An idyllic river has been declared 'ecologically dead' after the amount of human waste overflowing into it tripled in under a year.

The River Lim in west Dorset used to be a thriving ecosystem with trout, eels and kingfishers populating the area.

Now local residents and conservationists have reported 'a layer of brown sludge' coating the top of it.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

The River Lim by Graham Hunt Photography 

The toxic waterway also has 'shocking' levels of E.coli, prompting the local authorities to erect yellow warning signs advising the public to keep out of it.

A retired freshwater ecologist carried out a recent survey which found there were 'barely any' invertebrates in the river.

Without mussels, larvae and snails, the bottom of the food chain is cut off which reduces the number of larger species which can survive there.

Data gathered by the River Trust on the River Lim shows an exponential rise in human waste surging into the river from storage tanks at a nearby  South West Water treatment centre.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:
Graham Hunt Photography

This is the latest scandal to hit water companies after outrage following similar spillages in rivers across the country, with the Severn and Wye among the worst.

Graham Roberts, who worked as a freshwater ecologist for 40 years, has described the River Lim as being 'ecologically dead'.

He joined the River Lim Action Group two years ago to try to understand and fix the problem.

He said: "The river is in an absolutely disgusting state.

"I carried out some baseline surveys to understand what was happening to the wildlife in the river.

"There were virtually no invertebrates at all in it. In a healthy river you would expect to find hundreds and thousands of shrimps in a three minute survey.

"We weren't finding any at all.

"It has a real knock on effect on the rest of the animals in the area. There just won't be enough food.

"We were lucky enough to have an otter move in recently but I worry that by ingesting the sewage it will become infertile or in the worst case scenario it will die."

The River Lim Action Group has looked at statistics from the Rivers Trust which show that the amount of human waste entering the river has tripled in the last year.

In 2020 sewage spilled into the Lim for 376 hours, in 2021 that had risen to 680 hours and throughout 2022 there were 2,200 hours of spillage.

The River Lim Action Group believes that the increase is due to heavier rainfall and insufficient storage facilities nearby.

Vicki Elcoate, a member of the River Lim Action Group, described the impact sewage has had on the wildlife in the river.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:
Graham Hunt Photography

She said: "People who have lived here for decades talk about how they used to see the river full of trout and eels.

"Kingfishers used to be spotted flying up and down the river amongst the reeds.

"Now there is a layer of brown sludge coating the top of the water and you're lucky to ever see a fish in there at all."

Laura Noel, a retired NHS worker, has spent months trying to get South West Water (SWW) to confirm why there has been such an increase in the last few years.

She describes the process as being 'drip fed' information.

The monitoring group believe that larger sewage storage tanks need to be built to prevent yearly overflow from the Uplyme treatment centre into the Lim.

Mrs Noel, 71, said: "We monitor eight points along the River Lim every month and we keep track of different factors such as phosphate levels.

"We started the group after lots of started noticing horrible smells and the water not looking right.

"We contacted SWW and then the Environment Agency via a hotline to get a team looking into it.

"That was 18 months ago now. We discovered that SWW is one of the worst performing water companies in England.

"Getting information out of them has been really hard, slowly being drip fed and ultimately getting nowhere.

"We think that they need to build a bigger storage facility to stop the overflow happening.

"It's happening more often because of the change in weather, we're getting more periods of intense rainfall.

"Tests have shown us that the river is now ecologically dead, there are no invertebrates living in it. 

"They also found shockingly high levels of E. coli. It's basically toxic.

"There are things we can do to stop this. The main thing is for SWW to invest in a larger storage container at Uplyme.

"They have to do something, it is increasing so much."

An Environment Agency report carried out in February analysed the levels of E. coli along the Lim.

It said: "The high E. coli results for the surface water outfall at Woodmead Road Bridge confirmed that it was contaminated with faecal bacteria.

"The survey results clearly demonstrate that under baseflow conditions there is an increase in levels of E. coli in the River Lim as it flows through Lyme Regis."

A South West Water spokesperson said: "We are reducing the use of storm overflows and our plan is working but there is more to do.

"We want everyone to feel confident about water quality and to know that we are serious about reducing the use of storm overflows.

"We've installed 100% monitoring on our storm overflows, ahead of target.

"We are investing significantly to reduce our impact on rivers by one-third by 2025, as we look to ensure weare not the reason for any river failing to meet ecological standards by 2030."