Shocking state of English rivers revealed as all of them fail pollution tests

All rivers in England have failed to meet quality tests for pollution amid concerns over the scale of sewage discharge and agricultural chemicals entering the water system.

Sandra Laville 

Data reveals just 14% of good ecological standard and none of good chemical standard

All rivers in England have failed to meet quality tests for pollution amid concerns over the scale of sewage discharge and agricultural chemicals entering the water system.

Data published on Thursday reveals just 14% of English rivers are of “good” ecological standard. There has been no improvements in river quality since 2016 when the last data was published, despite government promises that by 2027, 75% of English rivers would be rated good.

Figures released by the Environment Agency show for the first time that no river has achieved good chemical status, suggesting pollution from sewage discharge, chemicals and agriculture are having a huge impact on river quality. In 2016, 97% of rivers were judged to have good chemical status, though the standard of tests used this time was tougher.

EA chief, Emma Howard Boyd, said: “Water quality has plateaued since 2016, which isn’t good enough. There have been improvements over the last 25 years, for example waste water treatment works put 60% less phosphate and 70% less ammonia into the water environment than they did in 1995, but the general upward trend has not continued.“

Despite the government’s legally binding target, the new data suggests rivers are as in as poor a state as six years ago.

Howard Boyd said: “Today just 14% of our rivers are [rated good]. To get where we want to be everyone needs to improve how they use water now and that means water companies, farmers and the public.”

Guardian data revealed that raw sewage was discharged from storm overflows into English rivers for more than 1.5m hours by water companies in 2019. And the government and the EA has set up a storm overflow task force to try to tackle the growing problem of sewage pollution.

The environment minister Rebecca Pow said the water quality data published on Thursday showed urgent action was needed to reduce sewage discharge and address pollution from agriculture and chemicals. She said the data was “not comfortable reading”.

“We need to go further and faster on reducing the environmental impact from storm overflows and other sources of pollution including chemicals and agriculture,” said Pow. “More needs to be done urgently, and I met with water companies earlier this month to set out the high expectations this government has for our water environment, including in particular chalk streams.

“These results show we have a long way to go, with a new way of testing for chemicals more accurately reflecting what is in our water environment. While it’s not comfortable reading, this will allow us to plan more effectively to tackle the scourge of pollution.

“We are absolutely committed to achieving the water quality ambitions in our 25-year environment plan to improve at least three-quarters of our waters to be as close to their natural state as soon as possible.”

Dr Janina Gray, the head of science and policy at Salmon and Trout Conservation, said English river quality was the worst in Europe. She blamed a lack of political will, lack of investment and dramatic cuts to Environment Agency monitoring for the “depressing” picture.

“There has been absolutely no progress. Every single water body monitored by the EA in England has failed stricter new chemical standards. This means no waterbodies are in overall good health.”


MP told to apologise for breaching donation rules

A Conservative MP has been told to apologise for breaching rules on donations.

Laura Kuenssberg Political editor 


David Morris was found to have broken the paid advocacy rule when he asked a question in the Commons after accepting a £10,000 donation.

Parliament’s Standards Commissioner also criticised Mr Morris’s conduct during her investigation into the case.

Mr Morris will need to make a formal apology in the House of Commons.


MPs are not allowed to lobby for any person or organisation within six months of receiving any money from them as a donation.

Lobbying means trying to get support on any topic of interest, by asking parliamentary questions, approaching Ministers, public officials or other MPs.

The Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, considered the circumstances surrounding a question Mr Morris asked in the Commons on 22 October 2019.

In September 2019, Mr Morris had accepted a donation of £10,000 from Aquind Ltd, which was declared on his register of interests.

The firm is led by Ukrainian-born businessman Alexander Temerko, who is now a British citizen. Mr Termerko has donated more than £1m in total to the Conservative Party, and individual Tory MPs, in recent years.

Mr Morris’s question sought for Ofgem – the energy watchdog – to “protect” companies such as Aquind Ltd through new regulations.

