The state of rivers in England and Wales is pretty poor. Only 22% of the length of rivers in England and Wales is in Good Ecological Status (GES, which has a rather technical definition but it means pretty much what you'd think it means).
And lest anyone thinks that this blog is being unfair, it is true that 24% of rivers are in GES (so smaller ones are a bit better than bigger ones) and that when you look at water bodies as a whole - including lakes and coasts - the figures rise to 27%. But, however you look at it, only a quarter of water bodies are in good nick - and that's poor. The RSPB is a partner in the Our Rivers campaign.
And lest this blog should be accused of being unfair - of course this state of affairs reflects the lack of progress made by successive governments, it isn't just this one's fault. But then we did point this out to the previous adminstration too.
So it is good that yesterday Defra announced an extra £110m to help with England's river quality. Being a cynical bunch we immediately asked whether this was new money - all governments are keen on recycling when it comes to good news - but it seems to us that at least £92m is new money and that is very much to be welcomed - so we do welcome it.
Some of this money (it's not clear how much) will be spent on catchment restoration projects (it's not clear of what sort) in places yet to be determined. Will this be in the 10 already identified pilot catchments or somewhere else - it's not clear? And how much will it aid the improvement of status of Natura 2000 sites which all should be in GES by 2015 - we'd say they should be already?
So we can welcome the headlines but would like to know the details. The announcement was made at almost the last possible time before government goes into purdah and can't make big announcements because of the up-coming elections. It's a time to rush out good news, which this is, however vague it might be (and this is quite vague).
This announcement also comes hard on the heels of the withdrawal of a judicial review of of River Basin Management Plans.
Mirio- Tree planting around Bassenthwaite and the whole catchement which includes Derwentwater and Borrowdale is in its infancy. Millions/billions of trees are needed not the hand full already planted. There is also a scheme for Windermere but every lake in the Lake District could be included as the past management of this area is appalling. Given that 1/3 of the lake District is owned by the National Trust [us!!] this charity has a lot to answer for as the word 'tradition' seems to be the main aim for management not 'a new beginning'. Tourism is the main industry for this area not agriculture so the future of the landscape should be the priority not the 'slag heap' we are left with now.
A lot of this type of work has been done already over the past few years in the catchment area of Bassenthwaite Lake in Cumbria
A lot of money has been spent on this largely from the lottery Heritage Fund with the intention being to prevent the extinction of the rare vendace fish or at least subspecies of this fish found in the lake. Excessive silting and nitrification increase were major causes of the demise of this fish and a major deciduous tree planting scheme was one of the solutions implemented. Any project which necessitates native tree planting in the Lake District I applaud and hopefully deciduous tree planting in water catchments will be one of the components of the DEFRA plan. However even though the Bassenthwaite catchment area had been studied extensively it was the outflow from the lake that inundated Cockermouth in November 2009
Keswick in the same catchment area was also inundated. Although it may be unfair to say, given the timescale since the treeplanting etc began, that the actions of the project todate is certainly not preventing excessive flooding and consequently excessive silting.
Red Kite I am no expert but I believe that "clean up" means minimising run off from farmlands containing high nitrogen levels and also herbicide and pesticide residues, also cleaning up industrial and sewerage effluent from urban areas. With severe winters large amounts of sodium chloride and calcium chloride are being spread on roads the run off of which will be detrimental to aquatic plants and invertebrates. I believe road salt also contains cyanide.
As you say Mark the key is in the detail. I'm not quite sure what is meant by "clean up". What is the cause of the lack of water quality? The Environment Agency is responsible, I believe, for industrial and other discharges into our rivers, so is this the prime culprit and does the Environment Angecy need to spend most of this new money in tightening up on discharges, or is the problem primarily agricultural run off from pesticides and fertiliser? On a further point, I get worried when people talk about cleaning out ditches and streams just because there is a lot of silt and vegetation in them. Silt and vegetatation, providing it is not algea bloom, does not necessarily mean the water course is polluted or of poor quality. It is often quite the reverse, undisturbed streams, ditches and rivers with a lot of fringe vegetation often hold rare and important wildlife and an immense amount of damage can be done by physically "cleaning them out". So as you say we need to find out more of the intent and the detail.
It's interesting that the figure for rivers and other water bodies in GES is pretty much the same (certainly within the margins of error which strangely never get shown on these statistics) as SSSIs in favourable condition. Perhaps its a coincidence - perhaps it's a signal telling us something - oh no, not the 80/20 rule!
any chance of a grassland blog before you go Mark?
Reading the above illustrates a difficulty - eloquent description of the problem and a doubt that Government will do anything about it, except maybe spend some more of our money?
Mark - you have described the problem, but much more important - what should we all be doing about it. What are the EA doing and do they do it well?
What are NE doing and do they do it well?
What is the reason or reasons for our poor river state?
Is it household sceptic tanks or crop management or what - at least point the hare in the right direction.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654