Thanks to our industries and modern lifestyle,
pollution reaches almost every part of the environment. We
are harming our own health as well as that of the natural
world. From the upland peaks to the depths of the sea, our
challenge today is to tackle the causes and limit the effects.
30 years ago, the UK was dubbed ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Acid
rain menaced wildlife; habitats were threatened by thousands of
tonnes of sulphur dioxide and other pollution spewing from
our power stations.
Air quality across Wales and much of Europe has improved in
recent years, but there are still major challenges.
Today, the main threats come from ground level ozone and
excess nitrogen, caused by pollution emanating from vehicles,
power stations and farms.
Take a look around you and you’ll still see damage from air
pollution even high up on remote Welsh mountains.
Pollution in the soil
Soils are the biggest store of carbon in the world, and
play vital roles in nature. In themselves, they are hosts to a
great variety of different species; their biodiversity is similar
to that of tropical rainforests. The importance of soil to the
environment is only now being fully recognised.
Soil is degraded naturally in various ways, for
example through erosion. However, man has added pollution to
soil changes, posing major problems from food poisoning to loss of
In 1996 a special report, “Sustainable Use of Soil”, recommended
that the Government prepare a soil strategy. This must
ensure soils are protected and used in a sustainable way.
What CCW is doing
- CCW has played a key role in developing national and European
- We also advise on soil conservation.
- We are involved in increasing the understanding of soil issues
within the UK.
It's not just our rivers, of course, that transport pollutants
to our seas - the pollution in our atmosphere also finds its way
into the marine environment, changing the chemistry of our oceans
over time with potentially huge impacts.
The once common idea that the 'solution to pollution was
dilution' - that the oceans would dilute, and so be a safe
repository for our waste - has long been discredited.
The effects of pollution vary depending on the nature of the
pollutant and it will probably never be possible to identify all
the complex interactions of chemicals with the marine environment.
That's why monitoring is so important. It's also why efforts to
tackle pollution focus largely on prevention.
Pollution in rivers, lakes and streams
Have you ever stopped to think that the plants and animals that
live in our rivers, lakes and streams need oxygen to survive just
as much as we do?
The oxygen they ‘breathe’ is dissolved into the water.
Water contains only a fraction of the oxygen that there is in
the air, so getting it is an on-going challenge. Importantly,
pollutants that reduce the levels of oxygen in the water will lead
to significant changes in our freshwater ecosystem.
Happily, things have changed a lot since the days of the
industrial revolution, when cattle that drank from the Rheidol in
mid-Wales died of heavy metal poisoning!
Interestingly, however, we still find the metals and chemicals
released into the soil from the old mines, quarries and works of
Wales’s rich industrial heritage in the sediment in our rivers and
Today, many kinds of pollutants affect our rivers, lakes and
streams. These may come from the surrounding land – known as
the catchment area – from industry, farming, sewage disposal, roads
or from our leisure and day-to-day activities. The damage
they do today will affect our rivers, lakes and streams long into
So when you relax by a still, blue lake on a perfect day in the
Welsh countryside, ask yourself whether the lake is still because
it’s so clean, or might it one day be simply because nothing lives
in it anymore!