Norfolk has been urged to lead the way in stopping rivers 'dying' due to pollution, habitat destruction and drought - by recognising their rights.

Growing concern over the state of Norfolk's waterways, including chalk streams, has sparked a call for the county council to do more to protect them.

A motion, due to be debated at Norfolk County Council today (March 28) will call for the authority to recognise the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers.

Eastern Daily Press: A call has been made to give Norfolk's rivers greater protectionA call has been made to give Norfolk's rivers greater protection (Image: Mike Page)

The idea that rivers should have rights - enforceable in law - is one which has been gaining traction in other parts of the world.

Rivers in New Zealand and Bangladesh are among those to have been granted "legal personhood" to bolster their protection in courts of law.

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The River Ouse in Sussex could be the first in England to be granted such legal rights, although attempts to give them to part of the River Frome in Somerset failed in 2020.

Eastern Daily Press: Liberal Democrat county councillor Rob ColwellLiberal Democrat county councillor Rob Colwell (Image: Rob Colwell)

But Liberal Democrat county councillor Rob Colwell, who represents Gaywood South in King's Lynn, hopes Norfolk could become the first county to recognise the rights of rivers.

He said: "Norfolk’s rivers are unique and rare ecosystems, but are slowly dying from pollution, habitat destruction and drought. Every one of our rivers is affected.

"Current legislation is failing to protect our rivers. These precious ecosystems can be revived and rebuilt, but first they need proper protection.

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"It's about seeing rivers as a living entity and giving them the status to match.

"I want Norfolk to be leading the way in the UK, as the first county to recognise the absolute importance of our freshwater and how vital it is to protect it by any means possible."

Eastern Daily Press: Rob Colwell at Gaywood RiverRob Colwell at Gaywood River (Image: Norfolk Liberal Democrats)

Mr Colwell said recognising the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers would establish the "fundamental rights that all rivers shall possess, including the right to flow, perform essential functions within the river's ecosystem, be free from pollution, feed and be fed by sustainable aquifers, have native biodiversity, and regeneration and restoration".

Mr Colwell's call has been backed by environmental campaigners, including the Norfolk Rivers Trust.

Dr Jonah Tosney, the trust's technical director, said: "Current legislation is failing to protect our rivers, and Norfolk Rivers Trust would support a declaration of their rights in order to prevent their loss and destruction.

"These precious ecosystems can be revived and rebuilt, but first they need proper protection."

READ MORE: Anglian Water bosses say Norfolk sewage spills will continue

Eastern Daily Press: Nick AchesonNick Acheson (Image: Archant)

Nick Acheson, Norfolk naturalist and conservationist, also supported the call.

He said: "With fewer than 300 chalk streams on Earth, more than 80pc of them in the UK, and many of the most priceless in Norfolk, we are uniquely blessed with rivers.

"They have been the veins and arteries of our landscape and our culture for as long as humans have farmed the land.

"But our rivers are in peril, as is our entire life support system, which is provided - for nothing - by biodiversity and the environment.

"If we are to survive as a species, with anything like the quality of life we enjoy today, it is vital that we reform our relationship with nature. And this begins with recognising nature's fundamental and inalienable rights."

Mr Colwell's motion will be seconded by Green county councillor Jamie Osborn.

Eastern Daily Press: Paul WhitehousePaul Whitehouse

The state of the country's rivers recently featured in the Paul Whitehouse BBC series 'Our Troubled Rivers', while Anglian Water bosses this month faced a grilling from county councillors about storm overflow discharges in Norfolk.

The government said it has taken "significant action" in recent years to hold water companies to account, including record fines for those which break the law.