S&TC Cymru Update June 2020

Richard Garner Williams, S&TC National Office for Wales writes:

In a spirited demonstration of enthusiastic collaboration S&TC Cymru, the Wild Trout Trust, the Grayling Society and the Game and Wildlife Trust recently joined forces in writing to Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs offering broad support for Natural Resources Wales’ Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action. The Plan was launched at the Minister’s request in response to the outcome of the Local Inquiry on Natural Resources Wales’ proposed All Wales Salmon and Sea Trout Byelaws earlier this year. We understand the Plan of Action will be underlain by a detailed Forward Delivery Plan which all four organisations look forward to examining and discussing upon publication. The letter also urged the Minister to ensure that the implementation of the Plan be adequately funded to ensure that Wales meets its national and international obligations towards these two keystone species.

Agricultural pollution continues to wreak havoc on the fragile populations of the wild fish of Wales with a recent slurry containment failure killing fish along at least 4km of the Afon Peris, near Llanon on the Cardigan Bay coast. It must be presumed the invertebrate population within the affected reaches fared little better than the fish, further compounding the effects of the spill on the river’s biodiversity. Although diminutive in size, S&TC Cymru is becoming increasingly convinced that rivers such as the Peris play an important role in sewin stock recruitment, with emerging smolts supplementing returning numbers of mature fish in larger, neighbouring rivers. With the Teifi to the south and the Rheidol, Dyfi and Mawddach to the north, we can only begin to wonder what the long term, more distant impacts of the spill might be. Regrettably, the incident was only brought to the attention of the authorities when members of the public noticed dead fish floating in the polluted water. It would appear that the farmer was unaware of the incident until alerted to it by NRW. Equipment or storage failures such as this are a far too frequent an event and suggest widespread negligence and lack of investment in the infrastructure required for today’s more intensive methods of dairy production. S&TC Cymru have repeatedly called on Welsh Government to address these issues and while the recently announced Draft Water Resources Regulations give some hope for improvement in the control of agricultural pollution, we have yet to see evidence of the commitment to the extra resources required for their enforcement.

Originally planned for introduction in January of this year, the new agricultural regulations designed to tackle the scourge of agricultural pollution remain in limbo as Welsh Government addresses the issues posed by Covid-19. S&TC Cymru wrote to congratulate the Minister on her original forthright announcement of the need to take action but have since become increasingly concerned at hints of mission creep. During the latter months of last year, at the behest of the Minister, Natural Resources Wales and NFU Cymru collaborated on a project to explore potential voluntary options, suggesting a more flexible approach based on “earned autonomy” which would release individuals from strict regulatory control. Unlike Scotland and England, where the impact of agriculture on water is regulated by statutory basic rules, Wales has no such general binding measures, relying instead on voluntary compliance with guidelines laid put in the Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP). Patently, this has failed, as the regular reports of both acute and chronic incidents of pollution make clear. We therefore conclude there can be no further place for the provision of voluntary measures with regard to the impact of agriculture on the freshwater environment if Welsh Government is serious in its intent to conclusively address the matter. With that in mind and again in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation, the Grayling Society and the Wild Trout Trust recently joined with S&TC Cymru as co-signatories to a letter to the Minister calling for the introduction of a suite of basic rules for water for all land users across the whole of Wales, in advance of the currently proposed regulations, whatever their final form. I look forward to reporting, hopefully, a positive outcome to this and thank the WTT and the GS for their ready participation in our collaborative approach.

Finally, I’m sure you were all as disappointed as was I that we had to postpone our spring seminar. This has become an extremely popular event and this year’s bookings were already close to capacity when we suddenly found ourselves overtaken by events. With so much uncertainty continuing to surround the resumption of normal social interactions we have decided to formally cancel our 2020 seminar and start instead to prepare for the 2021 event. Until then, thank you for your valued support and please feel free to get in touch at any time should you wish to discuss matters in greater detail.

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC is 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.