Oh for a clean River Ure!

My editorial in the March 2024  edition of the Upper Wensleydale Newsletter, as the administrative officer of the Association of Rural Communities

What do the Wharfe, the Nidd and the Swale have that our Ure doesn’t? The first three have groups of volunteers who are monitoring those rivers with the aim of reducing pollution. Surely it is time we also had such a group.

I would love to see the headwaters and upper reaches of our rivers truly representing the objectives of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA). These include conserving and enhancing the natural beauty and wildlife of the National Park, and promoting opportunities for the enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public.

As a member of the YDNPA’s planning committee pointed out in October 2023 – a polluted river does not attract visitors.

Nor, indeed, does it protect and conserve wildlife.  A Wensleydale angler told me: ‘The state of the river is very worrying. We have noticed a significant fall in insect life and also a big fall in fish numbers. For the latter, part of this has been due to legislation regarding re-stocking but [it’s] mostly due to the fall in insect life. It appears to us, that the Environment Agency has little interest in the river.’

In its annual report the Angling Trust stated in January that the Ure, Nidd, Swale and Upper Ouse were among the rivers with mapped catchments having the highest phosphate site averages. It said that the main sources of phosphorus in rivers were sewage effluent and losses from agricultural land, and added: ‘Frustration has mounted as essential testing by the Environmental Agency and water regulators has been reduced, and information about pollution remains elusive.’

Alastair Dinsdale, Wensleydale farmer and chairman of the Association of Rural Communities, told the YDNPA’s planning committee in October 2023: ‘A lot of work has been undertaken by various agencies and landowners to reduce pollution into the River Ure. According to the Environment Agency the Upper Dales Yore Catchment has a problem with phosphate pollution, the cause of algae blooms. Phosphates are a major ingredient of cleaning products and probably responsible for 90% of the problem in the catchment due to outdated and ineffective sewerage plants.’

He was concerned that the two sewerage treatment plants at Aysgarth were almost or even already at full capacity and that those bathing and paddling at Aysgarth Falls could become ill.

So what do we do about it? Can we not learn from the Ilkley Clean River Group, the Nidd Action Group and Save Our Swale (SOS)?

One of first steps is to obtain firm scientific evidence about water quality and that will involve volunteers being trained so that they can regularly collect samples for testing. The Yorkshire Dales River Trust is willing to provide guidance and support. Once we have firm evidence we can campaign on such issues as stricter regulations on when Water Companies can discharge raw sewage into rivers and for sewerage treatment works to be upgraded.

Maybe our government can learn about cleaning   up   rivers   from   Singapore   which  is  closely  linked  to  one  of  the  shareholders in Kelda Holdings which owns Yorkshire Water. GIC Special Investments, a sovereign wealth fund owned by the government of Singapore, has a 26 per cent interest in Kelda Holdings.   Singapore is proud of the way its river has been cleaned up and is now attracting more wildlife.

The Association of Rural Communities wants Wensleydale to have the same pride in a cleaned-up river. The Association will sponsor a public meeting in April to see if we can set up a group to monitor and help take care of our river. If you are interested in joining a working group prior to that please do contact me at pipspatch@gmail.com and write River Ure in the subject.

Our aim is very simple: We do want our river to be safe and clean, where both we and visitors can enjoy it without being afraid of the consequences. And where wildlife will thrive.


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