Comedian Paul Whitehouse has issued a rallying call to protect Britain’s rivers as he warned there is going to be a “big problem” in the next decade because of water extraction.

The Fast Show star, who is a lifelong fisherman, warned that action needed to be taken to stop the extraction of water from rivers.

“We do see the decline in the rivers. You get the impression that most of our rivers are cleaned up since industrial decline and the irony is that a lot of our rivers have got better,” Whitehouse said.

“But in recent years, in the last 10 or 20 years, there has been a serious decline in a lot of our rivers through water abstraction.

“Water companies are quite happy to take water out of our rivers illegally and pay any fines they incur rather than construct reservoirs or do repairs that are necessary to stop water leaking.

“They will happily do it and they don’t really get censured.”

Whitehouse was speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival alongside fellow comedian Bob Mortimer to promote their new book, Gone Fishing: Life, Death and the Thrill of the Catch, which is based on their popular BBC Two fishing series.

He said that fisherman were at the “frontline” because they spent so much time at riverbanks and were able to see changes.

“I spoke to Feargal Sharkey the other day and he is very vocal about what is going on with our rivers,” Whitehouse said.

“He is a member of a club in Hertfordshire and I know for a fact three tributaries of the River Lea have disappeared over the last 15 years, they have dried up.

“He got the Environment Agency and the Environment Secretary to come and look at the River Mimram last year when it was in trouble and this year it has gone.

“The Environment Agency and the Government did nothing, so we can be a bit more hard-hitting in the book than we can on TV because it would be pretty irresponsible if we didn’t.

“You can’t just present everything as idyllic and all rosy when sadly there is always a flipside.

“There are also a lot of people who are on the case and raising those voices because it is going to be a big problem in the next 10 years or so unless we do something about it.”

Whitehouse introduced his friend Mortimer to fishing as both of them recovered from heart surgery.

Two series of the show have been made but both Whitehouse and Mortimer were coy on whether there would be a third when questioned by the Cheltenham audience.