By Eleanor Doughty of I News: How clean is your local river? In Scotland, less than half of rivers are in good condition – and according to the Environment Agency, just 14 per cent of English rivers are in good health.
An investigation in August found that no English river can be certified as safe for wild swimming, with 86 per cent falling short of the EU’s ecological standard.
A number of factors affect whether a river is in good or bad health, explains Simon Evans, chief executive of the Wye and Usk Foundation. “The chemical parameters – does it have too much phosphate in it? Is it too warm, does it have enough oxygen in it?” Then there’s the biology – “does it have the right plant, fish and invertebrates communities in it?”.
“If it ticks all of those boxes then it is defined as being in good health. If one of those is wrong, then it’s not in good health. It’s one out, all out.”
When it comes to a river’s relationship with the land around it, the shape also matters. In Cumbria, fell farmer James Rebanks has embarked on a “river rewiggling” project for a portion of the Eden that runs across his land and was straightened in the 1920s. That was to increase draining speed, but making the river meander again has had benefits.
“Our land isn’t flooding as badly,” says Rebanks, author of The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District. “By widening the channel, you can have twice as much rain.” He adds: “What I would have thought of 10 years ago as a project spoiling my land is the opposite.”