The Ribble/Wyre observatory: major, minor and trace elements in rivers draining from rural headwaters to the heartlands of the NW England historic industrial base

Sci Total Environ. 2011 Mar 15;409(8):1516-29. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.01.018. Epub 2011 Feb 5.


Information on a new observatory study of the water quality of two major river basins in northwestern England (the Ribble and Wyre) is presented. It covers upland, intermediate and lowland environments of contrasting pollution history with sufficient detail to examine transitional gradients. The upland rivers drain acidic soils subjected to long-term acidic deposition. Nonetheless, the acidic runoff from the soils is largely neutralised by high alkalinity groundwaters, although the rivers retain, perhaps as colloids, elements such as Al and Fe that are mobilised under acid conditions. The lowland rivers are contaminated and have variable water quality due to variable urban/industrial point and diffuse inputs reflecting local and regional differences in historic and contemporary sources. For most determinands, pollutant concentrations are not a major cause for concern although phosphate levels remain high. Set against earlier studies for other regions, there may be a general decline in pollutant levels and this is most clearly observed for boron where effluent inputs have declined significantly due to reductions in household products that are flushed down the drain. High concentrations of sodium and chloride occurred briefly after a severe cold spell due to flushing of road salts. A major inventory for water quality within rural, urban, industrial and agricultural typologies is provided within data summary attachments for over 50 water quality determinands. Within the next year, the full dataset will be made available from the CEH website. This, with ongoing monitoring, represents a platform for water quality studies across a wide range of catchment typologies pertinent to environmental management of clean and impacted systems within the UK. The study provides a base of research "from source to sea" including extensions to the estuary and open sea for a semi-confined basin, the Irish Sea, where there are many issues of pollution inputs and contamination.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • England
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Industry
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Trace Elements / analysis*
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / statistics & numerical data
  • Water Supply / analysis


  • Trace Elements
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical