Big River Watch: public to monitor UK and Irish rivers for pollution | Rivers

People in Britain and Ireland are being asked to monitor their local rivers for pollution so a leading water charity can measure the scale of the sewage crisis.

The Rivers Trust is this week launching the Big River Watch, asking people to record observations of their local rivers on a free app. The results will be made available through an interactive dashboard, and will help the organisation, as well as individuals and communities who can all access the data, to take action to improve rivers.

Volunteers will be asked to identify sewage pollution, sewage fungus, minewater and silt, along with other indicators of river health, so pollution hotspots can be identified and tackled. The Rivers Trust is hoping for it to be the UK and Ireland’s biggest ever mass participation survey of river health.

Tessa Wardley, director for communications and advocacy at the trust, said: “In September 2023, 60% of Big River Watch participants were new to citizen science, which shows just how important this tool is to help everyone get involved and showing they care about rivers. As well as learning where pollution and wildlife are spotted, we also want to know how spending time near rivers affects people’s wellbeing, so I’d encourage anyone and everyone to spend some time by their river and make their voice heard.”

UK and Irish rivers have been choked by sewage pollution, as the sewer system allows untreated human waste to mix with rainwater and domestic wastewater, meaning that the pipes become overwhelmed. This toxic cocktail of sewage and chemicals is then drained into waterways to prevent it backing up into homes.

Data first revealed by the Guardian found that 2023 was a record year for sewage spills. Raw sewage was discharged for more than 3.6m hours into rivers and seas in a 105% increase on the previous 12 months.

Water industry figures have admitted that this is due to a lack of investment in pipes and sewers, and as climate breakdown brings heavier rains and the population rises, the system is failing.

Emma Brisdion, marketing campaigns lead at the Rivers Trust, said: “Healthy rivers are essential for our wellbeing and for our wildlife. But rivers in the UK and Ireland have been allowed to get into a desperate state, and there are many people who care immensely about them and want to help.

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“The Big River Watch invites communities to get involved. The simple survey is all about using that connection to rivers to record the good, the bad, and the ugly so we can understand our blue spaces better and make informed decisions about how to revive them.”

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