04/03/2024

New Report Highlights Current State Of NI Rivers

No single stretch of river in Northern Ireland is is "good overall health", this was the message of the Rivers Trust, in its latest 'State Of Our Rivers Report'.

Highlighting that "healthy rivers are vital", the Rivers Trust said: "As the arteries of our landscapes they mitigate the impacts of climate change, support a wealth of biodiverse ecosystems, and benefit both our mental and physical wellbeing. However, plagued by sewage, chemicals, nutrients, and plastics, and having been heavily modified throughout history, the majority of our rivers across the UK and Ireland are far from healthy, with the data showing that:

• No single stretch of river in England or Northern Ireland is in good overall health.

• Just 15% of English, 31% of Northern Irish, and 50% of Irish river stretches reach good ecological health standards.

• Toxic chemicals persist in every stretch of English rivers.

"Whilst some of the problems are visible, such as obvious signs of pollution and large artificial barriers spanning bank to bank, many lurk beneath the surface, rendering even seemingly pristine waters far from healthy. Additionally, inconsistent data availability makes the full-scale of the problems challenging to determine, and exact sources of pollution tricky to pinpoint."

The Trust has called for action from national and local government to "protect and restore our rivers".

Responding to the report, Alliance Environment spokesperson John Blair said: "The Rivers Trust's report, alongside others such as RSPB's State of Nature report, paints a stark picture of the state of our natural environment.

"However, it will come as no surprise for many, given the blue-green algal bloom crisis witnessed last year at Lough Neagh and other areas across Northern Ireland. Rivers are vital to our everyday lives, impacting biodiversity, tourism, recreation, fishing, culture and even, critically, our drinking water. Therefore, the state we have allowed our waterways to reach is incredibly concering.

"Factors such as agriculture run-off, sewage, and invasive species, such as Zebra Mussels, have been listed as the worst offenders for causing our rivers to become unhealthy. Years of underinvestment and mismanagement, alongside the climate crisis, have exacerbated the effects of these pressures.

"There is no doubt that over these years, these issues have only been allowed to intensify, with our political institutions having been collapsed for five out of the last seven years. However, with the Assembly restored, and with Alliance Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Andrew Muir MLA now at the helm, progress is possible. However, this is only possible with the appropriate funding, backed by wider political commitment.

"Protecting our environment, tackling climate change, and investing in sustainable infrastructure must be a commitment across both government and society. Minister Muir spent time on Lough Neagh in his first few days in office, reinforcing that protecting our waterways is high on the department's agenda. It is, therefore, vital that reform of our political institutions also remains high on the agenda so that we are not faced yet again with years of stagnation due to a collapsed Assembly and Executive."

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