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BBC documentary highlights pollution threat to our rivers

Don’t miss Paul Whitehouse two-part documentary ‘Our Troubled Rivers’ on BBC 2 and iPlayer

Comedian Paul Whitehouse, whose TV series ‘Mortimer and Whitehouse – Gone Fishing’ has enchanted anglers and non-anglers alike, finds there’s nothing to laugh about when he delves below the surface of our rivers.

In a no-holds-barred two-part documentary, Episode 1 of which was aired on BBC2 on Sunday, March 5 , Whitehouse says: “Years of pollution and neglect mean our waterways are in trouble. Whether it is the actions of industry, water companies, agriculture or us as citizens, our rivers are taking a battering”.

Describing Britain’s rivers as: “The closest thing to paradise we have”, Whitehouse looks at how raw sewage discharges by some water companies are pouring what he described as “liquid death” into rivers.

Episode 1 focused, amongst others, on Yorkshire’s River Wharf, the River Tame in Greater Manchester and Lake Windermere in the Lake District.

In the episode, Prof Jamie Woodward, Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Manchester, told Whitehouse that a study he conducted on the River Tame had revealed the highest concentration of micro plastics he had seen anywhere in the world.

The programme also highlighted a speech given to the Labour Party Conference last year by Feargal Sharky, best known as lead vocalist of punk band The Undertones and now an environmental campaigner and keen fly fisherman. In the speech Sharky said: “As a direct result of the water industry’s profiteering there is not a single river in England that achieves good overall environmental health. Every single river is polluted and one of the largest sources of that pollution is the water industry.”

Episode 2 focuses on how nitrate and phosphate run off from agriculture and the rearing of chickens are affecting water quality in the River Wye, how pollution and water abstraction affects chalk streams in the south of England, how sewage outfalls are affecting the sea off Whitstable and, on a more positive note, how a £4.4 billion mega project to upgrade the sewerage system in London should help to improve water quality in the River Thames.

While the programme published responses from the water companies covered, Whitehouse seemed singularly unimpressed by the progress made so far to clean up Britain’s rivers, although he closed with a statement from the Government which said: “Our ambitious objective is to return at least three-quarters of our waters to be close to their natural state. We have new legal targets to drive down pollution, are requiring water companies to deliver their largest ever infrastructure programme to reduce sewage spills and our new initiatives will help farmers reduce nutrient pollution from agriculture. Protecting our precious water resources is key and we will continue to work with regulators to hold polluters to account”.

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Written by Peter Cliff
With career in Public Relations and journalism, Peter worked for local, regional and national newspapers before moving into Public Relations. A regular contributor to several major angling publications over the years, he launched Fisheries.co.uk in 1999.

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