Call for action to tackle pollution in Richmondshire’s rivers

The River Swale at Catterick Bridge. Photo: Andy Waddington/

A local authority whose area includes several of England’s longest rivers should press the government, utility firms and farmers to help cut pollution.

In a notice of motion to a full meeting of Richmondshire District Council today, one of its leading members, Councillor Philip Wicks, has highlighted how rivers such as the Tees, Swale and Ure are all polluted beyond legal limits.

The move follows some planning applications in the 710sq mile River Tees catchment area being put on hold amid concerns about chemicals getting in rivers and streams, following the government’s conservation advisor issuing advice on mitigating water pollution.

The motion states farms are now almost never inspected, water quality is rarely tested, and water companies can pump raw sewage into rivers with virtual impunity and that rivers in the Richmondshire area are particularly threatened by further sewage discharges.

The call to action adds that tyre particles, metals from brake pads, and hydrocarbons from vehicle emissions wash off road surfaces and into rivers introducing potentially carcinogenic material into the water supply.

The motion states that chemical pollution is mostly caused by sewage discharges from water companies and the run-offs of nutrients from farms and that some 36 per cent of English rivers have been damaged by water companies.

It states: “In England, water companies released untreated human waste directly into our waterways over 400,000 times for a total of three million hours in 2020 alone.”

Coun Wicks, who is the authority’s corporate board spokesman for strategy, is urging the authority to support campaigns by the River Action and The Rivers Trust, which are seeking to restore the health of Britain’s rivers.

He is calling for the council to as press the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to restore much-depleted Environment Agency budgets to help tackle pollution.

If approved, the motion would also see the council writing to utility firms serving the area calling for urgent action and to the National Farmers’ Union for an explanation on the action being taken locally by farmers to prevent nutrient run-off.

Coun Wicks is also seeking backing from elected members to increase the regularity of inspections of water companies and farms, for the government to rigorously prosecute pollution offenders and for funding to be given to highways authorities to prevent road pollutants from entering watercourses.


  1. I would like to know how Stapleton’s sewage can go under the Tees and not into it. Huge balls of froth on river today and always. Can’t only be from local farm surely? This is one of the problems.

  2. Councillors would do well to tackle air pollution from heather burning at the same time. Rural communities in upland areas are being blighted by smoke and particulate pollution from moorland heather burning. In an era where we face a nature emergency and the catastrophic consequences of climate change this practice needs to be outlawed with urgency.

  3. The motion is incorrect in saying that farms are not being inspected, quite the contrary all dairy farms in the ure catchment above Thornton Stewart have been visited by the environment agency and I believe it is happening nationally.

  4. You do wonder what effect all that road salt has that they chuck on the roads every night from when the clocks go back, when it gets washed off the roads and ends up in waterways.

  5. This is a nationwide problem and is caused by the Government cutting funds to the Environment Agency and the profiteering of water companies. There are two possible solutions, 1, restore the EA funding to where it was (challenging at the moment!) and 2, put the water companies into public ownership.

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