The Riverfly Census: Full Report

“The Riverfly Census Report has been central to S&TC’s work for the past three years and coincides with the United Nations’ recent statement on the catastrophic state of the global environment. The results should worry everyone. Our message is simple; unless there is radical change our rivers will soon become lifeless.  With ever increasing mainstream public interest in environmental health and a desire for real change, government must use this opportunity to incentivise businesses to place the protection of our rivers, wild fish and all other water-dependent life at the very centre of what they do.”

Paul Knight, Chief Executive, Salmon & Trout Conservation

Milestone Salmon & Trout Conservation study reveals that sediment, sewage and commercial salad washing, are causing dramatic declines of keystone aquatic invertebrate life throughout England’s lifeblood rivers.

Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) initiated The Riverfly Census to collect high-resolution, scientifically robust data about the state of our rivers and the pressures facing them.

To download the full report: CLICK HERE 

The Riverfly Census highlights worrying declines of aquatic insects in English rivers as a direct consequence of industrial, agricultural and domestic pollution.  Aquatic insects are the equivalent of “the canary in the coal mine” when ascertaining the health of individual rivers. Declines of up to 58% in some species have been observed in the last thirty years, with no sign of the trend reversing.

 Three-year high-resolution study, The Riverfly Census, employed standardised monitoring of aquatic invertebrate life in key English rivers to reveal dramatic changes in water quality and ecosystems.

The Riverfly Census data provides an overview of how pollution affects a particular river. The aquatic insect community is shaped by the quality of the water at each sample point and scientists are then able to decode this bug-based information. Armed with these biological snapshots, we are able to zoom in on particular problems and if necessary, carry out further invertebrate or chemical sampling.

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC Science Officer, added:

“It is an often-overlooked fact that invertebrates essentially run our planet. They make up the majority of species on earth and sustain all life. Aquatic insects are invaluable in unlocking the true story of water quality in our rivers. Much of the pollution threatening our waters is subtle and invisible to the naked eye. By looking at what species were there, and which are missing, for the first time we have been able to truly quantify the invisible stressors deteriorating water quality throughout England.”

 Urgent action from Government and the Environment Agency is required to provide more protection for keystone aquatic invertebrate life in English river ecosystems to prevent further declines.

S&TC attribute the root cause for the majority of aquatic insect declines to increased levels of Phosphorus (emanating predominantly from sewerage systems), deposition of fine sediment (the result of poor management of agricultural soils) and an overwhelming array of chemicals entering rivers (including flushing of pesticides from imported salad leaves)

Nick Measham, S&TC Deputy Chief Executive, commented:

Much of the scientific work done by or on behalf of S&TC is complex, detailed and unspectacular.  The results can take years to collect and interpret – but this is the heart of what we do, as, without the evidence, those who damage our waters cannot be challenged.”

Exacerbating the crisis facing the health of our rivers is a framework of weak environmental regulations, which too often fail to address real world issues such as the concurrent release of chemicals and their cumulative effects. When combined with a long-standing culture of apparent light touch enforcement, the existing regulatory framework is wholly failing to offer adequate protection.

Diminished regulatory resources and outdated monitoring approaches are also likely to be hiding the true extent of harmful emissions in river ecosystems. Only with robust long-term monitoring in the mode of The Riverfly Census can we truly understand the changes occurring in our freshwater habitats. The Riverfly Census has started to address the lack of widespread, high resolution benchmarking but considerably more work now needs to be undertaken.

 Dr. Janina Gray, S&TC Head of Science & Environmental Policy:

“The evidence is clear; our rivers urgently need our help. Current regulation and management are not managing to halt the frightening decline of aquatic insects, let alone reverse it. Our freshwater fish and invertebrates are being choked by fine sediments which should be on fields, not in rivers, and are subjected to chemical cocktails we don’t understand or try to monitor. If we want our children to be able to watch wild trout rising, a mayfly hatch emerging or a kingfisher feeding, the time to act is now.  This degradation is happening now, under our noses and on our watch. It is time for all of us to take action.”

