Relief for Welsh rivers as Government commit to agricultural pollution regulations

Members and supporters of Salmon & Trout Conservation in Wales will be well aware of our relief that the Welsh Government has finally committed to the introduction of regulations to curb the scourge of agricultural pollution in Welsh rivers. The Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) Regulations 2021 are due to come into force on April the 1st and with acute incidents of pollution running at an average of three a week, it is desperately clear that they are long overdue.

In response to an opposition motion, seeking to annul the implementation of the regulations and tabled for debate at the Senedd on Wednesday, March the 3rd, you will be pleased to hear that S&TC Cymru has been busy lobbying MSs, urging them to oppose the annulment and support the introduction of these much-needed measures. We trust the majority will agree to this and that the regulations will be brought into law in due course.

Many have misunderstood or misrepresented the manner in which the new regulations will be introduced. It is important to note that they will be implemented in stages. The first element takes effect on 1st April 2021 and includes what is effectively the adoption into law of chapter 5 of the until now voluntary Code of Good Agricultural Practice, the current iteration of which has been in existence since 2011. S&TC Cymru has lobbied in favour of such a move for some time and we are pleased to see our efforts come to fruition. Farmers have clearly had plenty of time to demonstrate their ability to operate under voluntary guidelines – that they have failed to do so is patently obvious and they have no one but themselves to blame that their efforts have been found wanting. The remaining elements of the regulations will be held in abeyance until 2023 and 2024.

Should the sector wish, they have until October 2022 to propose a scheme of their own which would have the same or better effect as the regulations. This means that the retained elements will only be introduced if the sector is unable or unwilling to present an equally or more effective suite of measures. The Welsh Government announced its intention to legislate against polluting agricultural practices in 2017 and a draft of the regulations has been available for over 2 years. There can be no accusations that the process has been hurried or hastily conceived.

S&TC Cymru welcomes the introduction of the regulations, believing them to be the most realistic option of saving our rivers and their wild fish from terminal decline.

NRW’s planning advice on Wye pollution ineffective say conservation organisations Fish Legal and Salmon & Trout Conservation

Aquatic conservation organisations Fish Legal and Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) have written to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) about on-going pollution of the River Wye and its headwaters and tributaries.

Following the publication of NRW’s “planning advice” to Councils on development on or near the River Wye and tributaries, Fish Legal and S&TC have told NRW that they consider the advice defective and risks further ecological damage to the river.

60% of Wye catchment failing

Currently 60% of the River Wye and its catchment fails environmental targets for phosphates; a key pollutant that causes algal blooms on the river leading to widespread ecological damage.

The River Wye is supposed to be protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, but NRW is not responding adequately to the threats posed to the river.

Not poultry farming, say NRW

The source of excess phosphates in the headwaters of the Wye and its tributaries is thought to be the many poultry farms that have been given permission in recent years, for example in the River Ithon catchment.

NRW’s public position in 2020 was that phosphate levels in the Wye catchment had improved. They did not address the obvious, severe and chronic ecological decline. But after belatedly admitting that levels of phosphate were too high, NRW put this down to the “tightening” of phosphate limits.

Fish Legal and S&TC point out that the recommendations for these tougher limits were made in 2016 and the river has been suffering from high phosphate levels for some years.

Despite good evidence that the phosphates come from poultry farming, particularly in Powys, NRW has repeatedly downplayed this potential cause, repeating that “phosphate is naturally occurring” or that “bank erosion”, “sewerage and foul water” are possible sources, although conceding vaguely that “land management practice” may also be a cause.

Interim planning advice

NRW has now published its ‘Interim advice for planning applications within the Wye catchment’ with the supposed intention of reducing the amount of development in and around the River Wye that could lead to further phosphate pollution.

Fish Legal and S&TC are concerned that the document is flawed. Commenting that it is not statutory guidance but simply advice which can be weighed against other considerations, such as economic benefits, and simply not followed.

It also leaves too much technical responsibility to the local authorities and fails to ensure that developments do not cause damage to SACs, where permission should not be granted unless there is certainty – beyond all reasonable scientific doubt – that the site will not be harmed.

