Nigel Bell: acid rain

Nigel Bell tells the story of the beginning of acid rain debate in Europe in the 1970s and early 1980s.

I mentioned how it began in – this Swede looking, Svante Odén looking at, yeah.  Yeah, I mean he did a retrospective study in the early ‘70s of a – of the data from a network of rain gauges which had been put out over Norway and Sweden, in – some time in the early ‘50s I think.  The rain was becoming more acid over the years, and the acidity was penetrating deeper and deeper along the line of the prevailing wind into Scandinavia.  The other thing that became apparent is in the southern parts of Norway, in the mountains, and then in certain parts of Sweden, particularly Skåne, that there lakes were becoming acid.  As they became acid, they became fishless basically, salmon and trout being particularly badly affected, and really important to sportsfish there.  Because I remember on the Acid Rain Enquiry we went to a small mansion whichhad been a – which was owned by a shipping magnate, outside Kristiansand on the Tovdal River, which had gone acid and there hadn’t been a fish pulled out of it for ten years.  Whereas we were shown the data from two Yorkshiremen, one of whom was called Harold Wilson, which we thought quite funny, who used to go there in the, you know, for a holiday in the ‘20s and sort of pull 200 salmon out in a week, that sort of thing.  It was a, so something had gone very, very wrong.  And the Swedes were very, very angry, and the Norwegians.  I mean they were really angry.  And I saw this from the inside, very much.  CEGB’s argument was that we built 200 metre high chimneys, the pollutants were all so dilute by the time they reach ground level, they couldn’t cause any damage to any part of the environment at any time.  Well this was absolutely bollocks, of course.  It’s – these ecosystems are so sensitive that it takes only a tiny increase in acidity before they start going acid, and the damage occurs.  It was quite clear when people started inconveniently poking around places like Galloway and, you know, North Wales and places, that the lakes were acid in many cases, in many cases hadn’t got fish.  Also, you know, this is talking about the sort of ‘70s, that old men said, ‘When I was a boy I used to fish in that loch, and now there aren’t any fish in it.’  And this was sneered at, I remember, as anecdotal evidence and of no value whatsoever.  The CEGB really denied everything, you know.  

  • Interviewee Nigel Bell
  • Duration 00:02:38
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 4/9/2013
  • Shelfmark C1379/91

Related Audio Clips

The following clip is a short extract from an in-depth interview.
To listen to the full interview visit

Related themes

Related disciplines