Some of Britain's biggest environmental bodies are launching legal action against the government over concerns that they are failing to protect the country's natural "national treasures" from pollution.
WWF-UK, the Angling Trust and Fish Legal have been granted permission to challenge the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency over concerns they are failing legal requirements to protect natural habitats.
There are concerns that sites such as Poole Harbour and the Rivers Avon, Wye & Eden are becoming so heavily polluted that it is killing fish and other wildlife who live there.
David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said the health of Britain's rivers and lakes was ''one of the most critical concerns'' for the charity and other bodies taking legal action.
''Not only are they vital for important species such as Atlantic salmon, bullhead fish, bittern and kingfisher, but they are also important for recreational activities such as fishing, walking and birdwatching, which provide a vital income for rural communities,'' he said.
''We are calling on the government to use the tools at its disposal to tackle the issue. We hope this legal action will lead to a rethink of the approach of the government and Environment Agency so that we can see real improvements in these precious places.''
It is feared the government will fail to meet an obligation under European law to ensure some of the most threatened natural habitats in Britain are cleaned up by December.
Some 50 of 57 rivers and wetland areas the government agreed to clean up in 2009 remain affected by agricultural pollution from pesticides and other farmland chemicals, according to the WWF.
With the charities granted permission for a judicial review, the case is expected to proceed to court later this year. If won, the government would be forced to say how they will tackle pollution in the areas specified.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive for the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said, ''Poor land management is causing soils carrying nutrients and pesticides to wash into our precious rivers, seriously harming some of our most important fish species, such as Atlantic salmon, stocks of which have plummeted in recent years. This pollution is not only bad for fish and wildlife, but also anglers who contribute billions to the economy every year.
''We must ensure the necessary measures are in place to stop this pollution, and give our rivers and lakes a chance to recover and thrive.''