The following day, Mr Morris also emailed a copy of his question and the minister’s reply to the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The commissioner found that the question and the email breached the rules on MPs conduct.


The commissioner accepted that Mr Morris’s rule breaking was inadvertent, but criticised his behaviour during her investigation as “regrettable and disrespectful of the House’s system of standards”.

The report on the case said Mr Morris also “repeatedly questioned the commissioner’s remit and her right to consult her officials”.

But it added, “Mr Morris subsequently apologised to the commissioner and the Registrar and outlined factors he considered had influenced how he had engaged with the investigation.”

The commissioner also noted that she understood him to be “deeply apologetic and remorseful for the tone adopted” in some of his correspondence, and that “no disrespect had been intended to me or my office.”

Sanctioning the MP for breaking the rules, the Committee on Standards noted that Mr Morris had “acknowledged he had breached the rules and apologised” and recognised that Mr Morris “had been dealing with particularly challenging and stressful personal circumstances which may have affected his judgment and behaviour during the investigation”.

The committee added: “Any breach of the paid advocacy rule must always be regarded as a serious matter.

“Mr Morris should apologise to the House by means of a personal statement, which should be agreed in advance with Mr Speaker and the Chair of the Committee.”

Calls for ‘wild belt’ land to be part of England’s planning strategy

Wildlife Trusts says designated new areas of protected land is needed to help nature recover

Sandra Laville 

New areas of protected “wild belt” land across the English countryside and in towns and cities must be created as part of the government’s planning changes to help nature recover, the Wildlife Trusts has said.

The trusts’ analysis of the planning changes outlined by the government in a white paper suggests they will damage nature, increase air pollution and leave local people with no say on protecting urban wildlife corridors.

The Wildlife Trusts is calling for the inclusion of areas of land to be specifically designated as places for nature recovery. They would be known as “wild belt”, protected from development and managed to allow the recovery of nature.

The trust said wild belt areas were needed in towns, cities and the countryside to ensure that 30% of England was in nature recovery by 2030.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “What is critical is making space for nature close to where people live and we need to protect them in the long term to allow nature to recover.

“This wild belt could be a roadside embankment, a river valley or somewhere which is important to local people. So we take a piece of land which is not much good in terms of biodiversity and give it wild belt status and manage it to put nature into recovery.

“This is our only hope. We have to help nature recover rather than just talking about slowing its decline.”

The government changes say local authorities must designate areas for growth, renewal or protection. But Bennett said the government should also map out a network of nature recovery areas in each of these zones to designate as wild belt.

Populations of the UK’s most important species have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970, according to comprehensive analysis published last year.

This week the RSPB highlighted how too little land was managed for nature in the UK, and said the government had failed to reach 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed 10 years ago.

The Wildlife Trusts said the white paper in its current form was a threat to nature. It said it has a bias towards permitting new developments, weakens environmental assessments of land and undermines the democratic process by reducing people’s opportunity to influence planning decisions.

The new zones suggested by the government would do nothing to reverse nature’s decline or integrate it into people’s lives, the analysis said. The trusts are urging members of the public to demand that the government prioritise wildlife and nature recovery in the reforms.

The wild belt designation would mean land that is of low biodiversity value could be designated for the recovery of nature. Bennett said it must reach into every part of England, from rural areas to towns and cities, securing the future of the new land that we are putting into recovery so that we can reach at least 30% of land in recovery by 2030 and address the climate and biodiversity emergency.


UK government releases latest plans for next May’s elections

Mark Pack President of Lib Dems

Yesterday, the government wrote to Returning Officers about its plans for the local elections, Mayor elections and Police and Crime Commissioner elections due in May next year in England and Wales.

