In today’s blog Jazz Austin, RSPB Policy Officer and Phil Carson an RSPB Senior Policy Officer talk about a new project exposing the impact poor water quality has on nature and people.

Running through acidic mountain mires, forested river valleys and lowland agricultural land, the river Wye is a valuable ecosystem for a range of species as well as a beautiful and popular spot for kayaking, bathing and simply enjoying breath-taking views of the Wye Valley. But a problem lies in the water as phosphate pollution threatens the unique balance of life found in this special place.

Why is our water in such poor condition? 

We know that poor water quality is threatening the UK’s rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands, and the wildlife that depends on them. In this new report, launched in partnership with the RSPB, ‘Troubled Waters’ uses case studies and market research to demonstrate that people highly value the health of our freshwaters and explores opportunities to improve water quality for both people and nature.

Water quality across the UK is failing to meet national and international targets due to widespread pollution from a variety of sources including agriculture, waste water and mining. This is not only having a negative impact on wildlife but also on people who enjoy and value our blue spaces.  Even areas awarded environmental protections, are suffering from the devastating effects of pollution.

What does poor quality mean for people and wildlife? 

Through exploring a range of case studies across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, alongside conducting market research with YouGov, this report examines how poor water quality is impacting protected sites. The report also explores the relationship between people and our water systems. The research shows that most people want healthier rivers, lakes and freshwaters with 87% of people surveyed agreeing they want more to be done to help our freshwater environment.

We love our rivers and waterways, like the Wye Valley, and we want to enjoy these habitats as well as see more otters, salmon, kingfishers and water voles enjoying them too!  However, the report also shines a light on the complexity around this issue and how people are largely confused about the main drivers behind pollution and are unsure of how to help.

What can we do to fix it? 

Troubled Water pulls together case studies and examples to demonstrate what needs to be done to fix poor water quality in the UK. The reports key recommendations that we need to achieve this are;

  • a transition to regenerative farming practices and nature friendly eating,
  • systemic changes to the planning approval system,
  • stopping raw sewage from reaching rivers,
  • sufficient resourcing of statutory agencies for robust monitoring and enforcement.

The challenge of slowing the flow of poor water quality in the UK can feel daunting, but we know how you can help. The solutions needed require us to cut across sectors, key industries and deal with historic pollutants. We need to involve a diverse range of individuals, organisations and sectors along with clear leadership and ambition from Governments to help realise the vision of creating a healthy freshwater environment. 

Read the Troubled Waters report here with the full recommendations, and case study examples and find out more about how the RSPB is working with others to improve water quality for both people and nature.