Rivers are at their cleanest since records began

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Britain's rivers are at their cleanest since records began, the Government said yesterday, announcing the results of the latest water quality tests.

Britain's rivers are at their cleanest since records began, the Government said yesterday, announcing the results of the latest water quality tests.

Across the UK, 95 per cent of rivers were rated good or fair in 1999, compared with 92 per cent in 1990. Over the same period, there has been a 31 per cent overall improvement in the chemical quality of rivers and canals. By region, improvements ranged from 24 per cent in the South to 41 per cent in the North-west.

In addition to good and fair ratings, almost 8 per cent of all rivers met their River Quality objectives in 1999 - an improvement of 3 per cent over the past year.

Rivers in the industrialised North and Midlands are among those which have shown the most dramatic improvements, according to the Environment Agency.

They include the Don, Aire, Rother and Calder in industrial Yorkshire, which until recently were among the country's dirtiest watercourses, and largely devoid of life, but are all now supporting substantial fish populations. More than 30 miles each of the Don and Aire have been cleaned up, and nearly 20 miles of the Rother, while the Calder is cleaner along most of its length. Other notable improvements have occurred to the river Erewash in Nottinghamshire, the Soar in Leicestershire and the river Lee north of London.

The Government has set a target to improve water quality further so that 91 per cent of rivers will meet their objectives by 2005. Improvements have been achieved though substantial investment by water companies in sewage disposal, tougher regulation and enforcement, and greater pollution prevention by the Environment Agency, the Government said. A further £7bn will be spent on improvements over the next five years.

"The billions being invested in cleaning up our rivers are really bearing fruit," said Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister. "These are the best-ever water quality results and they reflect the Government's firm commitment to delivering a cleaner, better quality environment for everyone to enjoy.

"Clean rivers are not only a vital source of water for drinking and industry, they also support a wide variety of wildlife and are enjoyed by millions for recreation. That is why river water quality is one of the Government's 15 sustainable development headline indicators, measuring how much our quality of life is improving."

* The site where beavers may be reintroduced into Scotland has been named as Knapdale Forest, in Argyll, owned by the Forestry Commission.

Twelve European beavers (which, unlike their North American cousins, do not often build dams) will be released in a trial there next year if the project from Scottish Natural Heritage, the Government's wildlife agency north of the border, is given the go-ahead.

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