Salmon & Trout Association joins forces with local fisheries interests to press for withdrawal of hydropower generation at Shears Mill to protect iconic river’s salmon population.

Eastleigh Borough Council has withdrawn its application to establish a low head hydropower generation scheme at Shears Mill on Hampshire’s iconic River Itchen.

The Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) joined local fisheries interests, including the Itchen Salmon Group and the Hampshire Salmon Trust, to object to the scheme on the grounds that it could seriously impact vital spawning and juvenile habitat for the river’s Atlantic salmon population, a designated species under the EU Habitats Directive which places Special Area of Conservation (SAC) status on the Itchen.

Despite salmon theoretically being as heavily protected in the Itchen as it is possible for an aquatic animal to be, the species has failed to reach its Conservation Limit (CL – the number of individuals considered necessary to secure long-term sustainability) in 9 out of the last 10 years. The only year the river scraped through its CL was 2010, but the 5 year average remains at just 70%.

S&TA was asked to assist local groups. S&TA’s scientists and environmental lawyers picked over the original application made by Eastleigh Borough Council and raised both conservation and legal concerns over the proposals with the Environment Agency.

Guy Linley-Adams, the environmental solicitor acting for S&TA, said, “The S&TA’s view was clearly that the Environment Agency could not have granted the scheme a licence and comply with the Habitats Directive at the same time. There are legally protected rivers, such as the Itchen, where hydropower is simply not appropriate.”

The S&TA was particularly pleased that the Environment Agency agreed with S&TA’s assessment that the original application had changed so markedly over the months of ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations since it was first submitted, that by law it would have required another round of public consultation, had Eastleigh Borough Council decided to persist with the application.

These applications must never be decided behind closed doors.”

Paul Knight, S&TA’s CEO, said, “This case just shows how vigilant we have to be in protecting species such as salmon from the potential impacts of hydropower. There was the very real concern that a scheme at Shears Mill could both impede upward and downstream migrations of salmon adults and juveniles, and, by slowing and deepening the water above the Mill to aid electricity generation, could cause sediment to smother the redds (nests in which salmon lay their eggs) which are numerous in the area immediately above the weir.

This case has been a perfect example of why S&TA is fighting for greater political commitment to protecting the environment from damaging commercial activities.”

David Browse, Secretary of the Hampshire salmon Trust, thanked the S&TA for its work on the issue, and added, “The River Itchen is supposed to be an SAC and its salmon a protected species, yet we had to fight tooth and nail to get officialdom to realise that. This hydropower scheme would have provided minimal energy generation compared to the potential impact on salmon and other aquatic species, and we felt we were being let down by the very people who should have been responsible for their protection. If we can’t protect an SAC river and its dependent species, what chance have we of preserving our environment for future generations?”