The quality of water flowing in the Looe River entering Looe Bay affects the marine ecosystem which sustains Looe’s marine wildlife as well as being extremely important to local people and holiday makers bathing from Looe’s beaches. Under new EU Bathing Water Framework directives, bathing water standards are set to get much tougher from 2015 and East Looe could be at risk of failing. As a marine conservation group, we count among our aims educating the public about wildlife and conservation. We work with the Environment Agency and other local stakeholders in the Looe Bay Water Quality Partnership to promote and improve water quality for the benefit of the whole community and our wildlife.
We have teamed up with the Environment Agency to share with you a few outstanding issues about pollution and how we can all play a part in providing solutions.
What affects bathing water quality at East Looe?
Water drains from the land into the rivers that flow into the sea. So everything which drains into Looe’s ‘catchment’ rivers affects the quality of the water, from the outflow of treated sewage and storm drains to the run-off from agricultural land, from what we wash down the plughole in our homes to the occasional oil or petrol spill from a boat or a garage forecourt.
The Looe catchment area on which rain falls, enters the 2 Looe rivers (East and West), and is surprisingly large, extending to areas north of Liskeard from St Cleer to Dobwalls. Many people don’t realise they live or work in the catchment area & that their actions may affect bathing water quality in Looe.
There are many tributaries draining into both of the two rivers. With both of them being tidal, they are prone to rapid changes of level after heavy rain. They flow in deep sided valleys which are often wooded, & also have areas of grassland & arable land. The valley slopes are largely agricultural with significant use for livestock- after long periods of heavy rain, run off into the Looe rivers significantly increases. It’s also important to remember that climate changes & predicted increases in extreme weather events have the potential to worsen run off & flooding problems.
Why does this matter to the community of Looe?
- Staying safe and healthy – Looe depends heavily on tourism for income & employment. The beaches are equally important for locals who use them all year round – a natural environment to enjoy with family, friends and children where we all want to be safe and healthy.
- Economic impact on tourism and farming – The livelihoods of many families living in the Looe catchment area depend on tourism or agriculture. When chemicals & other pollutants enter the rivers, the sea, the marine habitat & wildlife as well as the local economy suffer. Sea water quality may discourage tourists. Blocked ditches & culverts can increase the amount of run off from agricultural land causing the loss of expensive fertilisers and periods of heavy rain can cause a loss of topsoil affecting crops & grazing for farm animals.
- Risk of Flooding – Failure to control run off from land in the catchment area increases the risk of flooding in both East & West Looe, especially when it is stormy at the time of the high spring tides affecting residents & businesses.
How can the community help?
Although the Environment Agency has been working for a number of years in the Looe catchment area to detect and eradicate pollution, the issues involved in bathing water quality are complex & need co-operation & a collective effort. Therefore it’s not just the communities of East & West Looe who can help, but everyone who lives & works in the catchment area of the Looe rivers- everyone can play a small part in improving bathing water quality. Owners of land bordering rivers have a particularly important role & should be encouraged to seek special help & advice from the relevant agencies.
Simple changes to daily life which can help:
- check your drains are properly connected
- never put oils or fats down drains or toilets
- don’t flush anything other than paper down the toilet
- minimise hard paving & maximise plant cover in gardens
- don’t drop litter or leave black bags unprotected from gulls
- deal quickly with oil & fuel spills from cars & boats etc.
Actions you can take:
- Anyone who thinks that their actions may affect the quality of Looe’s bathing water should seek advice & help from the relevant agency e.g. Environment Agency, South West Water, Local & County Councillors, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Looe Marine Conservation Group.
- Anyone seeing any illegal activities in the catchment which may affect Looe’s bathing water quality should pass on their concerns to the above agencies e.g. blocked ditches, drains, culverts.
- Consider joining Looe Marine Conservation Group to engage with others in the community of Looe via our events & meetings and it’s a great way of doing something practical to lend a hand in looking after Looe’s bathing water as we undertake beach cleans on a regular basis.