Fish Legal and S&TC have asked NRW to clarify the status of the planning advice and believe, given the current polluted status of the River Wye, NRW should also be exercising its legal functions to impose phosphate reduction requirements – not mere ‘neutrality’ – for all relevant developments.

NRW also needs to indicate how it will:

  • Monitor more closely those large poultry units that it currently permits under pollution control regulations.
  • Robustly enforce permit conditions where necessary.
  • Address the cumulative impacts of multiple poultry developments in the headwaters of the Wye, including those developments which do not require pollution permits (i.e., below 40,000 birds).

Jamie Cook, CEO of Fish Legal, said. “The Wye is one of Britain’s greatest rivers, but it has been on the decline. There is good evidence about where the pollution is coming from and NRW must act upon this. This recent advice needs to be rethought so that it can be an effective tool to prevent further harmful development. Unfortunately, there appears to be very little that is being done to end the current source of pollution from existing sites and that simply must change”.

Nick Measham, CEO of S&TC, said: “NRW has a statutory responsibility to protect SACs such as the River Wye. That responsibility cannot just be set aside or watered down in order to allow the poultry industry to expand in an environment that has already reached and exceeded its capacity to cope with the pollution it causes.”

“NRW has a stark choice here. It has to decide what the law requires it to do. It cannot continue to duck and dive and try to fudge matters. We will be watching closely to see what it now decides.”

River Lugg: EA issued with EDR

Salmon & Trout Conservation issues formal request to the Environment Agency under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015 over horrendous damage caused to the River Lugg in Herefordshire.

Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) has today issued a formal request for action under Regulation 29 of the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015 over damage caused to the River Lugg Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The formal request requires the Environment Agency to consider whether damage, as defined by the Regulations, has occurred and if so, to inform S&TC of the action it will take. The Regulations also indicate that the cost of addressing the damage caused and preventing further damage, and any mitigation or remediation as may be required, should be met by the person who has caused the damage.

Nick Measham, Chief Executive of S&TC UK said:   “Following their inspections, the Environment Agency and Natural England will be very well aware of the extent of the damage caused by the in-river dredging, tree-felling and bank profiling work conducted last week on the river Lugg at Kingsland.    The release of sediment into the river and the loss of habitat on the bed and banks of the river is shocking. The damage caused to protected species, including, but not limited to otters, dippers, bats and Atlantic salmon, is also, patently, very extensive.   There is a threat of further damage being caused downstream, due to the condition that the river upstream of Lugg Bridge has been left in, with exposed profiled mud banks liable to erosion during winter flows, increasing silt and sediment transfer downstream.   We trust that the Environment Agency will now be prosecuting the person or persons responsible for these terrible events. They will, no doubt, require some time to assemble their case, but we will be watching events very closely”.  Nick Measham, Chief Executive of S&TC UK added: ENDS

Further information is available from Janina Gray (janina@salmon-trout.org) or Nick Measham (nick@salmon-trout.org)

Severn Trent to adopt SmartRivers

SmartRivers welcomes its first water company hosted volunteer hub

We are pleased to announce that Severn Trent is the first water company to enrol into the SmartRivers programme. SmartRivers is the volunteer arm of the Riverfly Census, where invertebrates are sampled and analysed to species-level. The species lists are then used to calculate biometrics that indicate what water quality pressures a river is experiencing. This information enables us to understand more about the subtle pollutants 'stressing out' our fish, and drive real improvements to the quality of water flowing through our rivers.

The monitoring will be taking place at Linacre, situated on the outskirts of Chesterfield. The landscape around the site is diverse, ranging from broadleaf and conifer plantation, to pasture and grassland. In regards to freshwater habitat, there are three de-commissioned reservoirs and the Linacre brook. Over the years, a variety of practical conservation projects have taken place to improve habitat on the brook for the wild trout that live there. However, the effectiveness of this work in regards to the health of the trout population is missing. 

 Lloyd Ross, Ranger for Severn Trent describes how SmartRivers will benefit Linacre:

“I am really keen to carry out work to improve the quality of the aquatic habitat for the trout and other fish and invertebrate species. Aside from the huge ecological benefit, I believe the healthy trout population could become one of a few “flagship” species for Linacre – we could design and install interpretation and education boards around site and plan engagement events centred around about aquatic habitats, species identification and water quality. 

