Environmental Quality

Environmental Quality

The Severn Estuary is a unique habitat for many kinds of flora and fauna. They rely on clean water, fresh air, and plenty of habitat to roam and feed from. Therefore, it is important to maintain the environmental quality of the Estuary to preserve this amazing ecosystem into the future.

Water quality

The water quality of the Severn Estuary is an important indicator of the overall health of the Estuary’s ecosystem. Keeping the water free of pollutants, contaminants and rubbish all acts to improve water quality. It influences tourism, recreational activities, and industry, where higher quality waters are sought out for these activities. Water quality in the Estuary is complex system. With a large variety of inputs from numerous different sources and complex interactions between contaminants and ‘master variables’ such as salinity and dissolved oxygen, it is a huge task to monitor and control these. Due to the high levels of suspended sediment (silt suspended in the water column), contaminants often ‘attach’ to the sediment particles, meaning sediment quality is also an important issue in the Estuary.

Bathing waters

Each year, crowds of people flock to beaches and inland bathing areas, sometimes enjoying the sunny weather, and sometimes bracing against cold winter winds. Whatever kind of activity takes place on the coast, there is a need to monitor the quality of the bathing waters. The European Union originally set water quality framework and legislation for EU Member States, including the UK. Today, the UK’s Department for Food Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), along with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, now manage bathing waters in the Severn Estuary post departure from the EU. The UK’s bathing waters are much cleaner than thirty years ago, when large quantities of untreated or partially treated municipal and industrial wastewater were discharged into ocean waters. Incorporated into the UK’s method of grading beach water cleanliness is the Blue Flag system. The Blue Flag is awarded to beaches which achieve a high standard of environmental quality as well as educational and accessibility measures. Those beaches which have achieved blue flag status around the Severn Estuary include Whitmore Bay and Southerndown beaches in South Wales.

The Litter Free Coast & Sea Somerset runs beach clean events within the local community to help keep our bathing waters free of waste and plastics. To find out more information, and how to get involved, visit Litter Free Coast & Sea Somerset.

Barry island beach (Photo credit David Elliott, 2015)

Air quality

Poor air quality caused by pollution can have significant adverse effects upon human health and ecosystems. Pollutants can come in the form of solid particles, liquid droplets, or gases. They may come from natural sources (such as volcanic eruptions) or man-made, such as power generation, transport, and manufacturing processes. In cities around the Severn Estuary, air quality monitoring stations record any changes in pollutants over time. In Cardiff, concepts are being developed and put into motion to reduce air pollution from transport1. Within Bristol, plans for a Clean Air Zone are also currently under review2. By monitoring and reducing the amounts of pollutants we put into the air, the Severn Estuary will continue to thrive as a hotspot for nature and a place to live and work.

  1. Cardiff Council: Clean Air Cardiff https://www.cardiff.gov.uk/ENG/resident/Parking-roads-and-travel/clean-air-cardiff/Pages/default.aspx
  2. Clean Air for Bristol https://www.cleanairforbristol.org/


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