Water Quality River Wharfe, Ilkley
Waters News

Water Quality River Wharfe, Ilkley

The River Wharfe at Ilkley holds large stocks of wild brown trout and grayling and
has always done so. Grayling in particular are looked on as a ‘canary’ species giving
an indication of a water quality that is good for fish. The continued presence of
grayling (and trout) in very good numbers at Ilkley suggests that the water quality is
adequate for grayling to breed and thrive. Angling success continues to be good
despite suggestions to the contrary by local and national media.

In recent years there has been an increasing focus, nationwide, on the release by
privatised water companies of raw sewage into our rivers. Our Ilkley Angling
Association club President Steve Fairbourn was at the forefront of this movement to
raise awareness of the issue.

In 2016 Steve was walking down the river on his way to an Ilkley AA working party.
He looked over the riverbank to the sewage storm outflow at Ashlands sewage
treatment works and was appalled at what he saw – thick deposits of sewage litter on
the grills, just waiting to drop off into the flowing water. Complaints to Yorkshire
Water met with little action but eventually the Environment Agency forced them to
clean the grills.

Steve realised that the state of the grills was evidence of frequent raw sewage
discharges. He began to monitor these and ring the Environment Agency hotline
every time he saw one. Steve has fished the river at Ilkley all his life and wanted to
be able to continue to do so into the future. He started to take photographs, record
and report pollution incidents, contact Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency,
meet with local councillors and MPs and send reports to the local media such as
‘Ilkley Gazette’ and ‘Yorkshire Post’. Ably assisted by his partner Kathleen Roberts,
they tried to get Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency to admit to the
problem and to agree to do something about it.

Gradually other concerned Ilkley residents started to get involved and the Ilkley
Clean River Group (ICRG) was formed – see
Steve and Kathleen were founder members of ICRG and remain involved. The
group quickly succeeded in getting major media coverage of the issue, including by
local and national TV and national newspapers such as ‘The Times’. For example
see this coverage on the BBC News website from summer 2018 – Steve appeared on TV a
few times, usually standing in the river in his fishing waders.

In early 2023 Steve met with TV star and angler Paul Whitehouse on the river at
Ilkley. Paul was here to film part of a major BBC TV programme aimed at putting
pressure on the government and the water companies to invest in improving the
water quality of our rivers and reducing the amount and regularity of sewage
discharges into our rivers and into the sea. This program named
‘Our Troubled Waters’ aired on BBC2 in spring 2023.

Fish stocks in the River Wharfe at Ilkley do not seem to have been adversely
affected by the sewage pollution issues. The main Combined Sewage Outflow
(CSO) is situated about halfway down the Ilkley AA stretch and strong fish
populations continue to be seen (and caught) in our stretch downstream of the CSO.

In 2023 huge works by Yorkshire Water began in Ilkley with the aim of significantly
reducing raw sewage being pumped directly into the river. In May 2023 the
Yorkshire Water chief executive Nicola Shaw made an apology – see and Yorkshire Water said it
also aimed to improve the quality of bathing water in the River Wharfe at Ilkley.

The company started tunnelling for an underground sewer to double the capacity of
the sewage system in Ilkley as part of a £15m project expected to be complete by
the end of 2023. The firm said it also planned to invest more than £50m in improving
the quality of the water along the river.

In summary, Ilkley Angling Association was instrumental in starting, and is still active
in, a huge nationwide campaign which should result in better water quality for
countless rivers around the UK, including the Wharfe. We will continue to support
environmental improvements and to actively campaign for these both locally and