UK’s polluted rivers cause migrating salmon to ‘fall at last hurdle’

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned that the polluted state of the UK’s rivers is causing salmon migrating from the North Atlantic to “fall at the last hurdle”. With only 14 percent of rivers in England alone in good ecological health, the organisation is calling on the Government to urgently improve the health of our waterways. River health is vital, they explained, not only for the survival of freshwater species, but also for the countless people who use rivers for recreation.

Salmon can migrate over distances of thousands of miles from the icy waters of the North Atlantic to the rivers of the UK to spawn.

Scotland, notably, sports the world’s third-largest salmon industry — behind only Norway and Chile — with more than 200 farms that are worth some £1.8billion each year.

However, on arrival in the UK, the fish are increasingly faced with rivers polluted with chemicals, pesticides and sewage.

Alongside this, both rising water temperatures and pollution caused by agricultural run-off have caused changes in the freshwater environment that is making it harder for salmon to reproduce.

According to a report from Natural Resources Wales, salmon could disappear completely from many Welsh rivers within the coming decades.

The situation is also no better in England, with the Environment Agency last year categorising 88 percent of the country’s salmon rivers being “at risk”.

Both reports, however, note that salmon stocks are capable of recovering, if the right interventions are undertaken.

The WWF’s Chief Freshwater Advisor, Dave Tickner, said: “Salmon are the most incredibly resilient species.

“They can clear obstacles of more than 3 metres [9.8 feet] — higher than the current high jump world record — and swim for thousands of miles.

“But they can’t survive the horrific conditions that face them once they reach UK waters.”

“UK nature is in crisis and we should be doing everything in our power to make sure our rivers are in good health.”

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Mr Tickner continued: “It’s time for urgent action from farmers and food businesses, water companies and regulators.

“The most urgent priority is for UK governments to ensure that regulatory agencies have the resources and political backing to hold polluters to account, and to provide more funding for river restoration.”

In particular, the WWF has teamed up with environmental charity ClientEarth to launch a legal complaint against the Environment Agency, alleging a failure to monitor and enforce key environmental laws addressing nitrogen pollution from English farms.

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