Healthy rivers are vital to the health of the UK landscapes. They mitigate the impacts of climate change by protecting communities from flood and drought events, and they support ecosystem and biodiversity resilience, as well as providing myriad mental and physical health benefits for people who love to swim, paddleboard and explore these wonderful places.

But these areas are under extreme threat. As the world experiences climate and nature emergencies, the UK also battles with a water management crisis. Sewage spills, litter, road run-off pollution, chemicals, nutrients, plastics and excessive water abstraction are some of the pressing issues affecting our rivers and waterways.

In February 2024, The Rivers Trust released its latest State of Rivers Report, finding that.

  • No single stretch of river in England or Northern Ireland is in good overall health.
  • Just 15% of English, 31% of Northern Irish, and 50% of Irish river stretches reach good ecological health standards.
  • Toxic chemicals persist in every stretch of English rivers.

Sewage spills into England’s rivers and seas by water companies more than doubled in 2023. According to the Environment Agency, there were 3.6 million hours of spills, compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022. At the same time, the average water bill is expected to rise by 6% in England and Wales, with Thames Water arguing to lift bills by up to 44%.

Caring for and protecting our freshwater ecosystems has never been more urgent. London in particular needs this: in last month’s Oxford and Cambridge boat race, both crews were given safety advice to avoid swallowing water splashed up from the river, while Bangor University analysis found high levels of norovirus and E. coli in water taken near the border between Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. Raising awareness about the state of our rivers, connecting communities to their local waterways, improving blue spaces, and transforming these into enjoyable and accessible places for social gatherings are key to turning the tide on the degradation and neglect our rivers have been suffering. And this is what the environmental charity Thames21 strives to do.

Together with its partners and a wide network of dedicated volunteers, Thames21 restores rivers, gathers data to advocate for change, and empowers people through a free education programme. The charity also leads the coordination of London Rivers Week, which is an annual campaign to inspire the public to celebrate all of London’s rivers and the many projects taking place to protect them.

While it’s easy to feel disheartened and helpless with all the discouraging news regarding the environment, London Rivers Week aims to highlight the great initiatives that are helping to safeguard our rivers, providing a positive outlook and motivating people to act. Every action matters, regardless of how small you might think it is.

Some examples on work being done to clean up UK rivers includes:

  • Improving agriculture to reduce chemicals, surface run-off and soil erosion
  • Restoring natural areas such as wetlands and woodlands which act as a natural filter for pollutants
  • Creating green infrastructure in urban areas, slowing the flow of surface run-off and reduce the risk of sewer systems overflowing
  • Monitoring water quality to identify misconnected pipes and pollution hotspots
  • Raising awareness about pipes and drains and their impact on water quality

Now in its eighth edition, this year’s celebration happens between the 22nd and 30th of June and focuses on health and well-being and cultural activities. The key theme is ‘London is a river city’. There are over 40 events across London, almost all of them free, from online talks and river walks to hands-on river restoration tasks such as clean-ups, invasive species removal, water quality monitoring, and much more.

London Rivers Week presents a great opportunity for the public to get involved in environmental activities, learn more about freshwater ecosystems and their local rivers, enjoy the outdoors, and connect with other members of their communities.

Environmental action isn’t only for environmentalists, activists, or researchers. It’s for anyone who cares and wants to make a positive difference, like you and me. Join London Rivers Week and have a great time while giving back to nature.

Find out more about it here