Salmon & Trout Conservation is calling for action at the national level and is making a series of policy recommendations:

- Further investigations into the biological impact of phosphorus spikes. Without this work, the validation that discharge permits, based on an annual average of monthly samples, are providing for the protection of our rivers is highly questionable.

- Chalkstreams should have their own classification targets within the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

- Establish a standardised approach to monitoring fine sediment in our rivers and set appropriate river specific standards.

- Develop a national programme of species-level monitoring to provide the resolution required to detect pressures such as excess phosphates, sediment and damaging chemicals, and the benchmarking on which to make informed decisions.

- Include SPEAR analysis in River Basin Management Planning within WFD, to allow the biological impacts of chemicals to be assessed alongside other pressures, and requirements for additional supplementary chemical monitoring prioritised where necessary.

- Ensure the environmental protection offered by European legislation is transposed into and implemented through UK law, including the creation of Water Protection Zones where existing measures fail to protect water quality and river ecology.

- A review of discharge permit guidance to include measures to assess the cumulative and legacy impacts of multiple chemicals within the discharge.

- All chalkstreams to have bespoke invertebrate targets to drive forward improvements, whilst WFD classification targets are being developed.

Issued by Corin Smith comms@salmon-trout.org (07463 576892) on behalf of Salmon and Trout Conservation. For more information please contact janina@salmon-trout.organd nick@salmon-trout.org on 01425 652461

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.

We all have a responsibility to save the ‘King of Fish’

The publication of new Environment Agency byelaws banning the killing of salmon in the North East drift and coastal nets was very welcome news earlier this year and brought to a close a campaign by fisheries organisations that lasted some 30 years.

Scotland banned drift netting in 1962 and closed down its coastal nets in 2016, so most UK salmon are now able to reach their rivers of birth unhindered by home-water netting. It was a tremendous way to begin the International Year of the Salmon. However, the same is not true of salmon feeding off the West Coast of Greenland, an area where many of the UK’s multi-sea-winter fish go to fatten up. 

Getting the quotas right

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) was originally established more than 30 years ago to set quotas for Greenland and the Faroe Islands, who between them caught nearly 4,000 tonnes of salmon at the height of their respective commercial fishing industries (Greenland in the mid 1970s and the Faroes early 1980s).  The Faroe Islands have not fished for salmon since 2000, although they reserve the right to do so if the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) ever report again that there is enough of a surplus of fish in the North Atlantic to exploit.

Greenland is much more complicated. For many years, NASCO gave the Greenlanders a subsistence quota of around 20 tonnes of salmon – fish that could be caught and either sold in the local open-air markets or kept for food by the fishermen.  Commercial fishing was not allowed, and export was banned.  Private funds were even given from around the North Atlantic countries with recreational fishing to the Greenlanders to help them re-equip and target different species.

However, monitoring and enforcement of salmon fishing by the Greenland Government was only really tightened some five years ago, when it became clear that the actual salmon catch was veering towards 100 tonnes a year.  To be fair, it is a thankless task trying to oversee any coastal activity in Greenland, as the West Coast communities are so disparate – there is no road connection between them, with travel limited to those with access to either boat or plane.  However, when Government officials started to phone round the fishing community and ask for catch statistics, alarm bells were rung.

The current situation

In 2015, Greenland accepted a quota of 45 tonnes agreed at NASCO.  Unfortunately, some people with little knowledge of the background ridiculed NASCO for the size of the quota, when in realistic terms, it was actually halving the amount of fish that was now known to have been caught in previous years.  Coupled to the new quota was a new management and regulatory system adopted by the Greenland Government which put much greater emphasis on monitoring and reporting.  In 2018, the quota was reduced to 30 tonnes.

The bad news is that Greenland has just reported a catch of 40 tonnes for 2018!  However, rather than a return to the bad days, at least the government has a handle on the fishery now and, if it abides by the NASCO agreement, the 10-tonne excess will be taken off the quota for this season, which is comforting news for our MSW (Multi Sea Winter) fish.

What this means closer to home...

