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Wetter winters may pollute UK rivers, scientists warn



Intense winter rainfalls might cause more agricultural chemicals to be washed away into waterways, polluting rivers and encouraging the growth of algae, according to UK academics.

Researchers from English and Welsh universities have suggested that if British winters continue to be mild and wet, much like the winter that has just ended, fertilisers and other soil chemicals from agricultural land will end up in waterways, with serious consequences.

Professor Phil Haygarth, the coordinator of the project, said, “Most of this nutrient transport occurs in a few large and intense rain events, particularly if these coincide with periods of bare soil or recently applied manure or fertiliser.

 “If future climate trends suggest more frequent, more extreme rainfall events, then nutrient runoff could increase, unless we plan land management activities to account for this.”

Substances that form agrichemicals, such as phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilisers, can cause excessive plant growth and algal blooms and lead to fish death in rivers and lakes.

Scientists have said that as of now there is not enough data to assess the state of waterways, but said that the project – called Nutrients in Catchments to 2050 – will help monitoring the impact of runoff combined with wet weather, by using different climate models.

Haygarth told the BBC, “We need to be able to do the best science possible with the latest computer models, with the best data possible to make the best predictions about what’s going to happen in the future with land use and with climate.

“[This will mean] we can help mitigate water quality, adapt and also help farmers do the best they can for food production.”

Further reading:

International Day of Action for Rivers: warnings over ‘explosion of new large dams’

Met Office: UK has had its wettest winter on record

Insufficient fines for water companies that pollute rivers and beaches

Farmers need to be ‘much smarter’ on land use to prevent worst flooding

UK weather: England and Scotland should expect more floods


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