The awards have been organised by the Our Rivers campaign - backed by the RSPB, WWF-UK, the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association - to celebrate the nation's rivers and highlight the threats to river wildlife. Since launching in August thousands of people have cast their votes online for the rivers they love, and those which need urgent attention.
The Wye - which straddles the England-Wales border and has inspired artists and composers - was chosen for its iconic beauty, and abundance of wildlife. Voters described it as 'magical and timeless', 'a haven for wildlife' and a place 'to get lost and slow down'.
Voters highlighted problems on The Thames, such as the levels of sewage discharge and run off pollution from London streets. Comments left by visitors to the Our Rivers website include, 'People don't care about the river, they are not grateful', 'It's a filthy excuse of a river' and it suffers from 'hundreds of years of lack of investment in sewage infrastructure'.
Many voters, however, put The Thames as their favourite river and it came second in the best rivers category ahead of The Dart in Devon, The Great Ouse in East Anglia and The Wandle which joins The Thames at Wandsworth. It was followed in the worst rivers category by The Kennet in Wiltshire, The Mersey, The Lea in Hertfordshire and The Trent.
Ralph Underhill, from the Our Rivers campaign, said: The Wye is a stunning river which captures the imagination of everyone who visits it. It faces real threats, such as fertiliser and soil sediment from agriculture. But it remains a fantastic place to spot wildlife from sand martins and dippers to dragonflies and salmon.
"The Thames was voted the worst river - but the strength of opinion on both sides clearly shows that it has a special place in the public's heart. It is under a great deal of pressure due to the sheer number of people who live alongside it.
"The problems The Thames faces are the same as those affecting most of the rivers in England and Wales. However major improvements have taken place and a lot of work is ongoing such as addressing the remaining problems from our ageing sewerage system. Like most rivers, diffuse pollution from agriculture, roads and urban areas remains a significant problem, damaging wildlife and driving up water treatment costs."
A report out earlier this month from the Environment Agency showed that 72 per cent of rivers in England and Wales are now failing European targets. And while last year there were just five pristine rivers left - there are now only four.
The figures showed that 26 per cent of rivers in England and Wales are assessed as 'Good', 56 per cent are 'Moderate', 14 per cent are 'Poor' and two per cent are 'Bad'. The European Water Framework Directive has set a target for all rivers to be 'Good' or better by 2015.
Mr Underhill added: "The Environment Agency needs to bring together conservationists, anglers, farmers, landowners and other interested groups at a local level so that we can work in partnership to address the pressures threatening our rivers.
"But we also need Government to introduce tougher penalties for those who refuse to take action to address the damage they are causing - only then can we ensure healthy rivers for both people and wildlife."
For more information and to watch our film on The Wye visit www.ourrivers.org.uk
Notes to editors:
1. Top 5 Results in Our Rivers Awards - Best River
- The Wye
- The Thames
- The Dart
- Great Ouse
- The Wandle
Top 5 Results in Our Rivers Awards - Worst River
- The Thames
- The Kennet
- The Mersey
- The Lea
- The Trent
2. The most popular reasons given by voters in the Worst River category were sewage and other discharges (22 per cent), pollution from roads and streets (22 per cent), manmade structures blocking fish movement (17 per cent), agricultural pollution (15 per cent), over abstraction (13 per cent) and invasive species such as American crayfish and mink (11 per cent).
The most popular reasons given by voters in the Best River category were, 'a place to relax' (26 per cent), wildlife (25 per cent), access for visiting (16 per cent), great fishing (13 per cent) and great for swimming, canoeing or boating (11 per cent).
3. Environment Agency river status classifications for England and Wales
< 0 %
*123 were not assessed.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires us to meet 'good status' in all water bodies by 2015 (with extensions permitted to 2021 or 2027 under some circumstances).
4. The Thames and The Wye: Case studies
The Thames still has a number of threats to address despite winning the recent International Theiss River Prize - http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/news/124169.aspx
13 of the 14 sections of the main Thames river are below the required European standard, with high levels of phosphate and low numbers of fish being the two main reasons for failure. Environment Agency data shows sewage, urban run-off and barriers to fish passage are some of the key issues causing these problems on The Thames.
The Thames Tunnel is being built to address the 34 most polluting Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) ensuring that sewage from these pipes is treated rather than being dumped untreated into the Thames.
Although the population of London has trebled over the last 150 years the sewage system has remained the same, this has meant that 39 million tonnes of sewage discharged to the river from the capital's sewers in an average year would fill the Royal Albert Hall over 450 times. The existing sewers contain 57 CSOs.
What still needs to be done?
There are a number of barriers to fish along The Thames and fish passes are needed on many stretches and tributaries.
More also needs to be done to address run-off pollution from streets and buildings.
Agricultural diffuse pollution in the form of phosphate is also a problem on the upper Thames.
A much loved river
England and Wales' largest untrammelled river, rushing from the mountains of mid Wales before meandering through the fertile fields of Herefordshire and finally flowing through the much loved lower Wye Gorge. This diversity means a huge range of plants, fish, birds and insects are to be found along its length and it is one of the most important sites in the UK for conservation.
Improvements in recent years
15 years ago around 60% of The Wye was inaccessible to fish, now fish can travel freely along almost all of it.
Acidification in the upper Wye has also been effectively addressed in recent years.
Only 3 of the 10 sections of The Wye are achieving the European target status of 'Good'.
Environment Agency data shows that nutrient pollution form certain types of agriculture is the main pressure, while pollution from forestry and disused mines also present problems for The Wye.
For more information contact:
Nik Shelton, RSPB media officer (01767) 693554 / 07739921464
Rowan Walker, WWF media officer (01483) 412 387 / 07986 463767"