All this regulation and government support at Greenland and the Faroe Islands means that UK governments have an extra responsibility to protect salmon stocks at home.  Good for Scotland and England in taking decisive action over coastal netting, but we still have serious issues to address – open-net salmon farming, agricultural impact on water quality, habitat degradation, water abstraction, barriers to migration, predation – and for that we need a political commitment throughout the UK which is sadly lacking at the moment.

I have some sympathy for Greenlanders who generally have a far better grasp of what ‘sustainable exploitation’ means than we ever have – they still derive much of their protein from natural resources and realise how important it is to manage those stocks effectively.  So when an angler lands a salmon in the UK and has to return it to the water because of byelaws or fishery rules, rather than curse the regulators, spare a thought for the Greenlanders and Faroese and their sacrifice in the name of conservation.

Better still, understand that, as Sir David Attenborough said in our recent video, if we are not to lose the King of Fish for ever, we all have to play our part, in whatever way we can, to help Atlantic salmon through their present crisis. The International Year of the Salmon gives us the opportunity to focus on that very stark warning, and act now!

- Paul Knight, CEO

2018: A year in review

What have we achieved this year?

2018 has been our biggest year yet! So where has your support got us, and what have we done for wild fish protection and conservation? Our CEO's Year In Review summaries our influence, accomplishments and campaigns over the past 12 months. 

With the help of our many donors, members and grant-making Trusts, S&TC has had a successful year in influencing a number of wins for wild salmon and trout. The below is a quick summary; however you can download the full review here.

Accomplishments:

  • Salmon farming - we were the major catalyst in achieving TWO game-changing Scottish inquiries into salmon farming impacts on wild fish and environment:
    • ECCLR – they conducted the first Inquiry and their Report included the one-liner: the status quo is no longer an option.
    • REC - their Autumn Report was highly critical of the way salmon farming is operated and regulated and presented 65 recommendations for improvement, including most of our main asks.
  • NASCO - we work internationally on wild salmon issues through NASCO, our CEO being co-chair of the accredited NGOs which gives us unprecedented influence. Amongst other issues, we have used NASCO to influence netting closures and pressurise Scottish salmon farming.
  • Riverfly Census - 3 years and 20 rivers later, we have professional and actionable evidence of various pollutants impacting river health, nationally and locally.
    • Census results have shown up the alarmingly poor condition of some of our most high-profile rivers, particularly from sediment and phosphate, and we co-authored a peer-reviewed paper showing the lethal impact of those two stressors on mayflies.
    • The full Riverfly Census report is currently being compiled but has already influenced new invertebrate species and abundance targets for chalkstreams. The Test and Itchen report is now available.
  • Living Rivers - we've been sampling daily phosphate and chemical levels on local chalkstreams, highlighting and challenging some appalling ecological conditions, specifically:
    • Using a case study on the Upper Itchen at Alresford Salad’s washing plant to fight for the elimination of toxic chemical discharges into SAC rivers.
  • Other S&TC policy work - There has been plenty of other work this year, including but definitely not limited to:
    • Water abstraction reform.
    • Agricultural post-Brexit policy.
    • Our seat on the EA’s Water Leaders’ Group, which covers all environmental water issues.
    • Our seat on the National Drought Group, where we have represented wild fisheries since 2011.

Next Steps:

  • Salmon farming - drive the REC Committee’s recommendations through Government so that they are acted upon rather than ignored.  In particular:
    • Scottish Government to adopt legal responsibility to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the impacts of salmon farming.
    • An independent agency to regulate salmon farming against sea lice trigger levels that protect wild fish, with the sanction of forced harvest on persistent offenders.
    • A moratorium on establishing/expanding farms in sensitive locations and movement of existing farms away from migration routes.
    • Incentives for companies to move into closed containment production.
  • Netting - we are concerned that sea trout will still be exploited in some of the north east coastal nets and we will be seeking more action in 2019 to protect sea trout.
  • SMARTrivers - Our new project, based on training and utilising high resolution citizen science to understand and improve wild fish water quality.
  • Living Rivers - We will continue to fight for the protection of the Upper Itchen and have major chemical sampling plans for other rivers in 2019.
  • Much more - stay tuned for our 2019 plans, in January.

