Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) and Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) hold Environment Agency to legal account over unacceptably high levels of phosphate discharges in Upper Itchen

The S&TA and HIWWT have jointly written to the EA expressing their great concern at the lack of progress on the Upper Itchen in relation to the regulation and control of phosphate discharges, particularly from watercress beds into the River Itchen SAC. Decisions to take action on this issue were originally made by the EA in November 2007 as part of the Review of Consents process.

Despite earlier assurances from the EA that a resolution on improved standards would be given by the end of March 2013, there has been little action and there is still no timetable to implement the necessary changes. All that has been received by S&TA and HIWWT to date has been a holding email from the EA advising that it is still awaiting reports from its statisticians.

“This follows a very long consultation process focussing on the historical problems of raised phosphate levels within the Upper Itchen and the threat that poses to Ranunculus species and other features of the River Itchen SAC,” Paul Knight, S&TA CEO, explains. “The EA appeared to accept the evidence, both independent and from its own scientists, that the current phosphate loading of the River Itchen SAC is indeed a threat to the integrity of the SAC.

“However, we now fear that the watercress growers will not be happy with the constraints that tougher standards will place upon their commercial interests and will claim that they will not be able to comply and stay viable. Indeed, it comes as no surprise to learn that the principal growers are now threatening a joint appeal and challenge to the Environment Agency about the proposed standards. As a result, some fudging compromise will be suggested – and we will all be back to square one.”

The S&TA and HIWWT point out that the Review of Consents process on the Itchen SAC (which published its conclusions in 2007) is designed to apply the test laid down by the Habitats Directive and associated ECJ judgments – that it must be beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the activity being investigated is not causing damage to the integrity of the SAC. The SACs within the Natura 2000 network – including the River Itchen SAC – were identified as the very best sites for nature conservation in the UK and across Europe. The Directive does not envisage that damaging operations should be permitted to persist on economic grounds alone if they threaten the integrity of the SAC concerned.

“If the consequence of this is that the watercress growers are unable to function economically on the Upper Itchen and also comply with such standards, then these businesses must be relocated,” Paul Knight declares.

S&TA and HIWWT are now holding the EA to this ruling, insisting that a robust approach is taken with the watercress growers as well as a close examination that the regulation is adhered to by watercress growers on the Upper Itchen. If the decisions taken by the EA do not comply with the requirements and overall objectives of Habitats Directive, then all legal options, including judicial review of relevant decisions, will be explored.

Debbie Tann, CEO of HIWWT, adds, “When we first heard that the EA intended introducing tighter phosphate standards on the watercress industry, we applauded the Agency for its stance. HIWWT and the S&TA now stand ready to assist the EA in taking a robust position and securing compliance with the Habitats Directive as it relates to the activities of the watercress growers, and indeed all other sources of phosphate input into the River Itchen. Our concerns specifically arise from the serious and visible manifestation of phosphate loading on those parts of the Upper Itchen owned by the Trust.”
This letter was sent to the EA by environmental solicitor, Guy Linley-Adams, who is acting for the S&TA and HIWWT in this matter.

Click here to view the letter