According to a report by the Royal Society of Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust and the Rivers Trust, rivers, streams and freshwater marshes are being “devastated” by agricultural waste, raw sewage, pollution and flooding.

Storm and sewage overflows, and chemical run off from mines, and pesticides are all causing serious harm to our wetlands across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the report said.

Moreover, the report states how the public is generally unaware of the critical state of our waterways with just below half believing that they are in a good condition.

Alarmingly, it describes how otters, swallows, tail butterflies and salmon are in severe decline, with some species facing extinction because of the contaminated waters.

When it came to the percentage of rivers that meet “good ecological status”, England came bottom with a dismal 14%. However, Wales and Northern Ireland both worryingly have under 50% in acceptable condition:

• England – 14%

• Wales – 46%

• Northern Ireland – 31%

One of the worst offenders for the shocking state of our polluted waterways is the poorly regulated use of pesticides and fertilisers in farming.

What’s more, in 2020 water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers around 400,000 times in England and 100,000 times in Wales in. This is seemingly in contradiction to the laws mandating that this should only happen under exceptional circumstances.

Another lesser publicised culprit is mining, which has polluted 932 miles (1,500km) of rivers in England alone with chemical runoff.

While anger is steadily growing, alarm needs to be raised higher if we are to force the authorities into the necessary action. Especially when, according to an online YouGov poll, 88% of respondents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland agree that freshwater habitats are a ”national treasure”.

Deputy director of policy for the RSPB Jenna Hegarty said: ”It is no surprise so many people think of our waterways are a national treasure and revel in the magical sight of otters playing in our streams, dragonflies hovering like jewels above our lakes and the vibrant flash of kingfishers in flight. ”

“But nature is in crisis and the incredible freshwater wildlife people marvelled at as they explored our countryside this summer is a fraction of what should be there.”

“It is disturbing how it has become so normal for our waterways to be polluted and contaminated, and that many people do not realise there is something wrong.”

It is imperative that we tackle this problem for our wetlands to thrive and to halt the frightening decline our animals are facing.


At Natural World Fund, we are passionate about stopping the decline in our wildlife.

The declines in our wildlife is shocking and frightening. Without much more support, many of the animals we know and love will continue in their declines towards extinction.

When you help to restore a patch of degraded land through rewilding to forests, meadows, or wetlands, you have a massive impact on the biodiversity at a local level. You give animals a home and food that they otherwise would not have had, and it has a positive snowball effect for the food chain.

We are convinced that this is much better for the UK than growing lots of fast-growing coniferous trees, solely to remove carbon, that don’t actually help our animals to thrive.

This is why we stand for restoring nature in the UK through responsible rewilding. For us, it is the right thing to do. Let’s do what’s right for nature!

Support our work today at and join in the solution!

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