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Polluted river in the UK
Photograph: ShutterstockPolluted river in the UK

Revealed: these are the 20 most polluted rivers in the UK

Sewage was pumped into our waterways for more than 2.4 million hours in just one year

Amy Houghton
Written by
Amy Houghton

The country’s rivers are facing a bit of a shitshow right now. All over the UK, waterways have become dumping grounds for eye-watering amounts of sewage. According to recent data, water companies pumped waste into rivers across England and Wales for a total of 2.4 million hours (or 388 years) in just 12 months.

The campaign group ‘Top of the Poops’ says that this figure has decreased since 2020 but not by any amount worthy of celebration. Now the group has collated data from the Environment Agency to reveal the 20 most polluted rivers in the UK. 

The worst affected river was the Severn, the longest in the country. In just one year it had sewage pumped into it on 2,656 separate occasions by Severn Trent Water for a total of 28,741 hours. The River Calder shortly follows, with Yorkshire Water having discharged 27,901 hours’ worth of waste at 4,055 different instances. Despite its murky brown hue, the Thames doesn’t make an appearance on the list. In fact, many might be shocked to know it is actually one of the cleanest city rivers in the world. 

‘Top of the Poops’ explains that the findings are likely to be an underestimate because companies don’t monitor sites reliably or consistently. Prime minister Rishi Sunak has said that he would ‘welcome tougher fines for water companies’ despite rumours that the government would scrap the overall £250 million penalty it was going to charge the major culprits.

Here are the 20 most polluted rivers in the UK (plus the sewage companies said to be responsible):

  1. River Severn – Severn Trent Water
  2. River Calder – Yorkshire Water
  3. River Aire – Yorkshire Water
  4. Unknown – South West Water
  5. River Derwent – Severn Trent Water
  6. River Ouse – Yorkshire Water
  7. River Tamar – South West Water
  8. River Trent – Severn Trent Water
  9. River Teifi – Dwr Cymru
  10. River Eden – United Utilities
  11. River Erewash – Severn Trent Water
  12. River Usk – Dwr Cymru
  13. River Irwell – United Utilities
  14. River Wye – Dwr Cymru
  15. River Don – Yorkshire Water
  16. River Wharfe – Yorkshire Water
  17. River Tawe – Dwr Cymru
  18. Menai Strait – Dwr Cymru
  19. River Rother – Southern Water
  20. River Taf – Dwr Cymru

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