Over the last (almost!) 50 years, I’ve watched our rivers decline. Aside from obvious success stories – mostly in urban areas – my experience has been that there’s now less aquatic life, more dried up riverbeds and more flooding. The Times and the BBC both recently reported that very few rivers are safe to swim in because of pollution and there have been a number of catastrophic incidents this summer killing thousands of fish.
I’m immensely fortunate to have recently taken over from the irrepressible Arlin Rickard as CEO of The Rivers Trust and my intention is to do everything I can to help the Rivers Trust movement reverse this decline and restore as many rivers as possible to places which cause delight rather than despair.
We must succeed; healthy waterways and supplies of clean freshwater are essential for our existence and well-being. The health of our water is a good indicator of the health of our overall natural environment.
The problems are well-known: urban, agricultural, industrial and sewage pollution; over-abstraction; increasing temperatures; barriers to connectivity; compacted and degraded soils; damaged riparian habitat and litter. What we need are clear solutions and a collective sense of endeavour to deliver them.
In the past, our approach as a country to rise to this challenge has been muddled, piecemeal and ineffective. Our ambition has too often been to achieve mediocrity, which can be one of the most depressing of our national characteristics, rather than to excel. Why do we begrudgingly accept that our rivers don’t meet bathing water standards, or that sometimes they completely dry up? These things should be national scandals.
The Rivers Trust movement has developed impressively over the past 25 years and almost every river catchment in England now has an independent charity delivering community-based solutions backed up by evidence. The Trusts employ about 300 highly-committed and expert staff and turn over £25million each year and continue to grow rapidly in spite a decade of austerity in public funding and 3 years of uncertainty about EU funding.
The Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), which involves numerous national and local partners in a ‘coalition of the willing’, has developed to a point where it offers a real opportunity for everyone to work together to heal the water environment. CaBA needs more certain and substantial funding and needs to be fully embraced by government as the vehicle for change.
If we are to rise to the huge challenge of restoring our rivers, we will need the smaller Trusts to increase their capacity substantially; we will need government and the private sector to provide funding so that plans can actually be implemented rather than gathering dust on shelves; we will need a credible threat of enforcement of existing environmental legislation; we will need new laws to regulate chemicals and other emerging threats; we will need water companies to embrace more innovative and catchment-based solutions rather than spending bill-payers money on pouring more concrete; and, crucially, we will need everyone to work together to a common vision of a healthy, vibrant water environment that will meet our needs in the future.
Please help us, in whatever way you can, restore our rivers, streams and wetlands to places that delight us all. Find out more here and why not join us for a river clean-up event on World Rivers Day, Sunday 21 September, or at one of our other events throughout the year.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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