Latest data on River Test and River Itchen reveals concerning issues

Test and Itchen are no exception to national decline in water quality and flylife

The S&TC Riverfly Census continues to reveal worrying declines in flylife and water quality in rivers across England and Wales, as confirmed by our latest report on the River Test and the River Itchen (the king and queen of our precious chalkstreams).

In our comprehensive Test and Itchen report published today, the results from three years of independent species-level invertebrate data reveal:

  • Significant loss of mayfly species.
  • Low gammarus counts.
  • Worrying impacts from sediment, phosphate and, occasionally, pesticides.

Mayfly and gammarus declines

Comparing historic data with our findings has revealed that both the Test and Itchen have four less mayfly species, on average, than their historical averages. This decline in mayfly species richness, and the worrying low numbers of gammarus, are powerful indicators of an ecosystem in distress.

The flylife in both rivers is far poorer than we would expect for chalkstreams in good condition  - let alone these SSSI (Sites of special scientific Interest) and SAC (Special Area of Conservation) rivers.

Mayfly species have declined from an average of 12 to 8 (33.3%) on the Itchen and 11 to 7 (36.36%) on the Test, over the period from the late 1970s/early 1980s to today.

The current levels are also well below local targets of 10 mayfly species - targets agreed with the Environment Agency for what would be expected in a healthy river.

Gammarus, a key staple of the aquatic food chain, is also well below our 500-target level at most sites (historically, gammarus counts went into the thousands).

Excess sediment and phosphorus

Our report reveals the extent that chemical, phosphorus and sediment pollution are impacting the invertebrate community in both the Test & Itchen.

It is clear that a reduction of sediment and phosphate inputs (from point and diffuse sources, including septic tanks, agriculture, sewage treatment works, industry, etc) are essential to conserve these rivers.

Importance of the S&TC Riverfly Census

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC’s Science Officer, explains why data like this is so important:

“We frequently hear stories and concerns about missing flylife and lack of fish compared to the 'good old days', but anecdotal evidence has little weight in environmental decision making.

The Riverfly Census was launched as a ‘myth-busting’ tool to collect much needed high-resolution, scientifically robust data about the real state of water quality in our rivers.

Switching from opinion to fact-based evidence gives us real power to drive national and local improvements to our waterways.

“The Test & Itchen report is a fantastic example of why we need to break away from data ‘silos’.

The Riverfly Census data tells a story on its own, but when linked up with additional local invertebrate and phosphorus monitoring data, we can really start to grasp the pressures on these rivers.

The environment is complex, and stressors rarely work in isolation, so why would we conduct monitoring this way?”

Turning science into action

The Census is no mere academic exercise. We are using this powerful data to inform and build effective strategies which improve wild fish habitat:

  • We are acting on the Census results to improve water quality in these rivers, working with stakeholders in the area.
  • We are tackling known sources of pollution; such as the Bakkavor salad washing plant on the Itchen headwaters, and intensive watercress farming on both the Test and the Itchen.
  • Our findings on the Itchen impelled us to challenge the EA under the Environmental Damage Regulations. We are awaiting the EA’s response.
  • To share the Riverfly Census results from the Test and Itchen and drive further improvements to these rivers, we will be holding a workshop on 12th February 2019. A key aim of the workshop will be to highlight knowledge gaps and develop next steps with a range of stakeholders, regulators and scientists. Please contact Lauren (lauren@salmon-trout.org) if you or your organisation would like to book a place at the workshop.

#ProtectWater campaign success: brilliant news for our waters and fish

First success for #ProtectWater campaign

Thanks to an extensive collaborative effort from over 100 NGO's across Europe, including S&TC, an important first milestone has been achieved in the defence of our water's environmental protection laws.

A paper drafted by a group of government officials, seeking to weaken the laws which currently protect our waters, has NOT been endorsed at the recent Water Directors' meeting.

Government officials from Member States prepared a paper for last week’s meeting of Water Directors - who represent their national governments on all decisions related to water management. The paper included a series of proposed changes to the WFD which, if ever put into effect, would constitute a significant weakening of the legislation.

