The River Waveney has been named the worst polluted river in recent research, with conservation charities and trusts saying the findings are “highly alarming”.
The research by Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, a nature conservation charity, reveals British freshwaters are heavily contaminated with neonicotinoids, which are affecting aquatic insects.
We are devastated to discover that many British rivers have been heavily damaged by neonicotinoid insecticides.Matt Shardlow
Buglife says the pollution of rivers has not received adequate attention and the Government has not responded to calls to introduce systematic monitoring.
In recent research by the charity, 74 per cent of sites in Britain were found to be contaminated with neonicotinoids, with the River Waveney exceeding recommended chronic pollution limits.
Populations of mayflies and other insects were found to be heavily impacted, with implications for fish and bird populations.
Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife, said: “We are devastated to discover that many British rivers have been heavily damaged by neonicotinoid insecticides.
“It is vital that action is taken to completely ban these three toxins, including in greenhouses and on pets, before another year of disgraceful pollution occurs.”
The River Waveney, which sits on the Norfolk and Suffolk border, was found to be the worst polluted river, with the acute harm level exceeded for a whole month.
The River Wensum in Norfolk was also chronically polluted, with Buglife claiming sugar beet fields are the most likely source.
This claim, however, was refuted by Rob Wise, environment adviser at the National Farmers’ Union.
“Farmers take their environmental responsibilities extremely seriously,” he said.
“They have high levels of pesticide stewardship through schemes such as the Voluntary Initiative, which offers advice and actions designed to keep crop protection products out of water.
“There is a lot of work being undertaken by Norfolk farmers through the Broadland Catchment Partnership as well, including using new types of machinery in row crops such as sugar beet and potatoes, to minimise run-off into rivers.
“We have been in touch with the Environment Agency and they are not concerned about the river.”
He added that, while there was a level of coloration between farming and pollution, there was no direct causal evidence.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said: “These results are highly alarming in the context of widespread declines in aquatic insect life and fish populations.
“We urge the Government to act urgently to ban continued use of these chemicals to protect wildlife, fisheries and drinking water supply.”
Arlin Rickard, chief executive of The Rivers’ Trust, said: “Recent history has shown how agricultural chemicals, which we initially thought were safe, have proven extremely damaging to the environment and our wildlife.
“The trust works closely with farmers and growers to reduce and better target chemical and fertiliser usage, however, some chemicals are just too damaging and persistent to be tolerated.”