Having a monitoring scheme like SmartRivers in place would allow us to pick up and act on any risks to the aquatic habitat before damage may be caused. The scheme would also help with developing natural flood management in the area as I would have an up-to-date set of data to inform my decisions and planning. Involvement in SmartRivers would be a pro-active, positive contribution to our company pledge to commit to improving the natural environment on our sites”.

Lauren Mattingley, SmartRivers Project Manager says:

“We are really pleased to have a water company on board, and hope others will follow in the footsteps of Severn Trent. As water companies have a huge role to play in keeping our waters pollution-free we welcome engaging with them through SmartRivers”.

Benchmark samping has already begun in the Linacre Brook, with the volunteers due to receive their training in spring 2021, pending Government advice at the time.

Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill

Philip Dunne MP launches new Bill to tackle river pollution

Salmon & Trout Conservation warmly welcomes the introduction of the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, aimed at tackling the unacceptable levels of raw sewage being discharged into our rivers and streams.

Rt. Hon Philip Dunne MP for Ludlow has published his Private Member’s Bill designed to tackle river pollution from untreated sewage and improve water quality.

In 2019, raw sewage was discharged into rivers across England and Wales for over 1.5 million hours, compromising these vital habitats for wildlife and endangering the health of people who use our rivers for recreation.

Philip Dunne MP, who is also chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said:

“Our rivers are a vital part of our natural heritage. It is right the Government has committed to restoring at least three quarters of our waters to their natural state.

But it is clear from last week’s latest assessment from the Environment Agency that we are a long way from achieving that, with fewer than one in six of our rivers in good health. This threatens the aquatic life and iconic species that rely on these precious habitats, such as freshwater fish, kingfishers, otters and dippers.

The discharge of untreated sewage is a major part of the problem. It poses a significant health risk to those who wish to enjoy our rivers for leisure and recreation.

The River Severn and its tributaries the Clun, Corve, Kemp, Onny, Rea, Teme and Worfe all flow through my constituency. They are nothing like as healthy as when I was a child, but they should be.

That is why I have brought forward this Bill, which aims to cut discharges of raw sewage into our rivers - protecting our precious habitats for wildlife and people to enjoy.”

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill places a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters. The Bill will require water companies to set out plans progressively to reduce their reliance on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). It proposes increasing levels of transparency, as firms will be mandated to report publicly not just on the frequency and extent of sewage discharges from CSOs and any other sewer catchment assets, but also on the impact on water quality as this is enabled by advances in technology.

Nick Measham, CEO S&TC said,

“I am delighted to see this vital Bill introduced and have been pleased that S&TC was able to make use good use of the donations we receive from members, and elsewhere, to allow S&TC’s lawyer to play a significant role in drafting the Bill and the Explanatory Notes.”

Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill 

Sewage Bill (Explanatory Notes)

The Bill also proposes measures to upgrade drainage infrastructure to separate household sewage from surface water drainage, helping reduce the risk of overspills. It includes measures to reduce harmful products such as non-biodegradable wet wipes, commercial fats and oils from being disposed down the drains. It also proposes measures to expand the number of inland bathing waters and establish targets to increase those classified as “good” or “excellent”.

Guy Linley-Adams, solicitor with Salmon and Trout Conservation said,

“The Bill is a welcome and necessary correction to the post-privatisation legislation for controlling sewage pollution of rivers, streams and lakes. As we leave the EU, we need to increase the level of ambition and this Bill does that. All sides in this debate, including water companies, recognise that we need to build back better post-Covid, including in our water infrastructure, so this Bill deserves, and I’m sure will get, very strong cross-party support.”

The Bill has additional support from environmental charities and NGOs including,

The Rivers Trust, Surfers Against Sewage, The Wildlife Trusts, The Angling Trust, Chalk Aquifer Alliance.

We encourage you to share the Bill with your local MP and lobby them to support it.

