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Top of the Poops - Big Issue article

FWQ Programme

Prof Pippa Chapman, Champion for the NERC Freshwater Quality Programme has contributed to a feature on water quality in the Big Issue 17 April , 2023.

Excerpt below. Read full article here

Top of the Poops - Privatisation of water in the UK has resulted in soaring bills and sewage-filled rivers. How did we get here and how do we change course. by Chris Moss

People used to swim with their heads high above the water because they lacked confidence or wanted to protect their hairdo. Now they do it so that they don’t swallow shit.

If you like to swim, fish, dive or paddle in your local river, and you live in the North of England, think again. Seven of the 20 most polluted rivers are in the region, managed by United Utilities and Yorkshire Water.

If you have children, and those children share the age-old fascination with all things watery, then you’d better start thinking about overseas holidays – because your local rivers and, as a consequence, beaches could be dangerous for their health. The once feted ones down south are now more likely to be fetid.

Our rivers are always in the news right now. Activists like Feargal Sharkey and George Monbiot have been tireless protesters of their pollution, but other familiar names are getting involved – as are national media. Ray Mears is backing the New Scientist and I newspaper’s Save Britain’s Rivers campaign. In the recent BBC documentary, Our Troubled Rivers, comedian and angler Paul Whitehouse lamented the state of the Wharfe...

Paul Whitehouse and Fergal Sharkey from the programme Troubled Waters

Paul Whitehouse and Fergal Sharkey from the programme Troubled Waters.

Contributing to the discussion, Pippa says:

“Water companies have found it hard to deal with drought followed by intense rainfall and flooding – one followed by the other has impacts for sediment erosion and delivery to freshwaters,”

“Across Europe there are water quality issues, with climate change leading to low water flow in the rivers and then pollution is not diluted as much. This can cause issues such as eutrophication, which was a big problem last summer.

“Also, all areas are suffering from an increase in microplastic pollution and emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals.”

For more information visit the NERC Freshwater Quality Programme website or contact us at: