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Land and Resources, Environmental Issues

worst polluters, National Rivers Authority, ocean dumping, River pollution, industrial pollution

Environmental protection is an important issue in the United Kingdom because as a highly populated and technologically advanced nation grows the environment suffers. Compared to many other industrialized nations, the country has a relatively good record of protecting the environment. Much environmental activity involves ordinary citizens at the local level, while the national government provides leadership, goals, and direction, particularly through the secretary of state for the environment. The United Kingdom, along with other prospering nations, has contributed funds and expertise toward global efforts to preserve the environment. In 1997, 20.5 percent of the United Kingdom was protected by national parks, regional parks, and smaller protected areas.

As the world’s first industrialized society, Britain has a long history of dealing with environmental problems. Contamination from sewerage, impure water supplies, and filthy streets from massive horse traffic were all problems handled with success before World War I broke out in 1914. Air pollution from smoke remained a major problem until the Clean Air Act was passed in 1955, a measure that reduced industrial pollution by three-quarters. The increased substitution of gas and electricity for coal as a source of energy further reduced air pollution, both from industry and homes. In recent decades, however, the large increase in the number of motor vehicles has erased many of the gains achieved by the Clean Air Act. River pollution has been more difficult to deal with. This is partly because local sewerage authorities, which were among the worst polluters, were represented on the boards regulating pollution in the rivers. In 1989 a National Rivers Authority was created that has no connection with potential polluters, and Britain’s rivers are slowly improving.

Since the 1940s one of the most serious environmental problems has been disposal of radioactive waste, including the dismantling of nuclear power stations after they become obsolete. The country’s early nuclear industry disposed of radioactive waste by ocean dumping, leaving a legacy of contamination, particularly in the Irish Sea. Another serious environmental issue is the pressure to develop more land. To maintain productive agricultural land and viable agricultural communities, Britain has severely restricted urban and suburban development in some areas. As a result, land prices are extremely high.

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