Despite its international designation as a Special Area of Conservation for salmon as well as endangered fish species like lampreys and bullhead, this was not enough to protect the stunning river Teifi from the devastating agricultural pollution incident that began on Saturday (17th December).
Natural Resources Wales’s (NRW) ongoing investigation, into what is believed to have been a slurry leak in the Tregaron area, has found at least 1,000 fish have been killed. It is reported that all the salmon and sea trout in a two-mile stretch of the River Teifi have been killed by the pollution, with NRW saying that the majority of fish for up to six miles (9.6km) downriver have also died.
Flowing more than seventy miles from a source some 1500 feet up in the Cambrian Mountains to its estuary at Cardigan, the Teifi, known as the Queen of Game Fishing Rivers, is both wild and beautiful.
Helen Jobson, S&TCC’s Wales Officer, said, “This incident can only be described as an environmental disaster which has concerning, and as yet unquantified, consequences for the fish populations, invertebrate numbers and the ecology of the river as a whole.
“This is a catastrophic pollution event for the River Teifi and because of its scale it can be considered as a serious acute incident, however if the bigger picture is looked at this could be seen as the tip of a much more extensive iceberg.”
In reality virtually all rivers in Wales are subject to a greater or lesser degree of risk from the occurrence of this kind of pollution owing to the presence of an agricultural industry that is struggling due to a lack of investment in appropriate infrastructure and management, combined with reduced regulatory resources.
Helen Jobson said, “Point source pollution events are recorded nearly every day somewhere in the country but because they are minor in nature they are dismissed as “diffuse” when actually they combine to be a chronic pollution problem that goes largely un-noticed.
“Welsh Government are currently consulting on whether Wales should adopt new regulations that support the designation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) across the whole of Wales, which would improve and strengthen the requirements on farmers for manure and slurry storage and their application.”
Rivers across Wales are impacted by degrees of pollution, notably from nitrates and phosphate. However, Salmon & Trout Conservation Cymru (S&TCC) has shown that the biggest concern for river managers is the chronic sediment input and phosphate enrichment that consistently comes off arable farmland. This encourages excessive algae growth, smothering spawning gravels and killing fish eggs. Water insects, which are vital to the aquatic food chain, are also killed. When you add directly toxic events such as this slurry spill on the Teifi, then the exasperation of fishery managers, anglers and all those with a love of Welsh rivers is not hard to understand.
S&TCC’s Wales Officer, Helen Jobson, said, “This horrendous slurry pollution on the Teifi must now send a clear message to NRW and Welsh Government that the destruction of water quality and river habitats in Welsh rivers as a result of agricultural bad practice cannot be allowed to continue. Our salmon, trout and sea trout are natural indicators to the health of our water environment, and the Teifi event, which has killed so many salmonid fish, indicates that we are at rock bottom with our ability to protect rivers and adequately enforce legislation.”
Helen added, “S&TCC is already analysing Welsh rivers to provide sound scientific evidence of the state of water quality and, therefore, the impact on aquatic life. Although we wish to work with NRW and Welsh Government to protect our rivers from agricultural and other stressors, we are also prepared to push for opportunities to improve management and regulatory policies. Our rivers are in need of serious help and to do nothing is not an option!”
Paul Knight, Chief Executive of Salmon & Trout Conservation UK said, “The Welsh Government needs to demonstrate how the monitoring and enforcement of the new regulations will take place and NRW and the Rural Inspectorate need to be adequately resourced and provided with the direction and support that they need to tackle the problems and this should be made an immediate priority as the clock is ticking for our precious rivers and streams in Wales.”