Who is my MP? https://www.writetothem.com

Notes

  1. The Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP has been Member of Parliament for Ludlow since May 2005. In February 2020 he was elected Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee. He is also a member of the Conservative Environment Network Parliamentary Caucus.
  1. Untreated sewage is discharged directly into rivers from licensed Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) managed by the 9 water and sewerage companies in England, which are permitted by the Environment Agency (EA) to exceed consented concentrations during periods of heavy rainfall. Recent data obtained by the Guardian established 6,508 inland CSOs discharged untreated sewage into rivers over 200,000 times across England for over 1.5 million hours in 2019, meaning that they likely occurred far more regularly than just during periods of intense rainfall.
  1. The government set an ambition in the 25 Year Environment Plan to improve at least three quarters of UK waters and return them to their natural state. However, the latest assessment by the Environment Agency showed that just 16% of England’s rivers meet the criteria for ‘good ecological status’, unchanged from 2016.

It’s the perfume that you notice first.

"If we can’t conserve the most protected, how can we ever conserve the rest?"

Feargal Sharkey, recently appointed a Salmon & Trout Conservation Vice President writes,

It’s the perfume that you notice first.

Not in that pleasingly attractive CHANEL N° 5 kind of a way but more in that acrid, back of the throat, ammonia filled reflux-inducing kind of a way.

It’s when you notice the used condoms, the sanitary products and the dead rat all trapped in a spiralling embrace, circulating anticlockwise in a backwater eddy that you really begin to notice that things just aren’t right. What one observer pithily described as “Dead rat and sanitary towel soup”.

Is this fiction? No. In 2019 raw sewage was discharged for more than 1,000 hours into an environmental wetland situated at the heart of Olympic Park, Hackney Marshes created as part of the London Olympics legacy.

feargal sharkey 2

Yes as part of an event designed to highlight to the world the greatest achievements of British athletes; an event who’s ambition was to build a legacy that would impact upon the lives of millions of Londoners and generations to come: to build a wetland in one of London’s most deprived boroughs. And yet, and yet in 2019 we allowed the local water company to spend more than 1,000 hours dumping sewage into that newly created wetland.

It was not an isolated event. According to recent reports in the Guardian during 2019 water companies across England spent more than 1,500,000 hours dumping sewage into our rivers.

Take for example the case of the River Avon in Hampshire. Just over 1,000 sq miles of catchment, some of the rarest, most precious rivers systems on earth: the River Avon and is tributaries. All chalks streams. All designated part of a Special Area of Conservation.

Yet in 2019, by my counting, Wessex Water spent 14,642 hours ejecting sewage into the River Avon and its catchment.

That’s 5 chalk streams, some of the rarest river ecosystems on earth, afforded one of the highest form of legal protection this country has to offer and we allowed the water company to do WHAT?

Or the Rive Kennett, given birth to in the lush rolling hills of Wiltshire but even by the time it reaches Marlborough just 10 miles later it is already polluted Thames Water having spent 1,636 hours dumping sewage into its once pristine waters.

46 miles later as it reaches Reading parts of the river have been designated a SSSI. And yet, and yet, in 2019 Thames Water spent a total of 12,734 hours dumping sewage into the Rive Kennett.

And the Environment Agency does what exactly?

Well it transpires at least in the eyes of th3e European Court of Justice (ECJ) not a lot that would bring the UK government into line with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD).

You see in 2012 the UK Government was taken to the EJC by the European Commission for been noncompliant with the Directive. My reading, the court agreed, the UK was breaking the law. Not only that the court ruled, again my reading that this should only ever happen, only ever happen in “Exception circumstances”.

Well all of that was in 2012. So here we are, 8 years later and in 2019 water companies spent over 1,500,000 hours worth of sewage dumped into England’s rivers. Would that be “Exception circumstances”?

Or the14,642 hours of sewage dumped into the River Avon catchment during 2019. Would that be “Exception circumstances”? Or the 12,734 hours worth of sewage dumped into the River Kennett. Would that be “Exception circumstances”?

As a nation it speaks volumes about the platitudes we allow government and others to heap upon the environment, the empty, meaningless words devoid of intent, the 25 year plans that simply perpetuate the obscenity and the complicity.

If we can’t conserve the most protected, how can we ever conserve the rest?

