UK river quality getting better

River quality is, on the whole, gradually improving across the UK although biodiversity is still declining in Northern Ireland.

This week Government published a statistical analysis of both the chemical and organic quality of the nation’s rivers for 2006, essentially looking at pollution levels and how healthy plant and wildlife populations are.

The figures make up one of 68 indicators that are used to inform Government’s Sustainable Development Strategy.

In England, biological river quality was considered good along 71% of the country’s river length, the same as in 2005 and slightly better than the 67% recorded in 2000.

The 66% of river length was of good chemical quality in 2006, up from 64% in 2005, 64 per cent in 2000 and 43 per cent in 1990.

The figures for Wales were better, 82% of river length was of good biological quality in 2006, up from 80% in 2005, 78% in 2000.

95% of river length was of good chemical quality in 2006, the same as in 2005, and compared to 93% in 2000 and 86% in 1990.

In Northern Ireland a less impressive 54% of river length monitored was of good biological quality in 2006, down from 56% in 2005 and 61% in 2000.

This was despite a fall in chemical levels, with 74% of river length was of good chemical quality in 2006, a significant increase from 63% in 2005, 55% in 2002 and 44% in 1991.

Scotland used a slightly different system, including chemical, biological, nutrient and aesthetic elements in a combined assessment.

According to this assessment, 88% of monitored river lengths were of good quality in 2006, up slightly from 87% in 2005, which was the same figure as in 2004 and 2000.

Over the next few years, there will be changes in the way that the monitoring process is carried out throughout the UK, and this will eventually result in a change to the way in which the indicator is presented.

New monitoring schemes are now in place which will enable the UK, through its separate environmental agencies, to monitor and assess river water quality in accordance with the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Under this Directive, a river basin approach has been introduced to monitoring, in place of the previous regional approach, and greater emphasis has been placed on ecological objectives.

A target has also been set, with all rivers required to be of “good” quality by 2015, although subject to certain exemptions.

Sam Bond

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