Don’t use chemicals in your home or garden that could get into waterways, check out our local initiatives and further funding or guidance for landowners.
Plastic pollution in our oceans has received a lot of attention recently and is a huge problem globally, but water pollution isn’t just a problem in the sea - local waters suffer too, from plastic as well as pollutants found in common household products. Even at very low levels, some medications, hygiene products and ordinary garden pesticides can find their way into the water, air and soil - which may cause aquatic organisms to change their behaviour or no longer find their homes habitable.
What can you do to help in your home or garden?
1. Check for antibacterial agents - some everyday products such as toothpaste or hand gel contain antibacterial agents such as triclosan, which mimics the hormone oestrogen in animals and can inhibit reproduction or even their ability to swim. Once it has entered the watercourse, triclosan sticks to soil on the riverbed where it will be consumed by all the creatures that find their food in the sediment. It doesn’t stop there though, once those small animals are themselves eaten the chemical accumulates as it passes up the food chain, meaning that large predators are affected the most. Some companies have already begun removing triclosan from their products, but in the meantime you can help by choosing not to use products that contain it.
2. Switch out the slug pellets - The active ingredient in many slug pellets is a chemical called Metaldehyde. It works to kill slugs in your garden because it is of course toxic, however, if the pellets get washed into drains and ditches they will eventually wind their way into our rivers and affect other animals too. Metaldehyde can also be passed up the food chain in the same way as triclosan, affecting predators of slugs and snails like birds and hedgehogs. In your garden Metaldehyde usually breaks down within a few days but the chemical is much more stable in water and so hangs around in the environment for longer - making it more likely to be consumed by aquatic animals.
There are alternatives that you can use to conventional slug pellets, such as nematode worms which naturally kill slugs and snails. Or you can put mulch around your plants which is harder for slugs and snails to crawl over. Most simply you can encourage predators such as hedgehogs and frogs into your garden.
3. Save on laundry - Microplastics are small fragments of plastic, smaller than 5mm in size, that can be ingested by fish or other aquatic life or release toxic materials into the water as they break down. These toxic components have been linked to neurological, fertility and immune health problems. The source of these tiny pieces of plastic is often larger items of plastic packaging that have entered the waterways as litter and have broken down over time. However, synthetic clothing is another significant source - every time you wash synthetic fibres, small parts of the material will break away and wash out into the water system as the machine drains. Simply reducing the number of times you wash things like fleece will decrease the amount of microplastic being released into the water.
4. Dispose of your meds responsibly - Pharmaceutical products are another cause for concern as they can be toxic even in very small amounts. Medicines and drugs such as painkillers, antidepressants and contraceptives all pass through the human body unaffected and end up in waterways every time we flush the toilet. These drugs can then affect the natural reproductive cycle, behaviour and growth of many fish species. We don’t suggest people should stop taking their medication, but you can help by making sure that old or unused pills are disposed of properly by returning them to your local pharmacy, instead of flushing them away or throwing them in the bin.
Have your say
The Environment Agency is currently seeking your views on the challenges our waters face and the choices and changes we all need to make to help tackle those challenges. By responding to this consultation you will be helping to shape the management of the water environment. The information gathered through this consultation will help the Environment Agency update the current river basin management plans, starting with the publication of draft plans in 2020. The Environment Agency will also use your responses to help them to consider how some of the current approaches to the management of water in England will need to change in response to a changing climate and a growing population.
You can find out more and take part in their online consultation here.
What can you do as a land-owner?
The Taw Torridge Estuary has protected status for Shellfish Waters, as a Bass Nursery and is an SSSI. However, the estuary waters are not achieving the target status due to high levels of nutrients and chemicals and for the Faecal Indicator Organisms (FIO) levels present in shellfish. The river tributaries are also not achieving good status due to high nutrient levels and low fish populations. Analysis has shown that most of the FIOs are coming from cattle and there is a need to improve water quality by delivering advice, guidance and capital measures such as rural sustainable drainage systems on farms with high cattle numbers and high run off risks.
Typical measures to reduce diffuse pollution from agriculture include:
Improved guttering on farm buildings and yard drainage
Surface water storage
Separation of clean and dirty farm waters via sediment ponds and wetlands
Watercourse fencing and general cattle exclusion to reduce direct input and encourage natural regeneration of river banks
Surface water storage
Woodland creation or small tree planting to intercept surface runoff
If you are interested in being involved in any of these schemes you can find further advice and information here:
Land and river management grant projects and advice
Devon Wildlife Trust - Torridge River Restoration Project, Upstream Thinking
Natural England - Catchment Sensitive Farming, Countryside Stewardship
North Devon Biosphere - North Devon Focus Area Estuary Pollution Project
Woodland planting grant projects/advice
Learn more about pledges and North Devon's Biosphere
Share your pledge
Naturally, we would like as many people as possible to join the movement to Pledge for Nature. You can help by sharing your individual Pledge Page to your social media channels & encourage others to do the same. Thank you!
To Our Biosphere
Make Space for Nature
More Community Action
Protect North Devon's Future
Don't forget to #PassThePledge - take a photo or upload a video to social media telling everyone about your pledge to help the environment, talk to your friends and family to raise awareness, and nominate others to pledge too! Tweet us @NDevonBiosphere or on Facebook @NorthDevonBiosphere
To Our Community
Help your local Biosphere
Make Devon more attractive
Preserve for future