Time for bespoke regulatory targets for all chalkstreams

Chalkstreams are as internationally rare and ecologically important as coral reefs or rainforests, and 85% of the world’s chalkstreams are found in England.

With this comes a responsibility to protect them, something at the moment we are failing to deliver, with evidence of many stretches running dry, whilst others are clogged with nuisance algae and huge declines in flylife, the base of the food web.

Our Riverfly Census work has shown chalkstreams are under huge pressure from excess phosphates, fine sediments and chemicals, all exacerbated by vast over-abstraction. Chalkstreams are groundwater fed- when rain falls it sinks into the chalk ground through fissures and cracks, turning into underground oceans of trapped rainwater. Natural refilling of this underground water is essential to ensure our chalkstreams stay flowing. Yet, because this water is cool and stable and therefore ‘cheap’ to use, it is heavily relied upon and much is removed by water companies to become the water we use in our homes.

We, at Salmon & Trout Conservation, are calling for: New ambitious, bespoke regulatory
targets for all chalkstreams which recognise and manage them as the unique habitats they are.

Currently all our rivers are managed under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Within
this all rivers are classified the same, working towards common ecological targets. Yet, our
data confirms invertebrate communities in chalkstreams are biologically distinct from other
rivers. So, this generic, one size fits all approach cannot adequately protect them. ‘Good’
according to WFD is not good enough for chalkstreams. By developing new chalkstream
specific ecological targets for all chalkstreams it will identify the elements which make
chalkstreams so special and protect and restore them.

To ensure all our chalkstreams are healthy and sustainable into the future requires radical
action now and a step change in the way we manage our water environment. It will require
new bespoke regulatory targets alongside a properly resourced Environment Agency to
deliver and enforce regulations, and an ambitious timeframe to stop all water company’s
reliance on ‘cheap’ chalk aquifer water and drive investment into alternative water supply
solutions.

We cannot afford to tinker around the edges any longer. The more degraded our
chalkstreams become, the more similar they are to other rivers. We are losing the things
which make them special. We have an international duty and moral obligation to raise the
bar and sustainably protect these precious habitats into the future.

SmartRivers developments and achievements during lockdown

As with everything right now, SmartRivers (the volunteer arm of the Riverfly Census) is navigating its way through the 'new normal'.

However, despite restrictions forcing us to postpone travelling and training courses this year, lockdown gave us the time to make SmartRivers even smarter.

 

SmartRivers - now an IFM certified course

We are delighted to announce that our SmartRivers training course has been accredited by the Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM). All volunteers who have completed and will be completing their SmartRivers training will qualify for this certification.

Having the SmartRivers training course fully certified by IFM is a great achievement for us. We have spent a great deal of time and effort working out how to transform the Riverfly Census methodology into an accessible, but scientifically robust, volunteer-friendly format. This certification gives us reassurance that our approach has been successful.

Paul Coulson, Director of Operations at IFM said:

“Following a review of the SmartRivers training course by the IFM Training Team the Institute is very pleased to be able to fully accredit the course. The course utilises an array of delivery methods and a wide range of learning materials, and is backed up with further guidance and support following the completion of the course. Trainees who attend this course will receive a high standard of teaching and will leave well equipped to assess their own waters.”

We want all our volunteers to have confidence that they are receiving the highest possible standard of training and support. We hope that knowing this course is recognised by such a prestigious body as IFM will give them that extra reassurance.

 

A new home for SmartRivers data

SmartRivers data is essential to our conservation and policy work. It is the scientific evidence we need to pinpoint local case studies that give us the power to make national changes. To make this data available and in an accessible form for all, we have built a free, open-access, online portal for all SmartRivers data to be uploaded, stored, interrogated and downloaded.

Lauren Mattingley, SmartRivers Project Manager, explains what the new database will tell us:

"When invertebrate species lists are submitted by volunteers into the database, they are automatically processed through a special calculator. The calculator generates values that indicate the impact of: organic pollution, nutrient enrichment, sediment, river flow and chemicals. You can look at each of these pressures locally and nationally, for a specific time period. This analysis can pinpoint what the problems are and where they are occurring, allowing us to control what is controllable and drive real improvements to the quality of water flowing through our rivers."

