Mersey basin Campaign

A Global Legacy

Collection Highlights

Born in 1985 with a 25-year lifespan, the Mersey Basin Campaign was charged with facilitating the clean up of the River Mersey and its tributaries in the Northwest of England.

The River Mersey travels nearly 70 miles from its start, at the confluence of the Rivers Tame and Goyt in Stockport, to where it meets the Irish Sea at New Brighton. On its journey west, through south Manchester and Warrington towards Liverpool’s famous Pier Head, it passes through 29 local authority areas. Almost five million people live within its catchment.

A successful clean up required the engagement and participation of myriad different organisations, authorities and communities. What was needed was an organisation that could bring everyone together. The Mersey Basin Campaign broke new ground in British administrative practice with its uniquely collaborative programme. It is internationally recognised as having pioneered effective partnership working – in 1999 it became the inaugural winner of the International Thiess Riverprize for best river system clean up.

The Campaign grew out of the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine’s visits to Liverpool in the aftermath of the Toxteth riots of 1981. In a deliberately provocative call to action, Heseltine wrote about the Mersey in 1983:

“Today the river is an affront to the standards a civilised society should demand of its environment. Untreated sewage, pollutants, noxious discharges all contribute to water conditions and environmental standards that are perhaps the single most deplorable feature of this critical part of England.”

His insight was to recognise the relationship between environmental improvement and economic regeneration. The Campaign would work to improve water quality in the Mersey Basin, thereby stimulating the regeneration of derelict land beside the river and its tributaries (and later the Ribble basin in Lancashire). To be really effective, it would also need to reach out to the people living near these rivers.

To take action on local stretches of river, the Mersey Basin Campaign set up a network of over 20 Action Partnerships, working closely with volunteers, schools, businesses, local authorities, regulators and politicians on a wide range of improvement projects.

This site is an archive of resources relating to the Campaign’s 25 years of work. The material reflects the diverse nature of Mersey Basin Campaign activities, and the wide range of partners we engaged with. It encompasses everything from research papers to homemade video clips, and from project case studies to photojournalism.

Whether you’re looking for specific information, browsing for interesting snippets, or searching for material to inform your own work, we hope you find something here to inspire you.

The Healthy Waterways Trust continues certain aspects of the Mersey Basin Campaign work. Visit them to find out more.

Local Heroes
The Basics
The Way We Worked
It took a riot

To help you get started exploring our archive, we've organised some of the most interesting and important documents into a series of themed collections. You can explore the full set of collections here