A river that was once declared a sewer heads the Environment Agency’s (EA) list of the 10 most improved rivers. The Wandle, a tributary of the Thames, now supports chub, barbel and eel, and the Thames itself has undergone a dramatic recovery from being biologically dead in the 1950s. The Wear has become a leading salmon river; otters have been seen in Kidderminster on the Stour; the Darent, which dried up in the 1980s, now has brown trout; and the Taff no longer flows black with coal. Other improved rivers are the Dee, Nar and Stour (Dorset).

Defra is spending £110 million to clean up rivers across the country, with £18 million pledged for the next 12 months to transform another 9,500 miles of water in order to bring the UK up to EU standards by 2015. ‘Work that we have done with farmers, businesses and water companies to reduce extraction and minimise pollution is really paying off,’ says the EA’s Ian Barker. ‘Britain’s rivers are the healthiest they’ve been for more than 20 years and wildlife is returning for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.’

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