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Save Britain’s Rivers: Why New Scientist is campaigning to rescue UK waterways



The UK’s rivers are uncared for, polluted and over-exploited. In partnership with the i, New Scientist’s new marketing campaign will reveal what’s gone improper and the best way to restore them


| Chief

15 February 2023

Roy Waller/Alamy

RIVERS are the lifeblood of human civilisation. Our conurbations are constructed on them and have been for the reason that very first cities (in all probability) had been constructed alongside the programs of the Tigris and the Euphrates in what was then Mesopotamia. They continue to be mandatory: life relies upon simply as a lot on water now because it did then.

However within the crowded, urbanised world we stay in, they’re additionally more and more valued for his or her magnificence and restorative energy, attracting walkers, kayakers and wild swimmers. It’s understood that there are few issues extra uplifting to the human coronary heart than a gorgeous river, whether or not it’s meandering by means of meadows or tumbling silver down rocks, and that such uplift has a substantial influence on our psychological and bodily well being. The UK is one in all a handful of nations on this planet to quantify the helpful influence of being round freshwater: it saves the nation’s well being companies £870 million a yr.

So we’d like our rivers and we love them too – but we neglect them. We impede them, making it unimaginable for wildlife resembling eels to journey upstream. We flip them into concrete canals, the place little can develop. We permit garbage to mount up on river seashores and catch on each fallen department, poisoning and typically actually strangling the creatures that stay within the water. We dump uncooked sewage into rivers, time and again. Pesticides and farm waste leach in off the land. Much less visibly, previous mines seep poison into them.

In some locations, a lot water is extracted from the rivers themselves, or from the underground water caches they spring from, that they’re fairly merely disappearing. Just lately, we reported on what has occurred to “the Nile of America”, the fantastic Colorado river, which now not reaches the ocean.

The state of the UK’s rivers

In 2016, the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature printed a report on the state of the UK and the Republic of Eire’s rivers. It concluded that “truly natural environments that have escaped both direct and indirect human alteration no longer exist”. Issues haven’t improved since. No rivers in England, Wales or Northern Eire are thought of to be in excessive ecological well being, and solely 14 per cent of England’s rivers qualify nearly as good. Once you take chemical air pollution under consideration, no rivers in these three nations are deemed as being good. Not one.

The UK has laws in place to guard its rivers, but it seems to make little distinction.

Why does this matter greater than the same befouling and despoiling of some patch of land close by? Why concentrate on rivers?

Rivers and different wetlands make up a really small fraction of Earth’s floor, however, in line with the United Nations, they’re house to 40 per cent of all plant and animal species. Within the UK, a tenth of biodiversity is dependent upon them. Their significance to our biosphere is great. So how we deal with our watercourses has huge implications for our future, far past the poisoning of swimmers pressured to cross by means of sewage, or ugly “wet wipe beaches”.

Save Britain’s Rivers marketing campaign

New Scientist hasn’t dedicated to a marketing campaign in lots of a long time, however over the course of the following yr, we will probably be preventing to save lots of the UK’s rivers. We’re a worldwide journal, however for a marketing campaign to make sense, it will need to have achievable targets, so we’ve got determined to start out with the UK, a comparatively small and wealthy group of islands the place there isn’t any excuse in any respect for the way filthy its rivers are. But we will probably be aware at each step to verify the tales we publish – whether or not they cowl the science of why rivers matter or the best way to discover out in case your native stream or river is wholesome – will probably be of curiosity to a worldwide viewers.

We’re embarking on this marketing campaign, named Save Britain’s Rivers, with our sister publication, the i. Edited by Oliver Duff, it’s a newspaper with spectacular attain within the UK and a shared ardour for environmental causes.

Over the following yr, in tandem with the i, we will probably be doing deep dives into the science of what’s taking place to UK rivers, in addition to a number of hard-hitting information tales, movies, podcasts and occasions on the topic. We will even be celebrating the glory of our rivers, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Eire, and asking readers to inform the story of their native watercourse. Extra on that later. We will even hunt down rivers world wide which can be exceptionally effectively cared for, and examine why and the way.

So what will we hope to attain over the following yr? Three issues.

First, we wish to discover out what is admittedly taking place to the UK’s rivers and why.

Second, we wish to construct on the very good work that so many scientists and activists, resembling Feargal Sharkey, have already performed in bringing the plight of the UK’s rivers to public discover. We wish extra folks to grasp what’s going on.

Third, we wish to draw up a practical, apolitical manifesto for rivers, a blueprint for the way they are often a lot better taken care of. We hope this manifesto might be picked up and adopted by any political celebration concerned with saving our rivers.

The UK can take care of its rivers higher. A lot better. So let’s, collectively, make it occur.

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