31 May 2022
State of England’s Rivers Report - Government Response

Last month, the Government published its response to the report about the state of England’s rivers from the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of the House of Commons chaired by the great Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow.

The EAC report is a detailedly comprehensive and unsparing examination of the different causes of pollution in our rivers.

It identified a "chemical cocktail" of sewage, slurry, and plastic in our rivers, only 14% of which meet good ecological standards.

Coming from a committee led by a Marches MP, the report was especially good in analysing problems with our own river Wye including a specific case study on poultry farming along the river Wye.

The EAC made a long list of recommendations, ranging from water quality assessment to the threat of agricultural pollution to rivers, sewage discharges, surface water and urban pollution, and the use of citizen science.  

The committee welcomed the Government's response, but I am afraid I thought it was very weak. Its flagship commitment, to reduce phosphate and other sediment pollution by 80%, has an end date of 2037!

No one doubts that the necessary clean-up work will take time, but an end date of 2037 is woefully unambitious.

The response mentions that water companies will invest £7.1 billion in environmental improvements in England. But sewage discharges, although a very serious issue, are a much smaller source of pollution than agricultural run-off, on which the response offers remarkably little by way of substantive strategy.

The Government response mentions its new measures to support improvements in farming practice, but these are very modest in size. It mentions the fines that have been levied on polluters, but ignore my suggestion that these should be ringfenced to support clean-up measures.

And the response does not engage at all with the still bigger problem: the need for greater coordination and cross-border cooperation between the Environment Agency, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.  

Yes, this is a devolved area -- but that only makes cross-border cooperation and leadership all the more important. The Welsh and UK governments need to work together for the common good. We badly need that integrated strategy.

Finally, and most tellingly, the River Wye is mentioned 63 times in the EAC report. It does not get a single mention in the Government response.

Philip Dunne and I are leading a Commons debate on these issues on Thursday 9th. Please tune in!


First published in the Ross Gazette