Key points from the letter are:

  • The government’s plans are for the elections to go ahead: “based on the information currently available, polls can be delivered safely and securely, and the risk of transmission substantially reduced, if COVID-19 secure guidelines are followed closely.”
  • There are no plans for major changes in how the elections are run: “I believe there is no necessity for significant changes such as imposing an all-postal vote or
    changing polling days or times.”
  • Publication of some electoral registers will change: “The UK Government is bringing forward legislation to delay the deadline for publications of this year’s revised  Parliamentary and English local government registers by two months, from 1 December 2020 to 1 February 2021.”
  • Unlike Scotland, there are no plans for council by-elections to recommence before May: “Parliament legislated to push back the May 2020 elections and subsequent local by-elections to May 2021, and the UK Government continues to operate on that basis. We are not changing that legislation, meaning that you should not expect any kind of elections to be able to take place before May 2021.”


Anxious seven days for local Tory “Foot Soldiers” 

24 September is the publication date for Sasha’s Swire’s “Secret Diaries” when we get to read her indiscreet descriptions of those Hugo comes into contact with as an MP, rather than extracts.

This quote is attributed to Sarah Vine (aka Mrs Gove):

“And I must confess I rather enjoy her breezy, unself-conscious style: there aren’t many MPs’ wives who would dare describe the party’s foot soldiers as ‘toilet seats’.”

Any local Tory “Foot Soldier” who was “fortunate” enough to have attended a social gathering with the Swires, especially the favoured few who got invited to dine with them, could now feature in the book.

The problem for them is: do they get a “personal” mention, likely to be less than flattering; are they grouped under the blanket description of “Toilet Seats”; or are they simply ignored?

Which is the worst fate?

Obvious candidate names spring to Owl’s mind, including: Paul Diviani, Sarah Randall-Johnson, Christine Channon, Stuart Hughes, Andrew Moulding, Philip Skinner, Alison Hernandez, Jill Elson, John Hart……….(readers can make up their own list).


‘No Ships’ Chris Grayling To Be Paid £100,000 A Year To Advise Ports Company

Former transport secretary Chris Grayling, who once gave a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ships, is to be paid £100,000 a year to advise a leading ports company.

Grayling, once dubbed the “worst transport secretary of all time” by Labour, will collect his six-figure salary in return for just seven hours of work per week for Hutchison Ports Europe.

The Tory MP’s appointment as a “strategic adviser” was approved by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments earlier this month, the latest MPs’ register of interests shows.

Grayling’s time at the Department for Transport left taxpayers with a £100m bill for ferries chartered to bring in vital supplies if there was a no-deal Brexit, but which were never used.

He also faced calls to resign after awarding one of the contracts – worth £13.8m – to run Channel crossings between Belgian port Ostend and Ramsgate in Kent to Seaborne Freight – a company which had no ferries.

But Grayling refused to apologise for the debacle, describing criticism of him as “baffling” and at one point telling the Commons “I did see ships”, in a reversal of Horatio Nelson’s famous quote. 

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: “The now former minister for no ships must wish his list of successes was as long as his list of nicknames.

“With a role like this, the public deserve to know that MPs are on the side of public interest and not the pockets of lobbyists.

“To allow a conflict of interest would be an utter outrage.”

Grayling held on to his job before being eventually sacked by Boris Johnson when he replaced Theresa May as prime minister in 2019.

More recently, Grayling found himself at the centre of another controversy after he failed to be elected chair of the influential Commons intelligence and security committee despite being Johnson’s top pick for the post.

In a major snub, backbencher Julian Lewis was instead picked by the nine-strong committee.

Lewis was later stripped of the Tory whip for upending the prime minister’s plans, while Grayling quit the committee.


Sasha Swire’s wicked political character assassinations are revealed

Slashed by her poison pen: They’re the wickedest political diaries since Alan Clark’s. Now, in this blistering review, we reveal the full glorious carnage of Sasha Swire’s character assassinations

  • Sasha Swire’s upcoming book takes swipes at many high-profile Cabinet figures 
  • She also takes aim at the Royal Family and shares controversial anecdotes
  • The diarist with the wicked pen is the wife of former Tory minister Sir Hugo Swire

Simon Walters 

Barely a single senior member of the governments of Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron emerges unscathed in the memoirs of ex-minister’s wife, Sasha Swire. 

The idea of the current Prime Minister with his finger on the nuclear button ‘scares the s***’ out of Lady Swire, wife of former Tory minister Sir Hugo Swire. 

