river pollution


Efforts to clean up England’s rivers, lakes, and seas have been sharply criticised as “poor” by the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), a key environmental watchdog.

The OEP, a statutory body established post-Brexit to oversee environmental accountability, stated that targets to improve water health will be missed by a “large margin.”

The OEP’s report indicates that current government plans lack detail, commitment, and adequate funding. A government spokesperson responded, asserting that this administration has done “more than any other” to restore waterways.

The OEP evaluated the effectiveness of laws protecting England’s water bodies from pollution and their enforcement.

“We found the legal framework to be basically sound. But the way that it’s being interpreted and implemented is really being done poorly,” Dame Glenys Stacey, the chair of the OEP, said.

“That means that government is very unlikely to achieve its ambitions for our waters. In fact, it’s very likely to miss by a large margin,” she said.

Currently, only 16% of England’s waterways are rated as having Good Ecological Status. The government aims to increase this to 77% by 2027, but the OEP suggests that only reaching 21% is more realistic.

“Unless things change, it’s a very poor situation,” Dame Glenys said.

Criticising the government’s “generic one size fits all” strategy, the OEP called for more detailed, committed, and well-funded plans. The environment secretary now has three months to respond to the OEP’s report.

In an immediate comment, a government spokesperson highlighted recent years’ increased monitoring of sewage discharges and plans to invest billions in wastewater treatment infrastructure.

“This government has done more than any other to protect and restore our rivers, lakes and coastal waters with record levels of investment, monitoring and enforcement,” the spokesperson said.

“We welcome this report’s recommendations to go further and will consider them in detail.”

Many campaign groups expressed that the OEP’s findings confirmed what they already knew about the inadequacy of current efforts to improve water quality.

“It is no surprise that following years of underinvestment, weak regulation and poor instruction on how to deliver plans, that the government are off track for the majority of their plans to improve the health of England’s waterways,” Louise Reddy from Surfers Against Sewage said.

“The long-term health of our rivers is dependent on what we do now to support them,” Mark Lloyd, CEO of the Rivers Trust, said.

“This report proves our long-held suspicion that current policy and legislation is not enough – we need to change course to save our rivers.”



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