Time to Clean Up our Act!

EU reports show shocking state of our waters

Official reports sent to the European Commission by the UK government highlight that despite many years of investment by the water industry, the UK’s waters are still in wretched condition.

Unless urgent action is taken now, the reports show that most of our rivers, lakes and coasts will not meet the new standards of the European Water Framework Directive, which requires member states to achieve good ecological and chemical status in surface waters and good chemical and quantitative status in groundwaters by 2015.

In the river basin districts in Northern Ireland over 90% of waters are suffering from damaging human activity and are at risk of failing to achieve ‘good status’. This means that they cannot any longer support the typical plants, fish and insects that are normal in healthy waters.

Dirty water running off roads and pavements, along with agricultural fertilisers and pesticides, are polluting many rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Abstraction from rivers and aquifers, and the destruction of wetland habitats by land drainage and flood defence works are having a devastating effect on wetland wildlife.

Numbers of breeding waders in Northern Ireland have declined dramatically since the late1980s. Lapwing are down by over 66%, curlew by 58% and snipe by 30%.

Dr James Robinson, conservation manager for the RSPB Northern Ireland explained:

‘These reports show how degraded our waters have become, through decades, if not centuries, of neglect.  For any chance of restoring our wetland wildlife, government must act now to tackle pollution from agriculture, and the destruction of river and floodplain habitats. In dealing with pollution from agriculture, we would support measures that seek to minimise the financial burden imposed on farmers as they strive to improve water quality during a time of uncertainty for the industry.’

Economic analyses accompanying the reports show that we are not yet fully considering the environmental costs of habitat destruction or valuing the benefits of our rivers, lakes and coasts.

Aniol Esteban, RSPB economist said:

‘The Water Framework Directive could bring significant economic benefits to the UK, providing new opportunities for tourism and recreation, more sustainable solutions to flooding risks, and saving water customers millions in clean-up costs by preventing pollution in the first place.’

For further information please log on to www.rspb.org.uk/nireland