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What Lies Beneath

A CITIZEN SCIENCE INVESTIGATION OF UK WATER QUALITY
Rather read a PDF? Download the full report here.

Introduction

Water quality is in crisis in the UK. According to the European Union Water Framework Directive, there is not a single river in the UK that is currently in an overall state of ‘good’ health. As such, there is an urgent and growing need to clean up the UK’s waterways.

Planet Patrol has produced this water quality report to investigate the current state of waterways in England and Scotland. Through analysis of these results, Planet Patrol has formed the following collection of key findings based on location.

  • Not one UK river is in an overall state of ‘good’ health
  • All test sites but one failed to meet the acceptable criteria for all parameters tested in this study
  • 68.75% of test sites failed to meet an acceptable concentration of phosphate
  • Not one UK river is in an overall state of ‘good’ health
  • All test sites but one failed to meet the acceptable criteria for all parameters tested in this study
  • 68.75% of test sites failed to meet an acceptable concentration of phosphate

In April 2022, Planet Patrol launched its first citizen science water quality testing pilot. Tests were run extensively across a wide breadth of parameters, making it the most comprehensive study of its kind. Planet Patrol recruited 57 members of the general public, not necessarily from scientific backgrounds, to take part. Spread across England and Scotland, these volunteers were trained to create ground-breaking research.

See the full report for information about the methodology, testing kits, site selection and volunteer training.

Foreword from our founder

We’ve widened the citizen science opportunities at Planet Patrol to gather data below the water’s surface and find what lies beneath. This has highlighted a stark reality: the widespread, poor condition of our freshwater environments and importantly the immense benefit that mobilising individuals and communities can bring.

My belief has always been that in order to drive genuine, long term environmental change, data is crucial. Only by building evidence to illustrate the true scale and extent of a problem, can it be accurately understood and, importantly, communicated. That is what this report sets out to achieve.

Without the efforts of volunteers, environmental issues like poor water quality would persist, unobserved and unaccounted for, whilst invisibly destroying our environment and ecosystems until it’s too late.

Lizzie Carr MBE

Founder, Planet Patrol

Foreword from our founder

We’ve widened the citizen science opportunities at Planet Patrol to gather data below the water’s surface and find what lies beneath. This has highlighted a stark reality: the widespread, poor condition of our freshwater environments and importantly the immense benefit that mobilising individuals and communities can bring.

My belief has always been that in order to drive genuine, long term environmental change, data is crucial. Only by building evidence to illustrate the true scale and extent of a problem, can it be accurately understood and, importantly, communicated. That is what this report sets out to achieve.

Without the efforts of volunteers, environmental issues like poor water quality would persist, unobserved and unaccounted for, whilst invisibly destroying our environment and ecosystems until it’s too late.

Lizzie Carr MBE

Founder, Planet Patrol

Foreword from our founder

We’ve widened the citizen science opportunities at Planet Patrol to gather data below the water’s surface and find what lies beneath. This has highlighted a stark reality: the widespread, poor condition of our freshwater environments and importantly the immense benefit that mobilising individuals and communities can bring.

My belief has always been that in order to drive genuine, long term environmental change, data is crucial. Only by building evidence to illustrate the true scale and extent of a problem, can it be accurately understood and, importantly, communicated. That is what this report sets out to achieve.

Without the efforts of volunteers, environmental issues like poor water quality would persist, unobserved and unaccounted for, whilst invisibly destroying our environment and ecosystems until it’s too late.

Lizzie Carr MBE

Founder, Planet Patrol

Current State of Water

Key stats:

  • Only 14% of English rivers have ‘good’ ecological status, a decrease in 13% since 2010
  • No English river has ‘good’ chemical status
  • Environmental funding has been cut by £120 million in 2009 to £40 million in 2020 by the government.

Government commitments:

  • All rivers in ‘good ecological status’ by 2027 X
  • 75% of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites restored to favourable conditions by 2042 X
  • At least three quarters of water returned to as close to natural state as soon as ‘practical’ X

Pressures on our waterways: 

  • 40% are impacted by agricultural pollution
  • 36% are impacted by sewage and wastewater pollution
  • 18% are impacted by urban diffuse pollution (run-off from towns, cities and transport)

(Note: These stats relate to surface waters in England)

The Future of the Waterways

The low levels of water quality currently observed in the UK are likely to have severe economic and environmental implications. Unless remedial steps are taken, the EA predicts that climate change will exacerbate the poor health of our waterways, causing further harm.

The UK climate change projections (UKCP18) predicts hotter drier summers, milder wetter winters, rising sea levels and expects more extreme weather events to occur. Although the effects will vary based on geographical location, it is expected that a changing climate will alter the flow of many UK rivers. In scenarios of lessening flow, concentrations of pollutants will be less diluted and therefore more harmful to biodiversity. However, in other locations where rainfall may increase, combined sewer overflows could occur more frequently and release heavily polluted wastewater into the environment, and run-off from agricultural land and urban areas would also increase.

Clean water is essential for human health, but also to tackle climate change. In a review of 1,800 climate adaptation strategies, over 80% were water-related. Our waterways are on the frontline of the climate crisis, but could also be some of our greatest defenders. Looking to the future, it is clear that for the health of people and planet, it is both urgent and essential that we take action to improve water quality.

Acknowledgements

With thanks to the University of Nottingham and Loughborough University – Dr Thomas Stanton, Dr Matthew Johnson, Dr Lisa Yon and Andrea Sartorius – and the citizen scientists who, without their participation, this report would not have been possible.

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