Our rivers are dying before our eyes.
Environmentalist author and campaigner George Monbiot is about to launch the world's first live investigative journalism documentary - exposing the shocking pollution of rivers across the UK.
Rivercide will be streamed live at 7pm on Wednesday 14 July 2021 from a dedicated website - www.rivercide.tv - and will call on millions of viewers to take action to protect and repair our natural waterways.
The live doc will be directed by Franny Armstrong, the winner of the Grierson Award who broke new ground with the crowdsourcing for her climate film The Age of Stupid. It will also feature original live music from singer Charlotte Church and poet Owen Sheers.
Monbiot, the author of Feral and Out of the Wreckage and the presenter of Apocalypse Cow, said: “Our rivers should be beautiful, complex ecosystems. But on our watch, they've become open sewers, poisoned by sewage and farm slurry. They’re dying before our eyes.
"Rivercide will show how the agencies charged with protecting our rivers have been progressively under-funded and under-resourced and are failing to adequately monitor water quality and enforce action against polluters.
"We’ll examine acute pollution incidents too – for example the tragic pollution of the Afon Llynfi in Wales which occurred last July, killing more than 10,000 fish.”
Armstrong's film Age of Stupid raised £900,000 from 330 funders - five years before Kickstarter launched. She is also an innovator of independent film distribution techniques.
She said: “After a year of lockdown, we're now a nation of wild swimmers and nature lovers – just imagine how much more fun we’d all be having if our rivers were safe and healthy again, both for wildlife and for people?
"You’d be hard pressed to find a single person in this country who actively wants dirty rivers. And yet every single one of the rivers, lakes and streams that’s monitored in England is now polluted.
"How can that be? That’s the mystery which Rivercide is setting out to solve - in real time."
Our rivers are dying before our eyes.
Raw sewage was released into English rivers more than 400,000 times last year - for a total of more than three million hours.
The Mogden Sewage Treatment Works in Twickenham alone spewed 3.5 billion litres of raw sewage into the Thames. On one day in October, it spilled more than a billion litres - the equivalent of over 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw sewage.
Untreated sewage includes faecal bacteria and nasty chemicals - as well as wet wipes and sanitary towels, leading to build-up of microplastics.
Sewage, however, is not the biggest polluter of UK rivers: agriculture is responsible for most river pollution. Yet, the average farm can expect to be inspected by the Environment Agency only once every 263 years.
There is specific regulation to deal with the agricultural pollution of rivers - The Farming Rules for Water was introduced in 2018. However, no fines have been issued under these powers so far, despite the rules being breached hundreds of times.
The production of the live stream investigation will be led by BAFTA-nominated investigative producer Nicola Cutcher, whose work includes Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad.
The team behind Rivercide has crowdfunded the costs of production to enable editorial independence - and has also crowdsourced information on the state of the UK’s rivers.
Monbiot will be challenging politicians and confronting polluters and also showing how the public can turn the situation around and help to restore Britain’s rivers.
And the live film will also be shining a light on the campaigners working tirelessly to turn the fate of our rivers around.
Rivercide is supporting River Action’s campaign Give Us Back Our Rivers, which is calling for a doubling of funding for the Environment Agency in England and Natural Resources Wales in Wales.
The Environment Agency has suffered very severe funding cuts in the last decade, forcing it to cut back its monitoring and enforcement work.
The Eden Project is also backing Rivercide’s call for the British public to set up Friends of River groups to protect local rivers, organise clean-ups and take part in citizen science monitoring projects.
Tim Smit, founder of The Eden Project, said: “The Eden Project has more than a million visitors a year and by far the most common question we hear is: how can my family get involved in protecting the environment?
"So we are delighted to be backing Rivercide’s call for a nationwide rivers clean-up and we will be encouraging our millions of subscribers to get involved in protecting their local rivers.”
The public will also be supported in campaigning for Bathing Water Status for rivers across the country: only one English river – the Wharfe in Ilkley, Yorkshire – currently has this status, compared to 573 in France.
The campaign will also advocate for natural solutions like wide buffer zones, in which no slurry-spreading or other polluting activities can take place, along all rivers.
The film is likely to attract a significant audience. Monbiot’s previous film about wolves drew an audience of more than 40 million viewers, whilst his film with Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate campaigner, attracted more than 60 million views.
Armstrong’s film The Age of Stupid, starring Pete Postlethwaite, hit number 1 at the UK box office by screen average and won a Guinness World Record for the largest ever premiere.
Brendan Montague is co-editor of The Ecologist.