Mr Cameron thinks it is ‘hilarious’ to joke with Lady Swire’s husband about the size of Michael Gove‘s manhood — and the former Prime Minister is drawn to Lady Swire because she is ‘lewd’. 

Meanwhile, Mrs May is Mrs ‘Glumbucket’, the ‘Maybot’, ‘Old Ma May’ or ‘old bat, crippled by her lack of intellectual confidence. 

Nor does Lady Swire, 57, spare the blushes of the Royal Family in her book, Diary Of An MP’s Wife. She says the Queen ‘fixed her beady eyes’ on her at a dinner at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland when Sir Hugo was an Ulster Minister in the Cameron administration. 

Prince Philip ‘ranted’ about how ‘appalled’ he and the Queen were that guests used laptops during Palace ­banquets. And Sir Hugo is distracted at a meeting with Prince Charles by his ‘thick Hanoverian hands’. 

Lady Swire’s reaction to Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle in 2017 is to predict ‘trouble ahead’. The future ­Duchess of Sussex is ‘eating the redhead for breakfast’, she declares; he is ‘clearly not as clever as she is’. 

Lady Swire claims her book is a modern version of the highly acclaimed and outrageous Alan Clark Diaries in the Thatcher era. Like Clark, she gives a riveting insight into the political skulduggery and sexual high jinks of the Tory elite. 

She also pokes affectionate fun at her husband Sir Hugo, or ‘H’, as she refers to him and ­candidly talks of their marriage problems.

The book — the most indiscreet political memoir in decades — claims Boris Johnson was driven by jealousy of Cameron. He saw Cameron as a ‘fee-paying squit’ at Eton in comparison to his own status of King’s Scholar at the school. 

Lady Swire describes Johnson as ‘His Blondness’, adding that he used to be a ‘political calculating machine’ with ‘no political identity or proven ability to grasp difficult questions and decisions’. He had never been loyal to the Tories; his only loyalty was to himself. Many of Johnson’s colleagues did not take him seriously. 

When Philip Hammond was Chancellor in the May government and Boris Johnson asked him for an extra £150million for the NHS, Hammond replied ‘silly boy’, treating him like a ‘stupid child’. 

David Davis, then Brexit Secretary, ‘actually clipped Boris over the back of the head with his hand’ at the same meeting, shocking other ministers. Boris is a ‘big, fat, yellow, bouncy Labrador,’ says Lady Swire. ‘He is curiously vulnerable and longs to be loved and cannot understand it when he is not.’ 

Despite her criticisms of Johnson, by the time he becomes Prime Minister Lady Swire has warmed to him. He is an ‘alley cat’, but one with ‘greatness of soul, generosity of spirit and lack of pettiness,’ a rare quality in politics, she observes. 

Cameron always saw Johnson as a ‘liability’, says Lady Swire — and she does not spare the former PM. 

Many Tory MPs think Cameron would have done much better in the 2010 election, she says, if he ‘hadn’t been such a liberal wimp’. Lady Swire says Cameron’s campaigning style ‘lacked passion’. 

She even challenged him when their two families were holidaying in Cornwall: ‘Are you actually a Conservative, Dave?’ Cameron ‘dives into the surf, furious and flushed, to avoid me’. 

She says Cameron and his inner circle’s ‘obsession’ with promoting ministers with a ‘good back story’ led to big mistakes. 

Sajid Javid was given a Cabinet job ‘because they like the fact that he is a Muslim and his father was a bus driver in Bristol’. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps — Lady Swire calls him ‘Von Schnapps’ — was seen as ‘ghastly’ by some of Cameron’s team. Justine Greening was ‘loathed’ but had ‘to be kept in the Cabinet because she is a woman’. 

Lady Swire complains bitterly that Sir Hugo was denied a Cabinet job because ‘he is male white and privileged. They simply won’t let it happen’. 

She is no less ruthless in her treatment of Michael Gove. At one point, after a meeting of the National Security Council, Sir Hugo tells her he is ‘starting to think Gove is ever so slightly ­bonkers’. She adds that William Hague looked ‘exasperated every time Gove spoke’. 

