Water White Paper: Minister Promises Real And Effective Action To Protect Environment

Presentations for the S&TA and GWCT at local and national level underscore commitment for change

With the imminent publication of the Water Bill – scheduled for April – the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) has made two presentations to the Defra Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, in the past week; once at the S&TA Wessex Branch meeting and the other in the House of Commons as guests of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s All party Parliamentary Group (APPG).

On both occasions, Paul Knight, S&TA CEO, pressed for action, rather than just words, emphasizing what critical state the “perfect storm” combination of drought and over-abstraction has now left many waterways, especially in the south and south-east, as well as the ongoing problems of pollution and predation.

The Minister accepted that Defra’s own research shows that 25% or rivers are not functioning eco-systems, but emphasised that the Government is “taking the drought problem very seriously” and pointed out that £92m has now been set aside for river restoration. “Local interest groups and stakeholders for the best vehicles to manage change,” he stated. “If they are incentivised, extraordinary things can happen.”

He further stressed the importance of getting farmers and other land managers on-side so that they realise how they are part of the problem, but equally the most important deliverers of solutions. He welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent statement that he wanted agricultural subsidies moved away from food production and focussed instead on environmental protection, because this gives a vital income stream for resolution delivery.

Paul Knight, S&TA CEO declares, “Our message to the Government, and the 40 MPs and Peers present at the APPG meeting, was that a new Sustainable Abstraction Strategy must be delivered sooner than the mid 2020 deadline mentioned in the WWP if it is not to be too late for many rivers.

“The WWP has some good words on diffuse pollution, including working towards a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy that promotes farming’s ability to protect the environment, as well as tackling pollution sources such as private septic tanks, abandoned metal mines and urban run-off,” Paul Knight adds. “However, unless intention is supported by statutory teeth, then the situation with our waterways – already dire – will become disastrous.”

He feels that the the most encouraging aspect of the APPG meeting was the number of MPs genuinely angry about abstraction in their constituencies. This, Paul Knight believes, is a major step forward, because with MPs’ influence from the inside, there is a real chance of tackling the issue in time for some of us to see our rivers restored to former glories.

He concludes: “We await publication of the promised Water Bill, where we will see how much of our lobbying has finally paid off!”