pollution on 190 rivers across 60 catchments. The distribution of over 400 WQMN monitoring kits and training on using them has resulted in more than 3,800 samples and is revealing the extent of pollution in our waterways.
The most concerning result from this first full year of WQMN testing from July 2022 to July 2023 showed that:
44% of site averages for phosphate failed the England-wide upper standard for good ecological status.
Of the 163 rivers where regular samples (more than five) were recorded, 83% failed to meet the phosphate standard for good ecological status in at least one sample.
Mapped catchments with the highest phosphate site averages were the Medway; Swale, Ure, Nidd and Upper Ouse; Severn Middle Worcestershire; Loddon and tributaries; Wey and tributaries; Warwickshire Avon; Ribble; Hampshire Avon; Upper and Bedford Ouse.
Stuart Singleton White, Angling Trust’s Head of Campaigns, said:
“Current environment laws to tackle river pollution are blunt tools that come with no guidance as to where phosphate reductions should be made to see the biggest improvements. Much stronger regulations are essential to ensure money is invested where it will make the most positive difference. Otherwise, polluters will play accountancy versus ecology to meet environmental targets, boasting about the level of investment but not delivering the environmental improvements needed.
“The recently published report from the Office of Environmental Protection shows that stopping sewage pollution, as the government has said it would, is not progressing to plan and our report shows this to be the case. A failure by the next government, whoever wins the election, to address this failure would be a betrayal of anglers across the country. With a general election approaching, we are urging political parties to make clear commitments in their manifestos that they will enforce existing laws far more thoroughly and bring in new strengthened environmental laws to protect our waterways from pollution and phosphate overload.”
Comedian Paul Whitehouse, a keen angler, clean water campaigner and Angling Trust Ambassador, praised the WQMN initiative and commented:
“The chronic mismanagement of our rivers and waterways by organisations and bodies specifically tasked with protecting them has received a lot of attention recently. The Angling Trust has mobilised its army of volunteers to safeguard and improve the quality of our waterways by gathering evidence to hold polluters to account. Hats off to them.”
The Angling Trust continues to expand the WQMN, contacting more angling clubs and recruiting additional volunteers. The initiative’s evolution aims to include still waters and estuaries, providing a comprehensive understanding of pollution dynamics throughout our water courses.
What is Eutrophication? This occurs when there is an overload of nutrients in water bodies, causing excessive growth of algae and plants, lowering dissolved oxygen levels, threatening aquatic life, and the overall health of a river. Phosphorus is a key nutrient causing eutrophication in freshwater.
Phosphorus Standards: 55% of assessed river water bodies in England fail the current Water Framework Directive phosphorus standards for good ecological status, which aim to prevent eutrophication. Phosphorus is the most common cause of water quality failures under the WFD in England because it is the primary reason for water bodies not achieving good ecological status.
Sources of Phosphorus in Rivers: The main sources of phosphorus in rivers are sewage effluent (primarily from water industry sewage treatment works) and losses from agricultural land. Septic tanks and package sewage treatment plants are small sources nationally but can be important sources locally, particularly in the headwaters of catchments. Leaking water mains are a newly identified phosphorus source entering ground and surface waters.
Information about the Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution campaign can be found here.