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Key issues in the Water Environment 

In 2017 it was recorded that only 14% of rivers in England are considered healthy and our rivers are under increasing pressure from multiple sources – including climate change, diffuse pollution and human modification. Here are the common issues that are impacting on our water at the moment and how you can check your local rivers.


Essex and Suffolk are important counties for agriculture, with livestock and arable production key to the two counties agricultural success; particularly pork, diary, wheat, barley, oilseed rape, potatoes, onions and sugar beet. The majority of the arable crops are farmed intensively across the landscape, which when managed poorly can impact our rivers. Similarly, poorly managed livestock can also cause significant river quality and habitat issues.


Pollutants, such as nutrients, pesticides, liquid manure and sediment, whether diffuse or from a point source, can all be transported from our farmlands into our rivers. In sufficient quantities these pollutants can degrade the quality of rivers, increase nutrient levels and promote eutrophication. Our rivers can become enriched to a point where excessive algal and plant growth can significantly decrease biodiversity and impact water quality.


Poor soil management can result in the loss of soil, leading to increases in sediment loads and turbidity within our rivers. Similarly, livestock trampling the banks will also lead to soil loss, reductions in bank stability and increased sedimentation. These conditions are known to cause the loss of fish habitat, particularly for spawning, and will impact river biodiversity value.


Roads and urban infrastructure provide another source of pollutants e.g. water treatment works can increase normal background nutrient levels and road run-off can influence the levels of hydrocarbons present. Although these are strictly regulated in line with current environmental legislation.



The impacts of climate change, coupled with increases in urban development, population growth and the needs of agriculture are leading to increased demands and conflicts for water, which presents challenges for both Essex and Suffolk.


The aquatic environment is being threatened by the increases in water use and over-abstraction. Managing water use for public supply, industry and irrigation is essential to prevent the loss of aquatic habitat. Suffolk is already one of the driest counties in the country, which is why it is recognised as a priority catchment for water resource management.


The loss of water within the two counties can lead to impacts on sites designated for conservation, those of landscape importance, and to our rivers and wetlands. This, in turn, can lead to loss of aquatic diversity, fish and riverine and wetland habitat.  


Suffolk and Essex rivers, like most lowland rivers over the country, have been modified for agriculture, flood management and industry.


Our rivers have been straightened, diverted, drained, dredged and embanked. This change in land use and urbanisation has led to a decline in the quality and resilience of aquatic habitats. Many have lost connectivity with their flood plains and associated riparian lands. Manmade flow management structures like weirs, installed for industry and flood management, have created barriers to fish and prevent natural river morphological process. This has led to a negative impact on our river dynamics and biodiversity.

Himalayan Balsam


Our rivers and wetlands are wildlife corridors for a wide and diverse range of animals, birds and plants. Many use our watercourses to move freely between habitats, as a food source and to reproduce. Unfortunately, all too often this includes invasive non-native species of plant (e.g. Himalayan balsam and floating pennywort), several species of alien crustaceans (e.g. American signal crayfish, demon shrimp and the Chinese mitten crab), fish (e.g. top-mouth gudgeon and goldfish), amphibians (e.g. Alpine newt and American bull frog) and mammals (e.g. mink).


Research has shown that many of these species often out-compete our native species, or can impact our wildlife through predation and habitat loss; with some harbouring disease that can devastate our own flora and fauna. A good example is how our native white-clawed crayfish populations have been decimated by the presence of the more aggressive, larger and disease carrying American signal crayfish.


Simple measure can help safeguard and prevent INNS spread. Water users can simply, Check, Clean, Dry kit after leaving the water. You can also be plant-wise by ensuring you do not the let non-native plants (e.g. aquarium plants) enter the wild, and never release or allow pets to escape into the wild.

Your local Water Environment 

Below you can find the environmental data for the rivers in Essex and Suffolk, just click on the relevant button and you can access the catchment data for each river. 


If you know of local community initiatives to protect or improve these rivers, or have photographs of them, we would be delighted to share these here and in our gallery. Please contact us if you have information you would like to contribute via the Contact Us page.

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