Collaborative effort from NGO's

However, thanks to a joint and sustained policy and communications effort from NGO's across Europe, the paper was not endorsed by Water Directors. Prior to the meeting, Water Directors were sent numerous letters and communications urging they maintain the environment and protect the WFD - as explicitly recognised in the discussion and in the final report of the meeting, which stated:

"Water Directors reiterated their conviction that the WFD is a center-piece of EU water legislation and has been highly instrumental for progress achieved in protecting and improving the status of European waters so far.

They emphasized that the level of ambition of the WFD and its objectives should be maintained. They also stressed the need to focus efforts on achieving the WFD objectives, and highlighted that water using sectors responsible for the pressures leading to a failure in achieving the objectives should contribute to these efforts."

These succesfull communications and documents were borne of, and sent on behalf of, the Living Rivers Europe coalition; as well as a multitude of individuals, NGO's and other government officials. Water Directors were receptive, indeed;

"They thanked the consultation group for its work and the document prepared. They took full note of the concerns raised by NGOs and stakeholders".

This could not have been achieved without such a co-ordinated effort, and this result is a testament to the power of the #ProtectWater movement of 100+ organisations, of which S&TC are proud to be a part of.

Next steps

The paper will now be discussed at the meeting of the Strategic Coordination Group (SCG) early next year; the issues it contains to be addressed by the Water Directors of the Member States only after various European Commission assessments, i.e. the end of 2019.

So there is still a long way to go, and we still need many more submissions to the European Commission's consultation...

Help us Protect Water and wild fish in the UK

Despite this strong start, the battle is far from over and we still need your help to keep our water laws strong, especially on the eve of Brexit.

Please click here to find out more about the campaign and to have your say with the European Commission, using our simple consultation form. Please, for the sake of our wild fish and their habitats, ACT NOW and help us #PotectWater.

S&TC Cymru welcomes new agricultural pollution regulations

Welcome news from Wales: New regulatory measures to tackle agricultural pollution

Following an extensive lobbying exercise, S&TC Cymru are greatly encouraged by the recent announcement by Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, to introduce regulatory measures to combat the growing threat to the freshwater environment from agricultural pollution.

The regulations will come into force in January 2020 with transitional periods for some elements to allow farmers time to adapt and ensure compliance. The regulations, to be confirmed next spring, will include the following measures:

  • Nutrient management planning
  • Sustainable fertiliser applications linked to the requirement of the crop
  • Protection of water from pollution related to when, where and how fertilisers are spread
  • Manure storage standards

A statement by Lesley Griffiths explained the the need for stricter regulations:

"...poor practice is leaving many stretches of rivers devoid of fish.

...In the long-term, we will develop a regulatory baseline, informed by responses to the Brexit and our Land consultation.  But in the short term, we must take action now to deal with these unacceptable levels of agricultural pollution.

...The regulations will replicate good practice which many farms are already implementing routinely - this must become the norm.

...The regulations will enable firm and consistent enforcement to be taken. The regulations will also ensure there are no barriers to trade of agricultural produce with the European Union following Brexit and help us meet national and international obligations on water quality.

This is the right thing to do – for the environment, for the economy and for the reputation of farming in Wales.”

View: Agricultural Incidents to Water in Wales (from 1st Jan 2010 to 28th Feb 2018 ) [Source: NRW]

S&TC Cymru's observations

S&TC Cymru welcome this news; indeed our rivers and fish have told us for some time that stricter rules, and more stringent enforcement of such rules, is urgently needed to protect against bad agricultural practice.

Our National Officer for Wales, Richard Garner Williams, summarises our thoughts on the announcement below; following consultations with our environmental lawyer, who provides the legal analysis which supports our demands for revision of the law; and based upon professionally-analysed scientific evidence of direct impact on invertebrates and the freshwater ecosystem.

agricultural pollution regulations

Above: Slurry spreading in wet weather, violating voluntary CoGAP.

Voluntary code is not enough

Unlike in Scotland and England, where basic measures or general binding rules place statutory constraints on the dispersal of, among other materials, farmyard slurry, the only guidance currently relating to such practices in Wales is the voluntary Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP).

