Britain’s 2.5M anglers were delighted at the prospect of rivers being cleaned-up after a mid-1980’s Strasbourg agreement. What the enthusiasts of the country’s biggest participant sport hadn’t anticipated, however, was that the process would leave the rivers running gin clear which has had a devastating affect on the riverine environment.

The National Federation of Anglers’ commissioned a national survey which revealed that anglers believe more than three-quarters of our rivers are poorer in fish life today than ten years ago. This despite the fact that more rivers are claimed to be ‘cleaner’ today than at any other time this century. Anglers have never had such a wide variety of sophisticated equipment and techniques at their disposal, and yet, nationwide the great majority catch less fish today than they did ten years ago. A disastrous 78% of the river fishing in this country is worse than ten years ago. Around 5% has remained the same, leaving only 16% which has actually improved. However most of these improvements have been on rivers that ten years ago were so grossly polluted that they were incapable of supporting any life whatsoever.

Although improvements are welcomed, if these rivers are excluded because they could not have got any worse, the statistics are even more damning with 95% of rivers which offered reasonable fishing having deteriorated over the past ten years.

Because the decline is invisible to the casual observer, it is only anglers and aquatic biologists who are aware of the seriousness of the decline. Failure to halt the slide will result in many rivers becoming unproductive and no longer viable as fisheries. Many species of bird rely on a ready supply of freshwater fish. If this supply is reduced or rendered unstable the number of fish-eating birds such as kingfishers, grebes, herons, goosanders and mergansers will plummet.

Clear water was given as one of the most common reasons for the deterioration in river fisheries, a factor related to decreasing pollution as the nation’s sewage infrastructure is improved. The effect agricultural pesticides might be having on the aquatic environment is also causing some concern. In Understanding Rural Land Use the Environment Agency comments: “Pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) have only been in widespread use since 1940. Today some 450 active ingredients are available in agricultural pesticides in England and Wales… The effects (including the combined effects) of many of these substances on the aquatic environment and soil are largely unknown. Even tiny quantities of pesticides can wipe out river insects and other food for fish and birds.”

Whatever the cause, the decline in river fishing is real, not imaginary. Urgent action is required to investigate the cause, identify solutions and rapidly implement remedial action.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie