HUGE numbers of British rivers are heavily polluted with dangerous agricultural chemicals, a new study has found.


The first analysis of the new monitoring data has revealed that British freshwaters are heavily contaminated with neonicotinoids and there are growing calls for them to be banned.

Half of the 16 sites monitored in England under the EU Water Framework Directive ‘Watch List’ exceed chronic pollution limits and two rivers are acutely polluted.

Aquatic insects are just as vulnerable to neonicotinoid insecticides as bees and flying insects, yet have not received the same attention because the UK Government has not previously responded to calls to introduce systematic monitoring.

The UK was required to introduce a pilot monitoring scheme for all five commonly used neonicotinoids. Some 26 sites were sampled in 2016, 16 in England, four in Scotland, three in Wales and three in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland data has yet to be released to the public.

A staggering 88 per cent of a total of 26 sites in Britain were contaminated, with eight rivers in England exceeding recommended chronic pollution limits, and two were acutely polluted.

The River Waveney on the Norfolk/Suffolk border was the worst hit – a stretch of this venue is pictured above.

And the River Wensum in Norfolk, a Special Area of Conservation for its river life, was also chronically polluted.

These rivers supply the Broads home to many endangered aquatic animals. Sugar beet fields are the most likely source of pollution.

The River Tame, an almost entirely urban river in the West Midlands was only monitored twice, and the second reading was very high, indicating a probable industrial or disposal pollution event.

Even a remote Scottish stream in the Cairngorms was affected by Imidacloprid which is now a rare arable insecticide, but its high persistence in soil means that it will continue polluting water in arable areas for years to come. But it is still used in greenhouses, which are known to be a particular pollution risk to water bodies and is used as a flea treatment on pets.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said: “Neonicotinoids kill insect life in rivers on which nearly all fish depend to survive and thrive.

“The Trust pressed the Environment Agency to monitor these chemicals several years ago, after we reviewed the scientific literature and saw the impact that they can have.

“Now that they have found them at dangerous levels in the majority of the small number of rivers in the sample, there must be a national survey carried out and an immediate Government ban on their use.

“Neonicotinoids are highly soluble, but also very persistent in the environment and could cause grave damage to our fisheries and other wildlife for many years to come.”

Arlin Rickard, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “Recent history has shown how agricultural chemicals which we initially thought were safe have proven extremely damaging to the environment and our wildlife.

“The Rivers Trust works closely with farmers and growers to reduce and better target chemical and fertiliser usage, however some chemicals are just too damaging and persistent to be tolerated.”

Angler’s Mail reader Boyd Butler of Reading, Berkshire said: “I have written to my MP about the reports of significant river pollution from pesticides.

“Perhaps all readers could voice their concern and ask their MP to get the Environment Minister Michael Gove to investigate this problem which may explain declining river stocks.

“Whilst the Kennet, Thames, Loddon, Pang and my other local rivers are not mentioned in this report it is highly likely they are polluted.

“This is affecting millions of anglers nationally as well as the angling trade which is worth billions to the economy,” he concluded.

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