Angling and conservation groups have expressed alarm at the continued delay in properly regulating the use of hydropower turbines on English rivers despite admissions that the current guidelines for hydropower schemes were ‘not fit for purpose’ and risked long-term environmental damage to fish and other ecology.
At a meeting of on Thursday 11 July, the Environment Agency (EA) board failed to approve new Good Practice Guidelines for hydropower developments because of a lack of evidence provided by the EA executive team to support their recommendations that higher flow protection standards should be adopted. The Angling Trust, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Buglife, Fish Legal, Salmon & Trout Association and WWF have today demanded a moratorium on all new developments until the necessary evidence has been gathered to enable a decision to be taken to protect rivers from further damage.
This latest delay follows years of broken promises and delays with the process of developing the new guidelines. The meeting was expected to approve the executives’ recommendation to adopt new guidelines which would have reduced the amount of water that could be diverted from rivers into hydropower turbines. The proposed guidelines were supported by angling and fisheries NGOs who have attended more than 20 meetings to help draw them up. Their position was based on the best available evidence world-wide, including scores of scientific papers and a review of flow requirements commissioned by the Agency itself from a renowned expert in the field.
Angling and fisheries NGOs have repeatedly pressed the Environment Agency, from the Chief Executive down, to monitor the 100 or so developments that have been approved to see what impact they have had on fish and other ecology in rivers. However, all these warnings have been ignored and this has led to the situation where the EA Board felt it did not have the information necessary to take a decision to protect the environment. The executives failed to refer to the considerable body of scientific literature drawn to the Agency’s attention by the NGOs throughout the drawn-out review process.
The NGOs have now written to EA Chairman Lord Chris Smith who expressed concern at the lack of information made available to the Board and stated that the bottom line must be “what is the best option for the environment”. The NGOs have formally called for a moratorium on approving any further hydropower applications until the new guidelines are in place.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, who attended the meeting and gave a presentation on behalf of angling and fisheries organisations, said: “we have repeatedly highlighted the Environment Agency’s shambolic handling of the regulation of hydropower in recent years and this latest development confirms that it continues to be a complete farce. No developments should be allowed on our precious rivers, which already suffer from low flows and diffuse pollution, unless they can be proven to be environmentally benign. The Environment Agency cannot go on allowing developers to profit from installing turbines on our rivers without monitoring their impact, especially as these schemes, once established, will be there for generations. The Environment Agency simply must take a precautionary approach and call a halt to developments until they can obtain the necessary information to support their expert judgement that the current guidelines are not fit for purpose and are in need of a radical overhaul.”
Paul Knight, CEO of the Salmon & Trout Association, added, “Surely it is logical that if the EA Board does not have sufficient evidence available to ratify the new Good Practice Guidelines, then its staff cannot have the data on which to licence individual hydropower applications, yet these are still being granted at an alarming rate. We appreciate the pressure on the EA to encourage renewable energy schemes. However, low head hydropower will only ever contribute very limited localised benefit, but has the potential to significantly damage river ecosystems by depleting water flows, causing barriers to fish movements and the natural dynamics of rivers, and destroying habitats for fish and aquatic insects, with a knock-on effect to birds and mammals. We look to the EA Board to send out a strong message that the aquatic environment and its dependent species must be protected, not sacrificed for the political perception that hydropower is a ’green’ energy source.”
Click here to read Copy of Joint letter to Lord Smith