Cameron ‘gave Gove a b*****king’ and ‘went ballistic’ when the ­Scotsman publicly attacked the ‘preposterous’ number of Etonians in Cameron’s inner circle. Boris Johnson’s brother, ex-Tory MP Jo, ‘almost burst into tears when he read it’. 

Gove’s aim in saying this was to wreck Boris Johnson’s chances of succeeding Cameron, declares Lady Swire, who adds: Gove is a ‘loose cannon’ and, as an ex-journalist, ‘mistakes headlines for achievements’. 

She describes Gove’s close ally Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s No 10 chief of staff, as ‘one of those odd amoebas you find in jars in school science labs’. Cummings is a ‘stark raving mad Rasputin’. 

Teaming him up with Gove, the ‘most volatile member of the Government, was always an explosion waiting to happen’. Lady Swire accuses Gove of ‘lying through his teeth’ and says that when he fell out with Cameron over Brexit, Cameron was so angry he said he would never have Michael or his wife Sarah Vine — a Mail columnist — or his children in his house ever again. 

She says Gove also upset former Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart, who looked set to ‘punch’ him when Gove made a joke that backfired about a jihadi kissing Stewart’s wife. It was ‘nutter Michael in a nutshell’. 

When Sir Hugo is knighted at Windsor Castle in 2016 he is worried it will be done by Prince Andrew, saying: ‘I’m not kneeling down in front of that man. He might knight me with his todger’

The book is full of shocking sexual shenanigans and pranks. At a birthday party for George Osborne in the Chancellor’s No11 flat, for instance, Lady Swire says Sir Hugo and Cameron were ‘laughing uproariously’ about the size of the private parts of certain Tories, including Gove. 

Gove’s manhood was ‘like a slinky that comes down the stairs before the rest of the body,’ said Sir Hugo. Cameron thought this ‘hilarious’. Sir Hugo started a ‘male conversation’ at the same party ‘about which women in politics are beddable and which aren’t’. 

Lady Swire is unabashed about why David Cameron liked her. It was ‘because I am not remotely nervous around him. I’m cheeky, occasionally lewd and sometimes a little too challenging’. 

During a weekend at Chequers hosted by the Camerons for several ministers and their spouses, Lady Swire says that the dinner conversation covers ‘STDs at Oxford, and my menopausal symptoms and libido’. She tells the gathering she enjoys sex much more in her 50s than in her 40s. 

Her indiscretions even shine a light on Osborne’s marriage break up with wife Frances, which crops up frequently in the diaries. At a 2012 barbecue hosted by Osborne at the Chancellor’s official country residence Dorneywood, Frances stayed in the kitchen for the entire event and ‘did not appear at all’. Lady Swire comments, simply: ‘Extraordinary.’ 

When the couple’s split was announced later, Lady Swire says the ex-Chancellor was ‘having a mini menopause and throwing all his toys out of the pram’. 

She tells how at a birthday party for a Cabinet Minister she embarrassed Lord [Ed] LLewellyn, Cameron’s No 10 chief of staff and now Britain’s Ambassador in Paris. ‘I smile, cup my hand, lower it between his legs, gather up his testicles and squeeze.’ 

When a military clash looms between Russia and America over Syria in 2017, Lady Swire says: ‘Putin and Trump have been getting their d***s out to prove which one is bigger.’ 

She tells how she and Home Secretary Amber Rudd casually discuss whether David Davis is ‘a shagger’. They agree he isn’t. She states in a preface to her book that she had never intended to publish her diaries because it would have been a ‘betrayal’ of her family and friends, adding that some of her entries ‘might offend without meaning to’. 

She changed her mind because ‘it is always men who write history’. 

Plenty of her friends — both male and female — may well not forgive her change of heart. 

