Study of River Wissey triggers warning

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An environmental study of the River Wissey in West Norfolk has led to strong warnings about the pollution caused by farm fertilisers .

Dr Bob Evans, from the Anglia Ruskin University Global Sustainability Institute is part of The Nutrients in Catchments to 2050 project which researches practical ways to prevent nutrients in fertiliser from entering the water.

The project is made up of researchers from institutes including the University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office who last met on Tuesday to discuss findings and possible solutions.

For the last 10 years Dr Evans’ work has included monitoring erosion and run-off in the upper part of the River Wissey. He has also analysed the sources of other pollutants.

Dr Evans said: “We are trying to understand the ways that this happens so we can find out ways to prevent it.”

Nutrients are essential for plant and animal growth but too many of them can cause plant and algal blooms to grow to environmentally-harmful proportions.

Fish can suffocate when this happens and rivers flow at a slower pace.

In addition to causing unpleasant smells, this can harm the animals that drink from them.

Prof Phil Hayfarth, from the Lancaster Environment Centre, who leads the project said: “If future climate trends suggest more frequent, more extreme rainfall events, then nutrient run-off could increase, unless we plan land management activities to account for this.”

He said that, despite the good work of some water treatment centres, phosphates contained in household detergent can still get into the water system which also causes excessive plant and algal bloom growth .

He said: “Individuals could cut down on their use of washing powder.”

In addition to nutrients, pollution via pesticides and sediments is also a concern for our water courses.

He said: “If you change land use from mainly crops to mainly grass, or rejig the layout of farmers’ fields, then erosion and run-off will be greatly curtailed.”

Another major problem is metaldehyde which is found in slug pellets and cannot be taken out of water.

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