World Rivers Day

From the City to the Sea

Today is World Rivers Day and we’re reflecting on the importance of healthy rivers and their significance in our own story and mission.

As The Rivers Trust highlights, ‘Rivers shape our landscapes and provide the foundations of our cities, towns and countryside. When they thrive, so do we.’ That’s because, while only 1% of the earth’s surface is made up of freshwater ecosystems, they in fact provide habitat for 100,000+ species! Shockingly, 0% of all the rivers in England are in good overall health. Read that again. In 2020, ALL English rivers failed to meet quality tests for pollution suggesting sewage discharge, chemicals and agriculture are having a huge impact on river quality.

Why we need healthy Rivers

The saying goes, all rivers lead to the sea. So, it stands to reason that in order for our oceans to be healthy, we need our rivers to be too. But safeguarding our freshwater ecosystems is so important, not just for the health of our oceans, but also for our own human health too. In fact, our lives kind of depend on healthy rivers.

Water is arguably our most precious natural resource. Yet water quality is hugely at risk from many different forms of contamination and other issues.

Some key threats to our UK rivers are:

  • Plastic Pollution
  • Agricultural & Chemical pollution
  • Sewage discharge
  • Climate Change

Sewage Discharge

Sewage wastewater discharges by water companies into rivers account for damage to 36% of waterways, and runoff from agricultural industries is responsible for 40% of the damage, according to the EA.  Campaigning organisation Surfers Against Sewage found that in 2020 there were over 400,000 discharges of untreated sewage into UK rivers and almost 5,500 discharges into UK coastal bathing waters – leading to the UK being consistently ranked as one of the worst European countries for coastal water quality!

Read the SAS 2021 Water Quality Report here and find out more about their campaigning work to stop sewage pollution.

Take Action today – write to your MP to demand they #EndSewagePollution.

Agricultural & Chemical Pollution

Fertilisers and chemicals used in agriculture eventually drain into the rivers surrounding farms. This excess of chemicals entering rivers causes algae and other plants to grow so much that they remove too much oxygen from the water, causing other wildlife to die. Similarly, soil erosion from farmed land causes excess sediment to wash into nearby rivers, which disturbs feeding habitats, reduces the amount of light reaching the riverbed and restricts the amount of water the channel can hold.

Climate Crisis

According to The Rivers Trust’s State of Our Rivers report, climate change will exacerbate existing river problems. We can expect more intense storm events, with heavier rainfall which will cause more damaging floods, more soil run-off, and even more pollution. We can also expect to see more frequent and severe periods of drought, drying out our river basins making pollutants more concentrated.

Connecting our cities to our seas…

Given the fact that what enters our rivers is likely to end up in the sea, it’s no surprise that recent research found that rivers are actually the main source of plastic pollution in the ocean. But did you know that 80% of all ocean plastic comes from 1000 rivers? study also found that most of that waste is carried by small rivers that flow through densely populated urban areas, rather than by the largest rivers, as previously thought.

Which brings us back to our mission. At City to Sea, we connect our actions to our oceans. Meaning that what we do in our cities and towns – although they may be far from the coast – has a direct impact on our oceans. From the food and drink we buy in single-use plastic to the period products and “biodegradable” wet wipes we flush down our loos, the everyday actions we take as part of our daily routines can have huge and devastating consequences for our natural environment – especially our oceans. And what connects our cities with our seas? Our rivers of course! Which means, if we want to get to the heart of tackling the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans, we need to do some river dipping…

Plastic Rivers

A stroll along a canal or river will usually involve seeing some kind of plastic pollution, be it an empty plastic water bottle or packet of crips floating along. In 2019, Earthwatch found that the top ten items polluting UK rivers were:

  1. Bottles
  2. Food wrappers
  3. Cigarette butts
  4. Food takeaway containers
  5. Cotton bud sticks
  6. Coffee Cups
  7. Period products
  8. Smoking related material
  9. Plastic Straws, Stirrers and Cutlery
  10. Plastic bags

The good news is that these most polluting single-use items can mostly be avoided. And our campaigns are designed to help you do just that! Find out more about how we are helping to turn the tide on single-use plastic – and how you can do your bit to help our rivers too.

Take Action for Our Rivers

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