Together for Rivers

It's time for change

We dream of wild, healthy, natural rivers valued by all… but to get there, we need to talk about pollution.

There is currently only one designated bathing water in a UK river – and it’s classed as poor quality. This means recreational river users—anglers, swimmers, canoeists, paddlers, you name it—are at risk every time they wade in to the water. With your help, we can change that.

We want to introduce bathing water standards for well-used rivers across the UK, so you can swim, paddle, catch and play without worrying about pollution.

To do this, we need to create a comprehensive national monitoring programme, so we can observe the scale of the problem and provide strong data to back up our case. However, we need your support; without your donations, we simply cannot gather data on the scale necessary to see bathing water standards introduced.

It’s time to wade in. Together, for rivers. 

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What do we want?

  • We want bathing water standards in well used rivers for the benefit of a multitude of recreational activities (there are currently no designated bathing waters in rivers).
  • We do not want expensive, carbon-intensive water treatment at all sewage treatment works.
  • We want to create an honest conversation about sewage, agricultural and other sources of  pollution in rivers so we understand the scale of the challenge.
  • We want clean, healthy rivers that are fit enough to play in – we believe that if a river is fit enough to swim, paddle, catch and play in, then the river will have greater economic, environmental and social value.
  • We want to maximise the length of rivers where the quality of water is suitable for recreational activity.
  • We want to involve people in the solution to reignite their attachment to the natural world.
  • We want to work together, for rivers. #TogetherForRivers

How does sewage get into rivers?

Our sewer systems are designed to transport waste to a sewage treatment plant, where it is then cleaned to an environmentally safe standard before being released or re-used. However, it doesn’t always work like this in practice.

Heavy rainfall

Periods of heavy rainfall can easily overwhelm sewer systems. To prevent our homes from flooding as the sewers begin to back up, a mixture of sewage and rainwater can be discharged into rivers. This form of release is permitted by the government – however, there are no regulations as to what constitutes heavy rainfall, and some sewage outfalls have been recorded discharging without any rainfall at all.

Sewer blockages

If sewers become blocked, this can result in the discharge of backed up sewage into rivers. Blockages can occur when non-flushables are flushed down the toilet, or when grease and oils are washed away down the sink.

Old or outdated sewage treatment plants

Legally, outdated sewage treatment plants are able to discharge constantly. Despite this, the levels of treatment are not sufficient to protect environmental health.

To find out more about the different ways in which rivers become polluted, visit our ‘Is your river fit to swim in?’ page. 

What else can you do to help?

Only put the three Ps down the toilet: paper, poo and pee

Putting anything else down the toilet runs the risk of blocking sewers, which increases the likelihood of sewage being released into rivers. This includes wet wipes which brand themselves as flushable!

Reduce the amount of oils fats and grease that go down the kitchen sink. This can prevent sewer blockages

Oil and fat can contribute to the formation of huge ‘fatbergs’ which block up the sewer system. These blockages can often result in the emergency discharge of untreated sewage into rivers.

Address any misconnections in your home

This guide provides an easy way to judge whether or not your home is at risk of misconnections. If wastewater or sewage is connected to a surface water drain, it’s very possible that you are unintentionally polluting your local river. A plumber will be able to help you fix this.

Reduce the amount of rainfall that gets into the sewerage network

Non-permeable surfaces like concrete and fake grass do not absorb water in the same way as lawns or bare soil. When it rains, water accumulates on the surface and makes its way into storm drains. This can often result in sewers becoming overwhelmed and discharging sewage into rivers.

Ask your MP to #EndSewagePollution

We are proud to be a part of the End Sewage Pollution Coalition with Surfers Against Sewage and a range of other fantastic partners. The new online platform enables you to quickly and easily send your MP an email, asking them to support the Sewage Bill when it passes through parliament.

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Our supporter newsletter is full of updates from across the Rivers Trust movement, and will include any developments surrounding the Together for Rivers campaign. Sign up to our mailing list to stay up to date.