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Britain’s rivers at risk of drying out as water demand soars

Britain’s rivers are under serious threat.  Many are below their usual levels for the time of year and the need to conserve our rivers and reduce water demand has never been stronger.

With climate change, population growth and the demand for housing set to have significant impacts on river flows the future does not look bright for many of England’s best loved rivers.

This week, conservation organisation WWF-UK launches Riverside Tales, a new report that looks at the worrying future for some of the UK’s unique chalk streams. It warns of immediate threats to wildlife such as water voles, otters, salmon and kingfishers caused by taking too much water from these waterways. It calls for a consistent approach to making sure water use is within sustainable limits.

Although all water companies now have an obligation to deliver water efficiency, the policies for protecting our rivers are effectively bound by out of date licensing rules that do not reflect the needs of rivers.

Ecosystems in a third of river catchments are under threat because abstraction and licence levels are too high. WWF’s report focuses on the discrepancies in the fortunes of the Itchen in Hampshire, the upper Kennet in Wiltshire and the tributary rivers of the Upper Lee – the Mimram and the Beane in Hertfordshire and offers lessons for rivers around the country.

“All the water we use is taken from the natural environment, and as water scarcity becomes a bigger issue in the UK, the framework for how we manage water resources in England and Wales must be changed. Reducing unsustainable abstraction will require strong leadership from government, water regulators, and water companies.” said Rose Timlett, Freshwater Policy and Programme Officer, WWF-UK.

Of the three river catchment areas the future looks brightest for the Itchen - home to many protected and increasingly rare native species such as the white-clawed crayfish and southern damselfly. Over the next five years the Environment Agency and the local water company are planning to install water meters throughout the region helping to keep millions of litres of water in the river.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the other rivers. Despite the Environment Agency and water companies agreeing to reduce over abstraction, funding has not yet been secured to deliver it. There are no plans to significantly reduce the amount of water people use even though water consumption around the Mimran and the Beane rivers is amongst the highest in the country.

Based on the review of these three catchment areas, WWF is calling for all damaging abstraction licences to be amended or revoked by 2020. The government must work with regulators, water companies and local communities to become more water efficient, stop our rivers from drying out and protect our native wildlife.

Riverside tales


For more information, pictures of species and river catchment areas please contact:

Rowan Walker
Press Officer
Tel: 01483 412 387

About WWF
WWF-UK is the UK arm of the WWF Network, the world’s leading environmental organisation founded in 1961 and now active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

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