Once-polluted River Mersey is now a wildlife haven say experts THE River Mersey has shaken off its unenviable reputation as one of the most polluted waterways in Britain.
Less than 30 years ago, “minister for Merseyside” Michael Heseltine condemned the river as “an affront to the standards a civilised society should demand of its environment”.
But following a major clean-up operation, the river is now home to an increasing variety of wildlife.
Seals, porpoises and even the odd dolphin have all been spotted in the Mersey.
Experts today said it was only a matter of time before otters are sighted.
Denis Riley, who snapped this picture of a seal near Otterspool promenade, wrote on his Flickr page: “The sun was setting so I decided to take some sunsets when someone said there was a seal feeding – had to leg it for 200m and was puffing and blowing when I took a sequence of pics, but most were blurred as I was shaking after the sprint.”
Tony Parker, assistant curator for vertebrate zoology at National Museums Liverpool, said: “It is becoming increasingly common to see seals and porpoises in the Mersey estuary.
“A seal would probably have come from Hilbre Island, where up to 600 spend the summer. They can travel a fair distance and tend to stick around shallow waters.
“Porpoises are normally found washed up on the beach because there is a growing population in the Irish Sea.
“Seals are increasing because there are more fish for them to eat.
“As the water quality improves, there will be more invertebrates. The fish will come to feed on those, which leads to increasing numbers of marine mammals like seals and porpoises. It has gone on over the past 20 years, since the Mersey started to get cleaner.”
But while marine mammals have started to multiply thanks to the greater numbers of fish in the river, some bird populations have gone into decline because they fed off invertebrates which thrived in the polluted conditions.
Mr Parker said: “When the water is horrible and polluted, there is a certain invertebrate form which thrives in those conditions.
“They are quite good food sources for a lot of birds.
“Now they have cleaned up the river, those invertebrates are not available any more and the birds have gone elsewhere.”
Mr Parker said there was a marked decline in the number of wading birds seen on the Mersey, although fish-eating birds like cormorants and little egrets had started to appear.
The Mersey Basin Campaign led the clean-up of the river and was only wound up this year after 25 years of improving water quality.
A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said the River Mersey was heavily polluted from years of industrial activity which took place along the river system.
She said: “This activity meant it was virtually impossible for any aquatic life to live within the water.
“We have worked hard with partners to improve the water quality of the River Mersey.
“Over the last few years, salmon were found within the Mersey.
“Otter and kingfisher populations also showed an increase. It is a true indication the water quality has significantly improved.” THE ECHO