Fringe Box



Phosphate Pollution in the River Wey One of the Worst In the Country

Published on: 5 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 6 Feb, 2024

The River Wey is often surrounded by farmland treated by fertilizer containing phosphates.

By Martin Giles

The River Wey and its tributaries had one of the highest levels of phosphates found in a recent survey of 163 English rivers.

The finding was included in the first annual Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) report, a citizen science initiative and part of the Anglers Against Pollution campaign.

Of the 163 rivers where regular samples (more than five) were recorded, 83 per cent failed to meet the phosphate standard for good ecological status in at least one sample.

The Angling Trust is now calling on political parties to be clear about how they would strengthen and enforce environment protection laws to urgently reduce river pollution as we move towards a general election later this year.  The trust says that the comprehensive report not only highlights the tremendous efforts of volunteer citizen scientist anglers but also sheds further light on the state of our rivers and the urgent need for action.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “Anglers, who have long served as stewards of our rivers, have been disturbed by the deteriorating water quality impacting rivers and the angling experience.

“Frustration has mounted as essential testing by the Environment Agency and water regulators has been reduced. In response, the Angling Trust launched the WQMN pilot in May 2022, mobilising a community of angler citizen scientists to monitor and understand what is happening below the surface.

“Under current government targets to reduce phosphate pollution in rivers, water companies could meet environmental goals by simply stripping phosphate only on their largest sewage works serving large populations and at the bottom end of rivers. This would mean that targets could be achieved with the lowest level of investment. However, the majority of rivers upstream and those with smaller wastewater works would still suffer from high levels of phosphate and pollution.”

Jamie Cook, Angling Trust CEO, added: “The Angling Trust’s WQMN initiative harnesses the passion our members have for rivers and enables them with tools and training to create a rapidly expanding community of citizen scientists who monitor, understand, and actively contribute to the preservation of their local rivers. ”

Paul Whitehouse, star of BBC’s Gone Fishing and clean water campaigner

Comedian, angler, and clean water campaigner Paul Whitehouse praised the initiative.

He said: “The chronic mismanagement of our rivers and waterways by organisations and bodies specifically tasked with protecting them has received a lot of attention recently.

“The Angling Trust has mobilised its army of volunteers to safeguard and improve the quality of our waterways by gathering evidence to hold polluters to account. Hats off to them.”

Angela Richardson MP

Reacting to the report, Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson said: “Reducing pollution in our rivers is vitally important for the health of Guildford residents and the planet.

“The levels of phosphate in the River Wey are clearly too high, which is why I welcome the measures that the government has introduced to tackle this issue.

“The government is reducing pollution from farms and clamping down on water pollution by boosting funding for the Environment Agency with £2.2 million per year being raised for water company enforcement activity. This is seeing its annual total of farm inspections increase to over 4,000 – a ten-fold increase in inspections since before 2021.

“The world-leading Environment Act sets a statutory target of reducing phosphorus, sediment, and nitrogen from agriculture entering the water environment by 40 per cent by 2038.

“Because agricultural activities are a significant source of water pollution, the government is rewarding farmers for acting to buffer rivers and reduce run-off and is working with farmers to increase incentives for better practices.

“There is lots of work still to do in this area, but I’m confident these interventions will help alleviate the issue in Guildford and our villages.”

Zoe Franklin

Zoe Franklin, the prospective Lib Dem candidate for the next general election, said: “River health is important to everyone in our community, whether they enjoy angling, wild swimming, water sports or walking by the river.

“Sadly, the River Wey is in the worst 23 per cent of waterways in terms of river health – we need urgent action to reduce pollution and restore its health.

“Despite multiple opportunities, the Conservatives have failed to act to prevent water companies – one of the main polluters – from dumping raw sewage into our rivers.

“The Liberal Democrats have a clear plan to address the pollution of rivers and waterways. These are:

  • legally binding targets for water companies to reduce and end sewage dumping in rivers;
  • turn water firms into public benefit companies with environmental experts on their boards to ensure no more profit before the environment;
  • ban water company bonuses until they end sewage dumping in our rivers;
  • legally require monthly reporting on animals impacted by sewage and river pollution.”

Alan Tanner of the Guildford Angling Society told The Dragon: “The club is fully aware of the problems that pollution causes to the river.  The Club and its anglers monitor the river when they are there.  I am contacted if there is a major problem and I notify the authorities straight away.

“The club will also be joining the Angling Trust with their monitoring and we are looking at a person at the club that can deal with this to keep an eye on the river.

“Just on the point of the river, we recently had a surprising catch of a trout.

A River Wey trout caught by a member of the Guildford Angling Club

“We all would like there to be no pollution in the river at all.  That is something that I noticed on the news that the run-off from roads is not monitored at all and this is causing a problem as well.”

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