Seven stretches of Scottish rivers totalling more than 45 miles (73km) in length are not expected to fully recover due to pollution from sewage, according to data from the environmental regulator.

Figures from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) show the process of improving these sections of rivers has been paused until 2028.

Conservationists said it was “shocking” that the regulator was effectively “writing off” whole sections of Scottish rivers affected by sewage pollution.

The data is contained in Scotland’s current River Basin Management Plan (RBMP), which was published in December 2021 and is not due to be updated until December 2027.

A total of 366 sections of rivers, lochs and other water bodies the length and breadth of Scotland are not expected to achieve “good overall condition” by this point.

More on Save Britain’s Rivers

Reasons for them being given this status range from rural pollution caused by fertiliser and pesticides through to invasive species and man-made barriers to the migration of fish.

However, seven stretches of rivers – including a 1.2-mile (1.9km) section of the River Almond in West Lothian – meet the criteria specifically due to the discharge of sewage.

Other river stretches that are suffering from this issue include a 14.6-mile (23.5km) section of the River Eden in Fife and a 2.7-mile (4.4km) section of the River Carron west of Larbert.

A 5-mile (8km) part of the How Burn, which runs alongside part of the M8 motorway, is also not expected to reach “good” status before 2027 due to sewage discharges.

The remaining three affected stretches are a 9.8-mile (15.7km) part of Levern Water south west of Glasgow and two sections of the South Calder Water near Shotts and Motherwell.

i has already highlighted how between 2017 and 2021, sewage has overflowed directly into Scottish rivers and water courses 54,289 times – the equivalent of almost 30 times per day.

In common with other parts of the UK, Scotland’s sewage network allows this to happen through Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), which are designed to drain excess water during periods of heavy rainfall to avoid flooding people’s houses.

But of the 3,614 overflows in Scotland’s 31,000-mile sewer network, only 4 per cent (144) are currently monitored, meaning that the problem is likely to be significantly worse.

Jonathan Louis, interim director of the Forth Rivers Trust, said: “It’s shocking that 73km of Scotland’s rivers won’t achieve good status by 2027, specifically due to waste water discharge.

“In the Forth, three burns are downgraded specific to sewage related discharges which in turn has an impact on fish such as salmon, trout, eel and lamprey – but we know more rivers are impacted by sewage and we suspect this only scratches the surface, especially if there is a severe lack of monitoring on outfalls [CSOs].

“The Scottish Government has declared a wild salmon crisis and has just launched an implementation plan to ensure their decline is halted.

“Ensuring Scotland’s iconic salmon have fresh, clean water is vital for their survival and we call on Sepa and Scottish Government to ensure rivers around Scotland are not forgotten about and properly protected for the future of our wildlife, with measures put in place to ensure all rivers meet good condition.”

Craig Macadam, convener of the freshwater group at the charity Scottish Environment LINK, added: “Wastewater continues to pollute rivers in Scotland, and is just one of the factors that affects water quality and limits the processes that make our rivers more resilient to climate change and other impacts.

“We shouldn’t be writing off a river because it’s too difficult to deal with the problem.

“Instead, we should be investing in cleaning up our rivers and restoring natural flow processes to give them and the species which rely upon them the best chances for the future.”

Phosphorus most commonly enters rivers and lakes through sewage effluent and when there is too much of it in the water it can cause eutrophication in water bodies, starving them of oxygen and killing wildlife.

A Sepa spokeswoman said the seven stretches of rivers contained “higher levels of nutrients” – such as phosphorous – than are permitted by environmental standards.

The spokeswoman said: “However, this isn’t supported by our assessment of the plants and animals in the rivers – these show no evidence of any of the adverse effects that elevated concentrations of nutrients can produce

“As it is the ecological condition that we are working to protect and improve, it would be disproportionate to require action to reduce nutrient levels which aren’t having any measurable impact on the ecology of the river.

“On that basis, the RBMP has set a less stringent objective for these seven water bodies.

“Overall water quality for surface water in Scotland is 86 per cent good or better.”

Save Britain’s Rivers campaign

i and its sister title, New Scientist, the world’s leading science magazine, have launched a joint campaign to force ministers and water companies to address the scandal of Britain’s polluted waterways.

Over the next year, we will deliver hard-hitting reporting that shines a light on the crisis, including in-depth investigations, features, podcasts and live events.

The Save Our Rivers campaign has three aims:

1. Reveal what’s going on in the UK’s rivers – and why.

2. Raise awareness and understanding of the plight of our rivers – and the terrible effects of pollution on people and nature.

3. Policy change. We will draw up a manifesto for our rivers – a robust, cross-party plan on how to fix them.

We will be speaking to experts and policymakers, business leaders and public officials. We also want to hear from you, ireaders, to tell the stories of your local rivers and streams.

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