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Andrew Manly, Researcher - Supporter Insight, RSPB

Case Studies

Client Issue
RSPB Agriculture's impact on water pollution
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The pollution of waterways is a significant problem. Some water pollution, such as sewage and industrial effluent, is easy to monitor as it generally arises from a single source. In contrast, diffuse pollution can arise from different sources, and given that agricultural land accounts for some three-quarters of land in England, farmers have an important role to play.

Diffuse pollution from agriculture refers to the run-off and leaching from chemicals and fertilisers as well as run-off from manure and livestock faeces. On entering watercourses, it can lead to nutrient enrichment resulting in algal blooms and deoxygenation which have potentially disastrous effects on aquatic plants, invertebrates and other wildlife.

Under the European Water Framework Directive, water quality is assessed against the Good Ecological Status (GES) standard. At the time of the research, just 27% of waterways in England and Wales currently met this standard.

The RSPB’s approach to water quality is set out in its ‘Water and Wetlands’ policy. The Society is working to persuade governments to take prompt and vigorous action to help farmers tackle this serious problem. As part of its work on water quality, the Society commissioned Creative Research to conduct research among the general public in order to arrive at a more in-depth understanding of the public’s knowledge and views on the impact of agriculture on water pollution and how it should be tackled.

We conducted eight focus groups with residents from four areas, each associated with a different set of diffuse pollution challenges. The results of our research have helped inform the Society’s approach to this issue.

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