Improving Britain’s Rivers: 10 Most Improved Rivers & Oxygenating the River Clyde


Today, the Environment Agency published a list of the ten most improved rivers in England and Wales, which includes the the River Thames, Wear and Dee. This is great news for the people responsible for meeting stringent EU targets for water quality. By 2015, European Union Member States must achieve a good level of water quality for all rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater, as set out in the 2000 Water Framework Directive (WFD), which became law in the UK in 2003.

The top 10 most improved rivers in England and Wales are:

  1. River  Wandle, London
  2. River Thames, London
  3. River Wear, County Durham
  4. River Stour, Worcestershire
  5. River Darent, Kent
  6. River Dee, Wales and North West England
  7. River Nar, Norfolk
  8. River Taff, South Wales
  9. River Stour, Dorset
  10. Mersey Basin

Britain’s rivers are the healthiest they have been in 20 years: no longer a symbol of our industrial past, but a flourishing haven for wildlife. A number of factors have contributed to the regeneration of these rivers, including habitat improvement projects, better regulation of polluting industries, and the Environmental Agency’s review of thousands of abstraction licences, which are required for those impounding or taking more than 4,000 gallons of water each day from streams, rivers, canals and reservoirs.

The River Wandle in 1973. The river was subjected to extreme pollution by local industry and declared a sewer in the 1960s

Now, the River Wandle tops the list of most improved rivers

Ian Barker, Head of Land and Water at the Environment Agency, said:

Work that we have done with farmers, businesses and water companies to reduce the amount of water taken from rivers, minimise pollution and improve water quality is really paying off – as these rivers show. Britain’s rivers are the healthiest for over 20 years and otters, salmon and other wildlife are returning for the first time since the industrial revolution.

In Scotland, work is also being carried out to help reach the targets set out in the Water Framework Directive and successes are being noted. Only last month, populations of resident and migratory fish were found to be thriving in the Glasgow city centre’s River Clyde, which is commonly perceived as uninhabitable due to the city’s heavy industrial and shipbuilding past.

Last week, Scottish Water started a trial on the inner Clyde estuary, which involves determining whether oxygenation of the estuary can help the River Clyde obtain ‘Good Ecological Potential’, as part of the Water Framework Directive. Over the past 200 years, the estuary has changed shape in order to accommodate Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry, meaning that it does not oxygenate naturally with the flow of the tide. The trial is the first of its kind in Scotland and involves placing two oxygen injection units at Scottish Water’s Shieldhall waste water treatment works to draw in river water, oxygenate it and then discharge it.

The River Clyde is now home to populations of resident and migratory fish

Despite these successes, there is still much to be done to achieve the targets set out by the EU. This year, the Environment Agency and its partners, including Natural England, are targeting £18m of Defra funding in an effort to help meet the targets in England and Wales. And, pending the results of the dissolved oxygen (DO) trial on the inner Clyde estuary, an informed decision will be reached about further improvements to water quality on the River Clyde.

Relevant links on

Do you live close to any of these rivers? What improvements have you seen over the years?


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