The S&TA is one of 100 voluntary organisations across the UK that have joined forces to call for the protection of Europe’s natural environment and the laws which underpin conservation or rivers and lakes across Europe.
The European Habitats Directive exists to protect the most important wildlife species and habitats in the UK and Europe, including important UK rivers and lakes and the fish species such as Atlantic salmon that inhabit them. Protected rivers include the iconic chalk streams of the Itchen, Hampshire Avon, Lambourn and Wensum.
However, the Directive is currently ’under review’ and at serious risk of being weakened.
The S&TA has added its voice to the ’Joint Links group’, representing 100 voluntary organisations across the UK, warning that the European Commission’s REFIT ’Fitness Check’ of Natura 2000 Directives is the single biggest threat to UK and European nature and biodiversity in a generation.
The S&TA fears that the Habitats Directive is under threat of being weakened by those who mistakenly regard it as a block on business and economic growth. The S&TA believes that any revision of the Directive would expose them to prolonged uncertainty and leave the long-term future of Europe’s biodiversity vulnerable to the short-term political priorities of other Member States.
Paul Knight of the S&TA said:
"The Habitats Directive where properly implemented, delivers demonstrable benefits for nature, as well as significant social and economic benefits. The S&TA has successfully used the Directive to protect UK rivers and fish populations. Sadly, now the law itself needs defending. We ask all members to spend a few minutes signing up on the web to show their support."
Voluntary organisations have launched the ’Nature Alert’ electronic tool, enabling the public to have their say in one easy click – www.naturealert.eu
As part of the Joint Links, the S&TA has contributed to the group’s response to the EC consultation which sets out a huge volume of evidence proving the effectiveness of the Habitats and Birds Directives in protecting nature, providing massive benefits for people and providing a stable framework for responsible businesses. Four short S&TA Case Studies, which show why the Habitats Directive is so important, can be found in the Annex to this release.
Paul Knight added:
"It is vital that everyone who cares about UK rivers, lakes, their fish species and wildlife adds their voice by going to the Nature Alert webpage and registering their support".
Annexe – Case Studies
S&TA Habitats Directive Case Studies
1) Coastal fixed-engine netting of salmon from SAC rivers in Scotland
The Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) has long been concerned about the impact upon populations of Atlantic salmon in SAC rivers being impacted by coastal fixed engine netting of salmon, particularly in Scotland. These fixed engines are placed in coastal waters and their operation is based upon inherited property rights. There is no licencing system and no quota is set on the number of fish that can be taken. These fisheries take salmon from mixed stocks, meaning that the fish are heading for a variety of different natal rivers including those designated under the Habitats Directive.
By way of formal complaint to the European Commission, see https://salmon-trout.org/news_item.asp?news_id=315, the S&TA has been able to argue that the lack of a trigger in domestic legislation for an appropriate assessment pursuant to Article 6(3) of the Directive, makes the operation of these coastal netting stations unlawful.
The Scottish Government appears to have responded positively by indicating its intention, following the recent review of wild fisheries (the Thin Review), that it will introduce a system of licencing for the killing of all wild salmon. The added value is that this licencing system will cover not only Atlantic salmon from SAC rivers, but all wild Atlantic salmon in Scotland.
2) Cypermethrin use in the Welsh Government Woodland Estate under FSC derogation
The Salmon & Trout Association and Afonydd Cymru have been concerned at the use of the toxic insecticide cypermethrin for post-planting control of pine weevil in coniferous forestry plantation in Wales. There have been recorded incidents of runoff of cypermethrin from upland forested areas causing significant problems for invertebrate populations in the headwaters of SAC rivers in Wales.
Under the Forestry Stewardship Council, cypermethrin has to be used only under derogation and the S&TA and Afonydd Cymru have been able to argue successfully that the length of the revised derogation should be reduced to three years rather than the normal five on the basis that SAC rivers are likely to be affected, including those designated for invertebrates susceptible to cypermethrin such as native crayfish. Natural Resources Wales (NRW) were required to perform an appropriate assessment under Article 6(3) before the use of cypermethrin under the revised derogation obtained from the FSC. It is highly likely that the use of cypermethrin in Welsh Government forestry will end within the next three years.
3) Phosphate discharges from watercress and trout farms on the Itchen SAC
The S&TA has been increasingly concerned about the impact of discharges of phosphate into the River Itchen SAC from point sources such as watercress beds and river-side trout farms. The Review of Consents process carried out by Environment Agency in England, while being unduly delayed, has nevertheless led to a tightening of the permitted phosphate discharges from watercress farms and trout farms and the S&TA has been able to use the prospect of domestic litigation, based upon a failure to meet the requirements of the Habitats Directive, as a way to ensure there has been as little slippage as possible in bringing in the new standards through revised environmental permits.
4) North and east coast moratorium on aquaculture in Scotland
In Scotland, there is a moratorium on the placing of marine cage salmon farms on the north and east coasts of Scotland. This is, at least in part, based upon the presence on the east of Scotland of the major salmonid rivers including those designated as SACs for Atlantic salmon including the Tay, Dee, Spey and others.
While there are a number of reasons for the moratorium, the presence of these SACs is a significant factor in its maintenance and it largely protects those populations of Atlantic salmon from genetic introgression from escaped farmed fish (which are usually of Norwegian genetic origin) and from disease and parasites emanating from fish farms, including sea lice, which cause significant mortality in wild salmon smolts. The added benefit is that the moratorium protects Atlantic salmon populations from all those non-SAC rivers also covered by the moratorium.