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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 17:58 GMT
UK waterways 'cleaner than ever'
Waterways in England and Wales are cleaner than before the industrial revolution.
Rivers have been cleaned up across the UK.
Waterways in England and Wales are probably cleaner than they were before the industrial revolution, a survey has claimed.

The improvement in the chemical quality of rivers and estuaries is attracting back otters, salmon and birds in their droves, according to the pollution watchdog, the Environment Agency.

These are the best figures we have ever had across the UK

Michael Meacher
Environment Minister

The news came as the Agency caught the first salmon from the River Mersey in living memory.

The three foot long fish, weighing nearly 15lbs, was caught on Monday at Warrington, and was then returned to the river.

The Agency poll suggests that 94% of rivers now have good or fair chemical quality, compared with less than 85% in 1990.

It says that is largely due to investment of around 30bn in sewage treatment since the water industry was privatised.

Some 96% of estuaries are of good or fair quality, compared with 90% in 1990.

Michael Meacher
Michael Meacher: Salmon seen in Thames

For the first time, the Agency's annual survey included an assessment of the aesthetic quality of rivers in England and Wales.

A total of 452 river sites that are regularly visited by the public were selected for grading, according to the presence of litter and other refuse on banks and in the river, the colour and smell of the water, presence of oil, scum, foam and dog fouling.

Two thirds of the surveyed sites were graded of good or fair aesthetic quality, with the remainder described as poor or bad quality, although water quality in many cases was good.

Otters, salmon and an abundance of fish and birds have returned to waterways

Sir John Harman
Environment Agency

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher said: "These are the best figures we have ever had across the UK.

"The chemical water quality of the Thames has improved steadily since 1995.

"The reasons for that are cleaner discharges from sewage treatment works, but it is also helped by high river flows.

Salmon seen

Mr Meacher said he believed that salmon had been seen in the Thames at Greenwich.

The fish has been spotted in the River Dove, in the Midlands - for the first time since the 1930s.

Otters have been seen in Kidderminster's River Stour, once badly affected by pollution from the carpet manufacturing trade.

The Tees estuary is now teeming with salmon and sea trout and experts hope other rivers will soon see the benefits of improved water quality.

Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, said: "The billions being invested in cleaning up our rivers are bearing fruit.

"The overall quality of river water has improved dramatically over the last 10 years.

Pamela Taylor, chief executive of Water UK, said: "Our customers should be pleased to see that the investment they have funded through their sewerage bills is paying excellent dividends in the quality of our environment."

See also:

29 Oct 01 | England
Salmon return to river
01 Sep 01 | Scotland
Anti-pollution project wins grant
22 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
UK estuaries 'risk becoming deserts'
20 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
UK's polluted rivers named
20 Apr 01 | UK
A tale of two rivers
20 Apr 01 | UK
UK river quality survey
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