2023 saw even more media exposure of the performance of Water Companies and the extent of illegal discharges alongside a background of excessive dividends and Chief Executive’s bonuses.

There was further exposure of the lack of investment and enforcement by the government and its agencies both historically and within the term of the existing Government.

As an example, our research has illustrated the dramatic reduction the Environment Agency’s water quality monitoring activates and it dependence upon the Water Company’s monitoring, both locally and nationally.

The Water Quality Group continues to work with Wildfish as it key partner and in collaboration with the Wessex River Trust, to drive local campaigns to  improve the water quality of the upper Avon catchment areas.

We continue to use Wildfish’s SmartRivers programme (33 sampling sites – Avon, Wylye & Nadder – we are extremely grateful to those volunteers who go out month after month to carry out this important work) to monitor the water quality trends and is the key data for illustrating the need for action.  An analysis undertaken by Wildfish’s science team of the last five years data has been used to prove further to the Environment Agency, and more recently to Natural England, that there is continued deterioration which requires urgent attention. The key areas continue to be Durrington (below the fish farm), West Amesbury (below two Sewage Treatment Works), Upper Wylye, below Warminster (various sources) and Upper Nadder (various sources) and River Till (Shrewton Sewage Treatment Works).

This work has also been used to illustrate the failure of the current Water Framework Directive to protect special rivers like the Avon.  Just to remind everyone, the Avon catchment is a SSSI and SAC, which are the highest categories of importance and protection nationally and internationally.  We are presently pressing the Environment Agency to use our data and 5 year trend analysis of the Avon as a case study to illustrate the need to change or replace the Water Framework Directive.

Summary of Action

SmartRivers programme – 33 sampling sites on the Avon, Wylye and Nadder. All samples collected and analysed Spring and Autumn

Deliverables – arising out of influencing and lobbying.

  • Wessex Water’s £3m investment in Ratfyn & Amesbury Sewage Treatment Works.
  • Legal action by Wildfish – Wessex Water (WxW) failing to meet conditions of discharge permit.
  • Construction of reed bed system – Shrewton Sewage Treatment Works. Work ongoing to ensure WxW meet the conditions of their discharge permit.
  • Bio-swale systems being installed at Barford Sewage Treatment Works and Fovent sewer overflow into the River Nadder.
  • Environment Agency commissioning of Portsmouth University to undertake Chemcatchers analysis pilot study – West Amesbury and Upper Wylye .
  • Agreement between the Portsmouth University and WFA/SADAC, in November, to initiate an ongoing annual Chemcatchers survey of the key ‘hotspots’, sites defined by WFA not the Environment Agency. This will deliver chemical analyses of these sites which can be reviewed alongside the SmartRivers data to identify important pollutants and their impact on invertebrate life and river water quality.
  • Assisted Tisbury Parish Council to challenge a Planning Appeal for a large development using SmartRivers data.
  • Wylye Farmers Group – monthly chemical monitoring throughout the Wylye Valley. A similar scheme is being considered by Nadder Valley Farming group.
  • Proposed housing development in Amesbury not included in the county plan.
  • Lobbied for the Avon Catchment – in the WxW’s Asset Management Plan 2025/2030 which will see all STWs in the Avon Catchment Area having to reduce their phosphate discharge levels down from 1mg/l to 0.25mg/l.
  • Manage monthly invertebrate monitoring. Established a River monitor WhatsApp group. Delivered a river monitor train in course, four new sampling teams (SADAC).

Influencing Activities

  • BBC National News feature on impact of dairy farming on rivers.
  • BBC Wiltshire Radio – impact of muck spreading on river life.
  • Presentations on the need for action on the Avon
  • Cambridge Chalk stream Conference.
  • CPRE – Wiltshire AGM.
  • Tisbury Village meeting.
  • Wylye Famers Group presentations.
  • Nadder Farmers Group presentations.
  • Regular meeting with Environment Agency and Natural England.
  • Regular meetings with Wessex Water.
  • Member of Avon Catchment Partnership.
  • Liason with Danny Kruger MP for Devizes – offer to help directly.
  • Challenge to John Glen MP’s article in the Salisbury Journal, illustrating the inadequacy of the government control of the water companies’ activities and their environmental policies and priorities to protect the Avon.
  • Looking closely and challenging Wessex Water – Water Resources Management Plan.
  • Feargal Sharkey’s attendance at WFA’s AGM and water quality presentation to all participants.

Working Collaborative Relationships for 2024

  • Wildfish – SmartRivers – key partner for resources and expertise.
  • Wessex River Trust – access to stakeholders.
  • Windrush Against Sewage Pollution – access to analysis of sewage works discharges.
  • Portsmouth University – Chemcatchers programme.
  • Natural England – developing the standards expected of the Avon as a Special Area of Conservation.

Priorities for 2024

  1. Press for EA to change WFD to be effective in driving the improvement of the Avon and agree minimum standards with Natural England for the Avon as SAC.
  2. Press the EA to review the impact and the standard of fish farm operations within the Avon.
  3. Continue to develop our understanding of the impact of expanding housing developments, water abstraction and WxW’s Water Resources Management Plan, which we consider to be unrealistic.
  4. Work with Wessex Rivers Trust and other parties like the Wylye Farmers group to develop a common format/process for reviewing the various forms of water quality data.


Sadly, we were to lose Tom Putnam QC in March, his death at the age of 67 was unexpected. His vision and incisive ability to cut to the point in question are sorely missed. He was a great man to work with and we enjoyed his company tremendously. He was also a good fisherman.Water Quality Group – Volunteers are David Holroyd, Andreas Topintzis and Patrick Heaton-Armstrong.