Killer political quips 

  • George Osborne, former Chancellor: Looked like a ‘­caddish extra on Downton Abbey’. Pasty tax showed he was ‘too clever to be sensible’. 
  • Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary: Arrived at a meeting ‘looking like he usually looks, sweaty, just out of the gym and wanting to kill people’.
  • Matt Hancock, Health Secretary: ‘Particularly disingenuous. Quite an actor that one.’ 
  • Esther McVey, former Work and Pensions Minister: ‘More ladette than lady.’ 
  • Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister in Cameron government: ‘Fagin-like, villainous-looking with tight little weasel eyes.’ 
  • William Hague former Foreign Secretary: He was ‘foolish’ to issue a statement about the ‘gynaecological secrets’ of wife Ffion in response to unsubstantiated ‘gay rumours’ about him. Hague is ‘only ever interested in himself, his ministers are gnat bites on his ankles, or so he makes them feel’. 
  • Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary: Tells Sir Hugo he was fed up with his wife’s vegan cooking, so was thrilled to find a ham and chicken bake in the oven. He ‘gobbled it down lustily, and when his wife came home she asked where the dog’s food was’. 
  • John Bercow, former House of Commons Speaker: He is ‘a little weasel, creepy, revolting, little goblin, gripped by his own smug sanctity, dislikes Hugo’. 
  • Donald Trump: ‘A filthy, racist misogynist’. 


A rapier to Royalty

Describing meeting the Queen, Lady Swire said Her Majesty ‘fixes her beady eyes on me then swans past not saying a word’. 

The Queen asks the same question to anyone she doesn’t know, adds Lady Swire — ‘How long have you been doing this?’ 

When they say ­’decades’ or something similar, she says, ‘Gosh’ or ‘Wonderful’ or ‘Have you really?’ 

At a royal dinner, Prince Philip ‘ranted on about some royal banquet where the guests got out their laptops and how appalled he and the Queen were’. 

As for Prince Edward’s wife, Sophie Wessex, Lady Swire is enraged by a ‘fatuous’ comment she made at a royal garden party at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland, where Sasha’s husband was a minister in the Cameron government. 

The Countess delivered a ‘long moan’ about sharing royal duties with her husband and being ‘­frozen out’. 

Prince Edward is described as an ‘overexcitable puppy’. When Sir Hugo is knighted at Windsor Castle in 2016 he is worried it will be done by Prince Andrew, saying: ‘I’m not kneeling down in front of that man. He might knight me with his todger.’ 

Those receiving knighthoods are never told in advance who is going to do the honours, she says, ‘because if it’s Princess Anne everyone complains and tries to switch days’. 


£40k package of support for East Devon businesses

To help businesses in East Devon at this challenging time, East Devon District Council is funding a £40,000 package of business support.

Daniel Wilkins

The support programmes, delivered by Honiton-based Cosmic and Business Information Point, will include packages of training, advice and direct consultancy.

This is specific, tailored support for East Devon businesses over and above any other regional support. The programme will offer guidance on how to adapt and thrive at this time.

The programme will be shaped by the businesses that engage and will be wrapped around their requirements, with a flexible offering of training, advice and consultancy, on a broad range of topics.

The Adapt and Thrive programme aims to work with businesses of all shapes and sizes, from the largest businesses to start-ups and established SMEs.

Training and advice could cover aspects such as financial management and business strategies; adapting to change; managing staff culture; agile project management; marketing tactics; or adopting new digital solutions and processes.

Upcoming training sessions can soon be booked by any eligible business based in East Devon.

There will also be a four-part start-up business programme for budding entrepreneurs starting soon.

Councillor Paul Hayward, East Devon District Council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for economy and assets, said: “At a time when businesses, large and small, are struggling with ever-changing economic uncertainty, and the constantly shifting sands of consumer behaviour, it is essential that commercial organisations adapt to allow them to thrive in a completely different marketplace.

“Communication will be the key, and East Devon District Council is adapting its social media output to ensure that we reach as many businesses as possible to spread the message that we are here to help you – now, and in the future.

“Together, we’ll make East Devon the natural home for small business.”

Anyone interested in registering for support wanting an initial consultation should complete an enquiry form or visit the website for more information