It is great that the Hon. John Glen MP is recognising how disgusting and concerning it is that English rivers are in the state that they are in, and that “the volume of sewage and chemicals being discharged into our waters is completely unacceptable”.

However, Mr Glen is not describing how, over many years, this government, and previous governments, have followed a lax regulatory agenda. This has hamstrung the Environment Agency and Natural England and prevented those two bodies from taking a proactive approach to protecting our aquatic environment from a large number of ecological threats.

On sewage, Mr Glen describes what he believes to be a success. This is the monitoring of storm overflows (Event Duration Monitors) that should reach 100% coverage by the end of this year. But this isn’t new. WildFish and Wiltshire Fishery Association, along with other conservation organisations, have been calling for such monitoring since the time of privatisation, nearly 35 years ago.

In the early 1990s, the then National Rivers Authority’s experts recommended the monitoring of such discharges. Perhaps Mr Glen does not know the history.

Therefore, it is not a great success that we are only just beginning to monitor the true extent of the storm sewage problem - a problem that WildFish members, anglers, canoeists, surfers and many others have been reporting to the regulators for decades. In the light of current exposure, this issue is better understood but it remains largely unsolved.

The Government's Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan, which is referred to by Mr Glen, followed the embarrassment the Government suffered after the Private Members Bill - the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill - brought forward by Philip Dunne MP in 2021. It does not deal with the current widespread illegality in storm overflows. 

A 1994 law, flowing from a 1991 European Directive, should by now have prevented all storm sewage discharges, except after exceptional rainfall.  What we have now is the product of decades of underinvestment. It was presided over by Mr Glen's government and previous governments, of both political colours, and has made the unlawful discharging of raw sewage into normal business practice for financial reward.

The truth is that in relation to water company regulation, the government has failed to give strategic policy guidance to Ofwat over decades. In turn, Ofwat has failed properly to regulate and control the financial structures of the water industry, and it has failed to secure the investment by the water companies necessary to treat sewage and hence clean up our rivers.

As the recent BBC Panorama programme - BBC iPlayer - Panorama - The Water Pollution Cover-Up showed us, the environmental regulation of the water industry by the Environment Agency is also very poor, particularly when it comes to collecting data on sewage works permit compliance and the reporting and categorisation of water company pollution incidents. 

However, it is that data which Ofwat is given by the Environment Agency that Ofwat then uses to reward water companies’ alleged ‘good environmental performance’.  This is a nonsense that the BBC Panorama programme exposed only too well. It’s like ‘marking your own homework’!

Mr Glen applauds the removal of the cap on civil penalties that can be handed out by environmental regulators. That is all well and good but when those regulators stay in their offices and do not attend pollution incidents to gather data, statements and information then they are hardly likely to be able to deploy those new civil penalties.  

Mr Glen says there is much more to do. Indeed, there is, and it is pleasing when politicians recognise that truth.

However, let's not fool ourselves that, in some way, the current and previous governments, of both political persuasions, are to be exonerated from blame here.  The awful state of English rivers is largely their fault. Do bear in mind, that our local river, the Avon, is an SSSI and SAC which is the highest international recognition of an ecological environment and one of the last rivers to support the Chalk stream variant of the endangered Atlantic salmon.

The Water Framework Directive was agreed by the UK back in 2000 and it was supposed to return all water bodies to good ecological status by 2015. Unfortunately, we languish at only 14% of English rivers achieving that good ecological status. The blame for that lies squarely with politicians like Mr Glen.

Wiltshire Fisheries Association and WildFish