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Heal our river! River Frome in ‘poor’ condition due to pollution and sewage overflow

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The River Frome has been classified as being in a ‘poor ecological condition’ by the Environment Agency.

A chemical assesment of the river, also categorised it as “failing”.

The poor condition of the river has been attributed to pollution from agricultural sources – and according to local organisation, Friends of the River Frome, this is largely due to “intensive livestock farming and poor nutrient management.”

The organisation has also explained that the presence of PBDE – fire retardant chemicals – and mercury in the river, are causing the river to fail its chemical assessment. The overflow of human sewage into the river has also been highlighted as a concerning problem by the local organisation.

Information obtained from Wessex Water revealed that in 2019, sewage spilled into the stretch of the river in town on 385 occasions, for a total of 411 hours. A sewage discharge point located near the car park at the rear of the Westway shopping centre, was responsible for 130 of those hours – overflowing 50 times in 2019.

Frome’s Victorian drainage system has been largely blamed for the sewage problem – and Friends of the River Frome say that “significant investment” is required from Wessex Water to upgrade it.

At a recent Frome Town Council meeting this month, Sue Everett from the Friends of the River Frome, described the river as being “unfit” for people to play or swim in – highlighting that a number of young people became sick after swimming in the river this year.

Sue also explained that the condition of the river has continually declined since 2014, when it was given ‘moderate’ status.

However, Friends of the River Frome say that “hopefully” the “only way is up for the river” with a number of funded initiatives in place to address the challenges that the river faces and “improve the river environment for people and nature”.

Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West for the Somerset Frome catchment partnership steering group has begun working with farmers and landowners to tackle the issue of pollution from agricultural sources.

And Frome Town Council has agreed to work with the Friends of the River Frome to write a letter to local MP David Warburton and Wessex Water about their concerns about sewage overflow into the river.

The group is also involved in a number of projects to deliver natural flood management interventions, including removing the culvert at the Dippy, enabling open land beside the river to flood to reduce the chances of flooding downstream in built up areas.

“[We are] hoping that the only way is up for the River Frome, there are many challenges, and our river is at a very low point. But now we do have some funding for initiatives and projects to start making a difference,” said Sue speaking at the town council meeting earlier this month

Speaking to Frome Times after the meeting, Sue said, “This work is supported through the Somerset Frome catchment partnership steering group and is coordinated through the farming and wildlife advisory group as the employer. There is also a new farmer landowner group for the upper Frome catchments that was set up in April. 

“However Covid restrictions have severely restricted the meetings that would have been most important in this initiative, as it focuses on meetings in the field, to network farmers and promote good practice. 

“Any farmers or landowners wanting to be part of this group are invited to contact Ann.langdon@fwagsw.org.uk. The group covers an area south of Frome to the headwaters of the Brue and Stour.” 

Friends of the River Frome is a small local charity. Anyone who would like to support the charity can join via their website: www.friendsoftheriverfrome.co.uk

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