Rivers are the lifeblood of the UK; where would we be without them?
Rivers provide us with freshwater. Without rivers, we could not have a shower, wash our clothes, stay hydrated or even flush the loo. They are an important part of our heritage, essential to a prosperous economy and provide us with natural “blue space” to enjoy our leisure time. But our country’s rivers are under stress and they need your help.
Despite its reputation, England is not as rainy as everyone thinks. For instance, London actually receives less rainfall each year than cities like Miami, Dallas and even Sydney. This means that the South East of England is classified by the Environment Agency as “seriously water stressed”. With demand in the South East expected to significantly outstrip supply over the next few decades, our rivers will only put under more pressure.
Only 7 out of the 195 water bodies within the SERT area are considered healthy! Plastic and litter are blown into rivers and carried downstream, damaging the environment and injuring wildlife as it goes. Chemical pollution and raw sewage flow into our rivers without treatment, causing problems for fish and other wildlife.
So how can you help?
The south of England is lucky enough to be home to chalk streams, a globally rare habitat with only 200 remaining worldwide. They are home to many amazing plants and animals, forming the distinct communities uniquely associated with the clean, chalk-purified water. But they rely on having enough water present in the chalk aquifers that feed them. The water we use every day has been pumped out (abstracted) from these same underground reservoirs, so the amount we use directly impacts the amount of water left in our rivers for wildlife.
So cutting down your consumption can make a big difference; fix any dripping taps, have showers instead of baths and install a water butt to collect water for your garden plants. Although these savings may seem like a drop in the ocean when it comes to the problem of water scarcity in the South East, if everyone does their bit it all adds up to huge savings.
Switch to Water Friendly Cleaning Products
Cleaning products, washing-up liquid and laundry detergents are packed full of phosphates which are added to help make their cleaning power more efficient. When these get washed down the drain, the water is transported to a water treatment works to be cleaned, however the phosphates aren’t all removed! Phosphates are an important nutrient for plants, so when the water is washed into our rivers, the unnaturally high concentrations of phosphates cause blooms of algae to smother our rivers.
Swapping to ecological products with low phosphate concentrations will help reduce the levels entering our rivers in the South East.
In many areas there are separate drainage systems for waste water (which comes from our sinks, showers and toilets) and surface water (which has drained off roads, driveways and roofs). Waste water is piped to sewage treatment works before entering our waterways, whereas surface water drains flow untreated into nearby rivers. Sometimes drains get mis-connected so that waste water enters the surface water drainage system.
More information on how to check whether your drains are mis-connected can be found on the Connect-Right website.
Dispose with Care
Don’t put fats or oils down the sink or outside drain. Mop them up with kitchen roll and dispose of them in the waste bin instead.
When fats cool down they solidify and stick to the walls of pipes, causing them to narrow and become blocked. These blockages can cause raw sewage to back-up and overflow onto the street. This then gets washed straight into surface water drains and straight into our rivers untreated! This sudden influx causes oxygen levels to plummet, killing fish and other animals.
Britain’s largest “fatberg” (solidified fat mixed with other items flushed into the sewer), which weighed the same as 11 double decker buses, was discovered under Whitechapel, London in 2017. Everyone can do their bit to help prevent these monsters from damaging our wonderful rivers.
Volunteer with us – become a River Guardian!
We’re recruiting a team of River Guardians to be our eyes and ears along our south London rivers. Becoming a River Guardian involves adopting a stretch of river that you visit regularly – after all, who knows the river better than the people who see it frequently? We give you the tools and know-how to enable you to make a positive difference towards improving the health of your local river. All we need from our River Guardians is the enthusiasm to lend a helping hand on the Hogsmill, Beverley Brook and Wandle!
Individuals taking small positive steps, like removing plastic pollution and reporting pollution incidents, can all add up to make a big difference. Every single piece of litter collected, and every pollution incident reported, is important and together we can contribute to the recovery of our amazing urban rivers.
We’d like as many people as possible to join in and become part of the River Guardians community! For more information about this new volunteering opportunity, or to sign up, please visit the River Guardians page.
The more eyes out along the river the better when it comes to protecting them from pollution, so please do help us spread the word and encourage others to become River Guardians too. We’ve also got lots of other volunteering opportunities available, from community cleanups to riverfly monitoring, so there’s something to suit everyone. Sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date with all our events and volunteering.