The existing data for hubs already part of Smart Rivers is live on the system, and the backlog of data from our Riverfly Census is being added over the next few months. If you want to take a look, we have put together a handy how-to guide with screenshots that explains how to use the database. To access the database open the guide here and email smartrivers@salmon-trout.org to request a login link.

 

What’s next?

We are constantly evaluating the situation based on the ever-changing Government guidelines, but we remain hopeful that training sessions will be able to resume in spring 2021.

We are still enrolling hubs into the project. To launch a SmartRivers hub on a new river, we collect a one year professional benchmark and provide two day-long courses for groups of volunteers. We can only run courses with groups of around 10 volunteers and not for individuals. However, if you are struggling to establish a 'hub' group your local Rivers Trust or Wildlife Trust may be able to help!

MoRPh: a tool for assessing river habitats at biological monitoring sites

As you probably already know, SmartRivers is proud to be part of the Riverfly Partnership's 'Riverfly Plus' toolkit, alongside other exciting citizen science projects like MoRPh - the modular river survey

River organisms respond to their environment and so it is important to monitor any environmental changes. Often the environment is characterised through water chemistry and temperature, but the physical and hydraulic habitat structure of the river and its margins are also very important.

The MoRPh survey was developed to inventory habitats within a river channel and along its margins at a scale appropriate for characterising the physical environment at biological monitoring sites. Originally the biological monitoring was envisaged to be kick sampling of macroinvertebrate communities, and so MoRPh was designed to capture habitat within a rectangular area extending back 10 m across both river bank tops and along a length of river roughly equivalent to twice the river width. By conducting 10 adjacent MoRPh surveys along a river, a river length of approximately 20 channel widths is inventoried, which should be sufficient to capture the larger range of habitats available to more mobile species such as fish. I expect that both these scales are of interest to readers because invertebrates are food for fish!

The MoRPh survey records flow velocity patterns; sediments, including areas of siltation of the river bed; physical features such as pools, riffles, bars, bank profiles, ponds; the structure and extent of the river bed, edge and bank top vegetation; and the types of human interventions (pipes, weirs, bank reinforcement) and pressures from adjacent land use. These observations are recorded by not only ticking the type of feature that is present on a list but also by estimating the feature’s abundance through either a count (pools, riffles) or a category of percentage cover (gravel, vegetation structural type). There are three feature lists to complete, one for the bank tops, one for the bank faces and one for the river bed. In addition, the surveyor records details of where the survey is located, so that it can be shown on a map, and also the approximate size of the river channel, because river channel properties are strongly affected by river size.

MoRPh surveyors are allocated a log-in to an information system that stores and maps their data, calculates some useful indicators from their survey data, and allows raw data and indicators to be downloaded. The indicators include the degree of siltation, the average and largest sizes of the bed material, and the physical and vegetation complexity of the river bed. These bed-indicators are extremely useful for monitoring short-term (monthly, seasonal, annual) changes in the river bed that may impact on the invertebrate community. Broader changes in the river channel and its margins also have important impacts on river organisms but these changes usually occur more slowly, making monitoring most effective at an annual or longer timescale.

If you are interested in the MoRPh survey and would like to find out more, have a look at the Modular River Survey website: www.modularriversurvey.org.

- Prof. Angela Gurnell, Queen Mary University of London

Persistence pays off in the pursuit of a pesticide problem

This is a terrific outcome for the river, wild fish, the wider environment and the local community.

Nick Measham, CEO S&TC writes,

Bakkavör is closing its salad washing plant at Alresford on the Upper Itchen. In simple terms this should result in an end to significant chemical pollution and provide much needed respite for all biodiversity associated with the river.

It is difficult to celebrate this terrific result for the environment while at the same time local employees of Bakkavör face job losses. But, we should. In our experience it is rarely the case that it comes down to” jobs or the environment”, more often than not there are technical and operational solutions to pollution problems which require only modest investment. It really is the responsibility of Boards to balance their need for every penny of profit, over livelihoods and the environment of local people. Certainly, it is S&TC’s view that consumers and communities are increasingly demanding a “jobs and the environment” approach from business. The environment does not need to be sacrificed for economic growth. We wanted Bakkavor to discharge its environmental obligations to stop polluting the river. We were not seeking closure.

