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Water Companies’ declining environmental performance highlights pollution risk for rivers

11.07.18

Canal pollution

The Environment Agency has published a report this week has highlighted an increase in the number of the most serious ‘category 1’ pollution incidents from the nine largest water companies’ operations over the past two years from 4 in 2015 to 9 in 2016 and 11 in 2017.  Such incidents can be catastrophic for fisheries and wildlife in the stretches of river affected, but there are also concerns about lower level pollution which can contribute to the ‘death of rivers by a thousand cuts’. That is the main reason for 50% of aquatic wildlife being in decline and 13% of aquatic species being threatened with extinction.

The Environment Agency is currently discussing the business plans put forward by water companies for the next five years, which could lead to billions of pounds of investment.  The Angling Trust today called on the industry and its regulators to commit to achieving much higher standards over the next five years to restore healthy rivers and coastal waters in the context of plans to build a million new homes and climate change which can make sewage spills more likely as a result of heavy rain storms.

But the Angling Trust has also called on the government to shine a similar regulatory spotlight on agricultural pollution in its recent joint report with WWF and The Rivers Trust entitled Saving the Earth.  The Environment Agency has rightly taken a tough approach to regulating the water industry, but has taken far fewer prosecutions for agricultural pollution, despite the sector being responsible for a larger number of serious pollution incidents than the water industry and very widespread diffuse pollution.   

The government is currently trying to get the Environment Agency to fund all of its regulatory activities from income from permits, and unless there is a licence to farm it is not clear how the Agency will be able to pay for the regulation of 100,000 farms to protect water supplies and aquatic wildlife.   

The threat of serious pollution incidents highlights the importance of angling clubs and fishery owners being members of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal.  Fish Legal sues polluters on behalf of member clubs and fishery owners to secure substantial compensation for its members, which can be spent on restoring their fisheries.  Fish Legal can only act for members and sadly there have been a number of serious pollutions this year where angling clubs affected were not members of Fish Legal including, in the past month, a major pollution incident and fish kill on the River Great Ouse near Brackley.  Joint Angling Trust & Fish Legal membership packages are available here.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said: “Our rivers and lakes are under serious threat and anglers are witnessing the disappearance of fish and other wildlife throughout England and Wales.  Freshwater is an incredibly precious natural resource which is the lifeblood of our country and we cannot continue to pour sewage and slurry into it without seeing the collapse of natural systems on which we rely for our very existence.  The government has pledged to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation, but it has no hope of achieving this worthy ambition if it doesn’t improve water quality.  I urge all angling clubs and fishery owners to join the Angling Trust & Fish Legal so that we can represent their interests and take civil legal action against offenders."

Contact: Angling Trust Eastwood House, 6 Rainbow Street, Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 8DQ
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