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i’s Save Britain’s Rivers 2024 manifesto: in full

Today every political party in Britain is challenged to sign up to a blueprint that will save the nation’s rivers.

Amid growing public anger at the health hazards from sewage and other pollution – and the widespread destruction of wildlife – i has created a manifesto to rescue UK rivers and seas.

The plan is simple but requires political willpower, rather than the current blame game. Every political party in the UK will be asked to support it. There are five key pledges to reverse the destruction of our precious waterways.

Taking these five steps will transform Britain’s rivers. i will reveal which parties back the plan, which decline to, and why.

#1. RIVER HEALTH: 77 per cent of rivers in good health by 2027. 

Current situation: England’s rivers were once havens of biodiversity, but the vast majority are now struggling to support healthy ecosystems of plants and wildlife. Just 14 per cent of rivers in England are currently in good ecological health and not a single river has achieved good chemical health. The current Government has set a legal target that 77 per cent will achieve good ecological status by 2027 – but without urgent action this will not happen. 

Target: Within its first six months in power, the next Government will publish a roadmap on how it is going to achieve this existing legal target, and its long-awaited chemical strategy. The plan must include increased funding for the Environment Agency so the watchdog can do its job – and enforce the law.  

#2. SEWAGE: Sewage spills will not damage high-priority areas – including bathing spots and nature sites – by 2030.  

Current situation: Bathing waters and nature sites are being destroyed by sewage spills, but water companies will not be required to clean up all of these spaces until 2045. 

Target: Untreated sewage will not cause damage to high priority sites (which are bathing spots, protected nature sites, National Parks and chalk streams) by 2030. Water companies who fail to meet this target will be prosecuted. Nature-based solutions will be used to clean up sewage wherever possible. 

#3. WATCHDOG: Regulators will stop water companies destroying the environment in pursuit of profit.

Current situation: Water companies have paid their investors healthy dividends while failing to invest enough in their infrastructure to prevent environmental harm. This is partly caused by a disjointed regulatory system that prioritises economic outcomes over the environment.  

Target: Within its first year in power, the next Government will publish a plan to reform regulation of water companies. This plan must be legislated on and executed within the first term of Parliament. This will include tougher powers to restrict dividends and bonuses for underperforming water companies, alongside greater resources to pursue prosecution. A ‘green duty’ will be placed on Ofwat, which will force the regulator to place greater emphasis on the environment when making decisions over water companies’ business plans.  

#4. BATHING: Create 100 clean bathing spots in rivers by 2030.

Current situation: People in the UK have discovered the joy of wild swimming. But there are only 15 official bathing spots in English rivers, and many are not safe. 

Target: 100 bathing spots in English rivers by the end of the next Parliament. The Environment Agency must start monitoring water quality throughout the year and take action to improve water quality at these sites. Bathing regulations will be altered so polluters can be prosecuted when bathing sites fail water quality tests.  

#5. FARMING: Farmers must be funded to improve water quality, and face enforcement action if they damage the environment.

Current situation: Agriculture is the biggest source of pollution in many rivers, but many farmers warn they are struggling to make ends meet under post-Brexit farming subsidies. Meanwhile, the Environment Agency is failing to enforce farming water quality regulations.   

Target: Within its first year in power, the next Government will strengthen its Environmental Land Management scheme so farmers are given more grants, support and advice to undertake activities that will improve water quality. The Environment Agency will commit to a year-on-year increase in the number of farms being inspected – and take enforcement action against those who commit breaches of the “farming rules for water”.

The following organisations and individuals have pledged their support to i‘s manifesto:

  • The Rivers Trust
  • River Action
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • Wildlife and Countryside Link
  • Campaign for Natoinal Parks
  • Greenpeace
  • Angling Trust
  • Chris Packham
  • Deborah Meaden
  • Surfers Against Sewage
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Buglife
  • People’s Trust for Endangered Species
  • Pesticide Action Network UK
  • Institute of Fisheries Management
  • A Rocha UK
  • Nature Friendly Farming Network
  • Rewilding Britain
  • Fidra
  • British Ecological Society
  • Marine Conservation Society

How you can take action to Save Britain’s Rivers

  • If you care about Britain’s rivers and want the next Government to act to protect them, you can support i‘s manifesto by doing the following:
  • Write to your local MP candidates, asking them if they will support i’s five-point plan and push for it to be incorporated into their party’s manifesto in time for next month’s election.
  • Write to your local water company, urging them to sign up to the pledges and to be part of the solution to Britain’s polluted rivers, not part of the problem.
  • Share i‘s manifesto on social media and among your local community.
  • Get involved with the groups supporting i‘s manifesto, who are already doing incredible work to conserve our precious waterways
  • If you have a story about your local river that you think should be featured in our campaign, contact [email protected]

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