CUMBRIAN rivers are among those labelled as being 'in a mess' and containing a 'chemical cocktail' of pollution which poses a risk to public health, according to a group of MPs.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) raised concerns over sewage, agricultural waste and single-use plastic in the country’s waterways, saying this could harm swimmers and wildlife.

It said England’s rivers were “in a mess” – and none had received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.

In 2019, raw sewage was discharged into Cumbria’s rivers and lakes at 599 storm overflow sites for more than 23,000 hours in total, compromising vital habitats for wildlife and endangering the health of people who use rivers for recreation.

Eden Rivers Trust and West Cumbria Rivers Trust had campaigned for the public to lobby the county's MPs.

Elizabeth Radford, CEO Eden Rivers Trust, welcomed the report: “This report states the clear, pragmatic measures needed to improve the health of our rivers to ensure clean water supplies in the future and highlights what we’ve always known - that our rivers are in a perilous state and the system to protect them is failing. For 25 years now the trust has worked in partnership with Eden’s farmers and landowners, government, United Utilities and our communities in key hot spots in the catchment to reduce or eliminate river pollution.

“Over the last five years, more and more farmers wanting to farm more sustainably have worked with us to adopt water-friendly farming practices. These include planting trees, hedges and buffer strips, improving soils through soil aeration and better nutrient management and upgrading of farm infrastructure to separate clean and dirty water and reduce slurry levels.

“However, we currently only have the resources to target specific areas. We echo the report’s calls for better regulation and enforcement by government coupled with a massive step up in education and investment in initiatives that reduce river pollution so that ALL of Eden’s rivers stand a fighting chance of providing the clean water and places that we love to visit in the future.”

Vikki Salas, at WCRT, said they welcomed the report and were not 'surprised' at its findings. "We do have stretches of our rivers that are clean, but equally we have areas that are heavily polluted and a lot of work needs to be done," she said.

The report said disturbing evidence suggested rivers were becoming breeding grounds of "antimicrobial resistance".

Experts said it provided a “scathing snapshot” of the water quality of England’s rivers and the risks were being exacerbated by the climate crisis.

Agricultural waste was the most common form of pollution stopping rivers from achieving good ecological status, while sewage was having the same effect on over a third of water bodies, the EAC report said.

Car tyre particles, oils and wet wipes are also clogging waterways.

Budget cuts are hampering the Environment Agency's ability to stop pollution, says the report.