Shropshire Wildlife Trust welcomes MP’s bid to stop sewage polluting rivers

Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP for Ludlow, has today published his Private Member’s Bill designed to tackle river pollution from untreated sewage and improve water quality.

In 2019, raw sewage was discharged into rivers across England and Wales for over 1.5 million hours, compromising these vital habitats for wildlife and endangering the health of people who use our rivers for recreation.

Philip Dunne MP, who is also chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: 

“Our rivers are a vital part of our natural heritage. It is right the Government has committed to restoring at least three quarters of our waters to their natural state.

But it is clear from last week’s latest assessment from the Environment Agency that we are a long way from achieving that, with fewer than one in six of our rivers in good health. This threatens the aquatic life and iconic species that rely on these precious habitats, such as freshwater fish, kingfishers, otters and dippers.

The discharge of untreated sewage is a major part of the problem, entering our rivers from the very treatment works whose purpose is to clean it up. Our regulations and investment have not kept pace with changes in behaviour and pressure from development, so now pollutants enter our rivers untreated, with the perpetrators licensed to spill.

This poses a significant health risk to those who wish to enjoy our rivers for leisure and recreation.

 The River Severn and its tributaries the Clun, Corve, Kemp, Onny, Rea, Teme and Worfe all flow through my constituency. They are nothing like as healthy as when I was a child, but they should be.

 That is why I have brought forward this Bill, which aims to cut discharges of raw sewage into our rivers - protecting our precious habitats for wildlife and people to enjoy.”

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill places a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters. The Bill will require water companies to set out plans progressively to reduce their reliance on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). It proposes increasing levels of transparency, as firms will be mandated to report publicly not just on the frequency and extent of sewage discharges from CSOs and any other sewer catchment assets, but also on the impact on water quality as this is enabled by advances in technology.

The Bill also proposes measures to upgrade drainage infrastructure to separate household sewage from surface water drainage, helping reduce the risk of overspills. It includes measures to reduce harmful products such as non-biodegradable wet wipes, commercial fats and oils from being disposed down the drains. It also proposes measures to expand the number of inland bathing waters and establish targets to increase those classified as “good” or “excellent”.

The Bill has widespread support from environmental charities and NGOs including Shropshire Wildlife Trust.  

River Projects Manager, Pete Lambert, says: "With over 3,400 miles of rivers, brooks and canals in Shropshire and Telford it is no wonder the people of the county are true river lovers. Our rivers attract wild swimmer, anglers, canoeists, rowers, wildlife watchers and countless tourists to enjoy the flow and spectacle.

Yet despite the continuing efforts of a concerned coalition of local communities, town councils, angling associations, agencies, water utilities, businesses and conservation charities, water quality remains very poor and river wildlife is in steady decline. The salmon currently leaping the weir in Shrewsbury are returning in fewer and fewer numbers each year. Fish numbers overall are in decline and water quality for people and wildlife is not improving anywhere near fast enough.  

Much has to change and it will take a collaborative effort of the many to restore our rivers and genuinely protect water quality form pollution and harm. We at Shropshire Wildlife Trust are therefore pleased to welcome and support Phillip Dunne MP and his Bill which aims to improve regulation of sewage discharges in this country".

Ali Morse, Water Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts and chair of environmental coalition Blueprint for Water said:

“This Bill could be the driving force behind big changes to benefit people and wildlife, encouraging water companies to implement more ‘nature-based’ solutions to protect our waterways. These include purpose-built ponds to capture rainwater, stopping it from overwhelming sewers and releasing raw sewage into rivers.

Regulators and Government must ensure water companies prioritise these measures. Customers want to see this too. People expect rivers to be clean enough to swim in, and healthy enough to support thriving wildlife.” 

The full text of The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill and further information can be found at: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2625

Read more about the work of the Rivers Team

Click here