On purely environmental grounds the end to pollution from salad washing is an outcome which we are delighted with. We hope that the local people and community groups long associated with the river will reap the benefits of its increasing health. From our own perspective the closure is a reassuring vindication of S&TC’s unique, and demonstrably effective, strategy to drive change and improve river health to directly benefit wild salmon and trout. A combination of outcome focused scientific study, robust legal posture and patient but forceful campaigning.

Some years ago, following concerns raised by local residents, anglers and conservationists, S&TC lent its weight to efforts to end the environmental damage that Bakkavör was suspected of causing. It was as a direct result of S&TC’s model of producing scientifically analysed invertebrate data on the Itchen (which we popularised under the River Fly Census banner) that we were able to force the Environment Agency to undertake further research into potential pollution coming from the salad washing plant. In June 2018 S&TC made a formal notification of environmental damage to the Environment Agency (EA), pursuant to the Environmental Liability Directive. The EA investigation exposed a number of issues with the site, some of which were resolved promptly, but a pesticide threat was highlighted, which, until the recently announced closure of the plant, remained unresolved and subject to continuous pressure. At the time of the closure, the EA was in the process of imposing a monitoring regime on Bakkavor and Vitacress, its neighbour on a tributary of the River Test, with highly precautionary pesticide discharge limits. It remains to be seen how Vitacress will respond to the challenge of cleaning up its discharge.

S&TC’s role in leading a scientifically evidenced approach to highlight the environmental damage attributable to the operation allowed us to engage significant local and national media interest, including a feature on the BBC’s Countryfile.

Not only did S&TC’s investigations reveal problems with Bakkavör’s operations, it also shone a light on the serious inadequacies of regulation and enforcement options for the EA. Exploration of these issues has led to further revelations which are of national significance. The likelihood of the same issues at Bakkavör Alresford Salads and Vitacress being replicated in other settings, in terms of pollution and inadequate regulation, appear to be high.

A successful outcome in one location will provide a compelling case study, a proven model for eradicating chemical pollution and potentially significant reform of the EA licensing regime across the country.

The chemical problem is national in scale and, if it is to be addressed, it requires a robust, fit for purpose, regime around licensing, monitoring and enforcement.  Both locally and nationally S&TC is using its scientifically based evidence to effect change. S&TC will continue to campaign and create energy and enthusiasm for change, but as with Bakkavör, patience will be required to accommodate the hurdles the EA faces.

Data collection, analysis, legal fees and staff time has come at a significant financial cost, and it is without doubt that our members and donors are owed a debt of gratitude. Being truly financially independent has its challenges, but it allows S&TC to campaign, free of conflicts of interest, more powerfully and effectively.

This is a terrific outcome for the river, wild fish, the wider environment and the local community.

Media Coverage:

Countryfile: https://salmon-trout.org/2019/06/17/bakkavor-alresford-salads-impacting-upper-itchen/

https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/18602214.updated-salmon-trout-conservation-argue-alresford-salads-pollution-river-itchen/

https://www.endsreport.com/article/1690492/salad-washing-plant-pumped-harmful-levels-neonicotinoid-chalk-stream

https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/18630704.bakkavor-close-alresford-salad-branch-loss-100-jobs/

https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/18651943.mixed-reaction-bakkavor-factory-closing-doors/

S&TC Recent Press Releases:

Levels of Acetamiprid, a pesticide discharged by Bakkavor into the upper Itchen catchment, have regularly exceeded acceptable concentrations by a factor of up to four times.

https://salmon-trout.org/2020/06/23/toxic-neonicotinoid-washed-off-salad-leaves-into-protected-chalkstream/

Identification of 36 other chemicals from Bakkavor Alresford salad washing activities which could be causing environmental damage.  The company declared they were permitted although the EA believed they “present a real or present danger to the environment”.

https://salmon-trout.org/2020/07/23/thirty-six-toxic-pesticides-washed-into-headwaters-of-sac-chalkstream/

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC are a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.