The subject to which I want to call attention tonight is the pollution of the River Irwell. Eight hundred years ago, when the hamlet of Kersal in the township of Broughton, which now forms part of the City of Salford, was handed over as a gift to the Cluniac monastary of Lenton, near Nottingham, the most important part of the gift was the fishing rights in the river Irwell. Even in the 18th century the salmon rights in the rivers of Lancashire were let every year for many hundreds of pounds. Today I am afraid that fish in most of those rivers are virtually extinct. Anybody who stands today in the City of Manchester outside the Exchange Station and looks down at the noisome black water which flows beneath him would find it difficult to believe that any fish, or any other living creature, could ever have lived in what the “Manchester Guardian” has so rightly called that “melancholy stream.”
Yet, Sir, from many points of view we should all be proud of the River Irwell. It is the hardest working river in the whole of the United Kingdom. On the 50-mile stretch of the River Irwell and its main tributary, the Roach, stand more than 100 cotton mills, in addition to a large number of other industrial undertakings—slipper factories, bleach works, coal mines, tanneries, paper mills and gas works. I think it is true to say that no other inland river has made a greater contribution to the industrial greatness of this country.
Unfortunately, however, the amenity value of the River Irwell is practically negligible, although there are parts of the Irwell Valley which from the point of view of beauty, could compare with almost anything in North Wales. But, so far as I know, the only amenity value of 92the Irwell at present is the fact that the Agecroft Rowing Club in the City of Salford still use the Irwell for rowing and, I believe, continue to hold an annual regatta. I know of no other amenity value of this river. It is of no use to agriculture because the water is too full of impurities for livestock to benefit from it. There is no fishing in the Irwell for reasons that I shall come to in a moment. Swimming is completely out of the question, and even walking along its wooded banks is spoiled by the condition of the water. In a letter to me a constituent said:
The only real pleasure that the River Irwell can give in this part of the world is the music of water running over the stones, but such is the odour at times that you cannot get near enough even to enjoy this. Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will remember that I have had my differences with the British Field Sports Society, but I have nothing but admiration for the excellent series of reports on river pollution which have been prepared for that Society by Mr. H. D. Turing. When the first of these reports appeared, I wrote to the Society and ventured to suggest that they should make a similar survey of the Rivers Irwell and Roach. These two rivers were covered by the third report; and very sorry reading it made. There are two passages in that report which I should like to read. The first says:
The banks are lined with factories, large and small, many of which take their water from the drainage of the hills forming the slopes of the river’s valley, and discharge it as a polluted effluent, either into the small feeders, or the main river itself, so it may be said that no natural water normally enters the river from its cradle in the moors to its grave in the Manchester Ship Canal. The second quotation is one which I find still more appalling than the first. It is:
There are no fish in these rivers (apart from a very occasional tributary), no insects, no weeds, no life of any kind except sewage fungus, nothing but chemicals and any dirt which cannot be put to profitable use. Sewage effluents (and, being usually very good, they are the most encouraging feature of the appalling situation) are hailed with delight as being the purest water which the rivers hold. The full importance of that statement will be realised when I remind hon. Members of the frequency with which residents in Bacup, Ramsbottom, Manchester and Salford are subjected to flooding from the waters of the Irwell.
Thankfully so much has changed for the better – and the future is looking bright
Now we need to get together to ensure that Salmon return to our North Manchester Rivers – we are working very hard behind the scenes to build up a momentum for change.
Please click this link and take 5 minutes to vote for our Mersey Salmon restoration project in South Manchester – we hope that it won’t be too long before we are asking you to support projects for the return of Salmon and other migratory fish to the River Irwell.