Important rivers need more protection from pollution - EA

Many of the country's most important rivers still need more protection from damaging pollution with nearly 20 per cent of rivers designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) failing to reach their full potential, leaving only 80 per cent classified as 'good' or 'very good'.

According to latest data from the Environment Agency, many SSSIs have been affected by pollution. Phosphorus and nitrates enter rivers from land-based activities such as agriculture and via discharges from sewage treatment works, causing problems for fisheries and other river life. High phosphorus levels were found in more than half of all rivers in England and Wales, and high nitrate levels in nearly a third.

However, there is good news for anglers in the North West where river water quality has continued its recent steady improvement, according to new data released by the Environment Agency.

The Agency's annual survey of rivers and canals showed 91 per cent of the region's waterways were of good or fair chemical quality in 2002, a slight drop of one per cent on 2001, but a big improvement when compared to just 75 per cent 10 years ago. The number of North West rivers classified as either 'very good' or 'good' was 63 per cent in 2002, just up from 61 per cent in 2001 and from 50 per cent back in 1992.

Last year, across England and Wales, the Environment Agency surveyed 7,000 sites, representing about 40,000km of rivers and canals, for their chemical and biological quality. In the North West, nearly 6,000km of waterways were tested.

Among North West rivers and canals to have sustained improvements in recent years are the Calder near Whalley in Lancashire; Loo Gill near Alston in Cumbria; the River Mersey between Carrington and Woolston, near Warrington; the Manchester Ship Canal near Salford Quays; and Worsley Brook near Eccles, Greater Manchester.

Environment Agency Chairman Sir John Harman said: "With the measures we have taken to date we are starting to meet our threshold of improvement in river quality. The question is whether we choose to pat each other on the back and say 'well done', or do we decide to tackle phosphates and nitrates head on, and put an end to historic pollution hot spots such as storm sewage overflows?

"With new European legislation on the horizon, the basis on which achievement is assessed will change, so we can't afford to be complacent. The healthier and more attractive the environment, the more we will see knock-on benefits for leisure, recreation, tourism and the wider economy."

The new data supports the environmental priorities for water companies set out by the Environment Agency, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales as part of Ofwat's water price review for 2005-10.

The agencies called for action to protect some of the country's most important wetland and wildlife sites from pollution and over-use of water. Among SSSI rivers earmarked for possible improvements is the River Eden and its tributaries in Cumbria.

Anglers can find out more about their local rivers at the 'What's In Your Backyard' section of the Environment Agency's website, at A search facility allows users to search locations by postcode for the latest river quality data.

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