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Government plans will fail our threatened rivers, campaigners warn

27.11.09

Mark Lloyd Angling Trust with Environment Minister Huw Irranca-Davies

The Angling Trust and its partners in the Our Rivers Coalition met with Environment Minister Huw Irranca-Davies by the Thames on Wednesday ahead of the publication of controversial plans for the UK’s waterways.

Earlier this year, a report revealed that three quarters of rivers in England and Wales are failing European targets on environmental quality. But in the majority of cases the Environment Agency’s official plans – due to be published next month - fail to set out action to tackle the problems such as pollution from fertilisers and over abstraction, which threaten river wildlife.

The Our Rivers Campaign was set up by the Angling Trust, the Association of Rivers Trusts, the RSPB and WWF UK,  to help encourage people who know and care about their local river to fill the gaps in understanding.

In an attempt to persuade him to make last minute changes to the plans, campaigners met with Mr Irranca-Davies by the bank of the Thames to hand over a map of all the rivers adopted by supporters, river action groups and MPs during the campaign.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust said “The Water Framework Directive presented the Environment Agency with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our rivers and the way that they we manage water, and the land around it.

But the draft plans are lacking in ambition, they fail to capture the knowledge of anglers and others who have an intimate knowledge of their rivers and much of the information in them is simply incorrect. These new plans don’t even offer a vision of what we would like to achieve, let alone how we might achieve it. If Government fails to make significant changes before the plans are published, they will have blown it. Anglers are dismayed”.

“The problems are plain to see – pollution killing fish and causing algae and weed to choke our water ways, river beds drying up, invasive species like signal crayfish destroying riverbank ecosystems and more besides,” said RSPB conservation director Mark Avery.

“These plans are supposed to provide a blueprint for bringing the standard of our rivers up to an acceptable level, but there is so much vital information missing it’s difficult to have confidence in them. The whole publication is like a crossword with most of the clues missing – and unless changes are made now we will never get the solutions that our ailing rivers so desperately need.”

Arlin Rickard, director of the Association of Rivers Trusts, said: “Our members were asked to feed into these plans with positive proposals for how to deal with the many environmental problems our rivers are struggling against.

“But despite our extensive knowledge of local rivers gained through many years of dedicated conservation work along their banks, many of our suggestions have failed to appear in the final plans which are limited in their vision. We are doing all we can to help the Government meet its 2015 water target but currently there is a lack of clarity as to how the work on the ground will be funded or delivered.”

-Ends-

Notes to editors:

1. The Government is set to publish River Basin Management Plans for the 11 river basin districts of England and Wales as part of the new European Water Framework Directive. These plans will set out how the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) deals with pollution, abstraction and other issues affecting rivers and wetlands but currently only propose a disappointing improvement in status of just 5% of waters.

2. A recent Environment Agency assessment revealed that just five rivers in England and Wales remain in ‘High’ status condition – all in remote areas of Northumberland and Wales. The report lists 26 per cent of rivers as ‘Good’ status. This means 74% of rivers are failing – including 117 rivers (2%) which are classified as ‘Bad’ making them among the worst in Europe. The European Water Framework Directive requires the UK to bring all of its rivers up to ‘Good’ status or above by 2015. Current draft plans mean the UK will fail to reach this target.

3. Since the Our Rivers campaign launched at the end of April, 217 regional river action groups and more than a thousand individuals have adopted local rivers and have been providing information on the pressures they face. The campaign has also been backed by seven MPs who are concerned about the state of the water courses in their constituency. For more information visit the campaign website - www.ourrivers.org.uk

4. Feedback from supporters of the Our Rivers campaign during its first six months indicate that the three biggest threats to rivers in England and Wales are chemical and sediment pollution from agriculture, over abstraction by water companies, and run-off water from urban areas.

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