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New research will improve the quality of UK rivers

  • New research will improve the quality of UK rivers
  • 5 new research projects have launched to investigate how pollution impacts UK rivers.

About the entity

UK Research and Innovation
UKRI convenes, catalyses and invests in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.
Analytical Technology (ATi)

Freshwater ecosystems are facing multiple pressures from a cocktail of pollutants, including chemicals, microplastics, pharmaceuticals, invasive species and land management practices.

As a result, the majority of UK rivers fail to have good ecological status, with only 14% of waterways in England, 46% in Wales,  50% in Scotland and 31% in Northern Ireland reaching the threshold.

Researchers have been awarded funding by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs from the £8.4 million understanding changes in quality of UK freshwaters programme to:

  • investigate how pollutants enter, leave and interact with rivers and supporting ecosystems
  • determine how the movement of pollutants will be modified with changes in the water cycle
  • create better tools to monitor and measure pollution

Improving the water quality

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said: "The stresses that are placed on our rivers are many and complex, from growing urban development to farming practices, increased diversity of chemicals and pharmaceuticals used by society, and pollution pressure from transport.

"We are going further and faster than any other government to protect and enhance the health of our rivers, including taking action to end the environmental damage caused by sewage spills.

"This funding is welcome. It will enable researchers to carry out vital studies monitoring and measuring pollution that find its way into our precious water courses. Monitoring the impacts of climate change will also be important."

This knowledge will be used to improve the water quality in our rivers, bringing benefits now and into the future.

Freshwater monitoring

The projects will study how:

  • concentrations of multiple chemicals vary in freshwaters, using 9 field catchments in Yorkshire (Rivers Aire, Calder, Derwent, Don, Nidd, Ouse, Swale, Ure and Wharfe)
  • climate change impacts water quality of rivers
  • freshwater pollutants affect aquatic invertebrates and plants (Thames and Bristol Avon field sites)
  • livestock farming, its effluent and mitigation practices changes UK water quality (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and north and west England field sites)
  • interactions will occur between changes in climate and land use, and emergent contaminants in rivers (includes River Almond study site, Scotland)

Pollution impacts UK rivers

The programme’s Freshwater Quality Champions, Professor Pippa Chapman and Professor Joseph Holden, from the University of Leeds, said:

"There are huge water quality pressures on UK rivers. These are likely to be exacerbated with climate change.

"Through this innovative programme we will develop cutting-edge environmental science which is focussed on improving UK freshwater quality.

"Through collaboration between researchers, water and land managers and policy-makers, the programme will help ensure that our rivers and other waterways are more resilient to future climate and land-use change."

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