A review by S&TC Cymru of this, and earlier codes, showed that little has changed since 1991 and, in some cases, since 1985, in the advice given to Welsh farmers on methods of practice that would avoid polluting our streams and rivers.

Read More: Our response to EFRA regarding the Agriculture Bill in England

welsh agricultural pollution regulations

Above: Dead fish following a pollution incident in the Clywedog in September.

A minority of farmers

Regrettably, a minority of farmers have consistently chosen to disregard these codes, resulting in increased incidents of acute pollution and a rise in the pervasive effects of widespread diffuse pollution.

S&TC Cymru appreciates that the majority of farmers operate to commendable levels of stewardship, but there exists a minority who have ignored voluntary codes of practice and will probably ignore new basic measures as well. This results in reputational damage; not only to the Welsh agricultural sector, but also the wider rural economy and the international standing of Welsh produce.

welsh agricultural pollution regulations

Above:River water polluted with slurry following spreading on nearby fields.

Rigorous enforcement needed

The success or otherwise of new basic measures in addressing the persistent and pernicious effects of agricultural pollution will require more rigorous and regular inspection of farmed premises than at present, if we wish to see a change in the behaviour of this recidivist minority.

It is therefore essential that an undertaking is given to provide the necessary financial provision for Natural Resources Wales to fully exercise their authority as statutory environmental regulator from the outset, in order that the new measures can be enforced without delay.

Welsh agricultural pollution regulations

Above: Highly poluuted water from the Cywyn in September, following a slurry pollution incident.

S&TC & agricultural pollution: next steps

Over recent years S&TC Cymru has committed a large proportion of its limited resources towards highlighting the impact of agricultural pollution on the wild fish of Wales, and we are relieved that Government has finally chosen to act.

We look forward to hearing the details of the Cabinet Secretary’s intentions in due course, and trust that they will fulfil our hopes for a reversal in the current troubling decline in numbers of our precious salmon and sewin.

In the meantime, you can learn more and help us tackle agricultural pollution by visiting our campaign page and following the instruction to report any incidents to us.


Related Articles:

Our View: is a Green Brexit possible?

S&TC response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018

S&TC response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018

S&TC's EFRA response

S&TC respond to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018.

Our Head of Science and Environmental Policy, Dr Janina Gray, recently wrote about the Bill, stating that, while we cautiously welcome the Bill, the devil will be in the detail and especially in the amount of commitment to resources by the Government to enforcing the legislation for the minority of farmers who persistently pollute our rivers and streams.

Read More - Our view: Is a Green Brexit possible?

Read More - View our full response to EFRA

 

What does the Agriculture Bill 2018 propose?

The Bill basically proposes that farmers should still be paid subsidies and grants from Government, as they have been under the EU Common Agricultural Policy, but that public money in future should only be distributed in return for public goods.

In our case, that means genuine protection for our rivers, fish and waterlife, which, under the current system, is by no means assured.

Sediment from poorly managed soils, excess nutrients (especially phosphates), slurry and dry manure from dairy farms and agricultural chemicals all currently pollute waterways and, while it is a minority of farmers who are responsible, it is a significant minority. Furthermore, the connectivity of rivers means that just a few irresponsible farmers in a catchment can negate all the good work of their responsible neighbours.

 

Enforcement required

In our response to EFRA, our legal adviser, Guy Linley-Adams, has highlighted that, far from being  a significant advance in the protection of watercourses from agricultural pollution, the new Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018, passed earlier this year, merely repeats the codes of good practice dating back as far as 1985.

True, the new Regulations make certain poor agricultural practices a criminal offence; but previous codes and legislation were not all voluntary, and yet enforcement has been sadly lacking for three decades. Many of our rivers have steadily declined in health over that time.

Read our response to EFRA

 

Moving forward

The Agriculture Bill now gives us all an opportunity to make sure the new 2018 Regulations are met on all farms, by ensuring that, in future, farmers who do not meet the new Regulations cannot be given public money.

As Guy says,

“To deal with the stubborn problems of agricultural diffuse pollution, the new system must combine the ‘stick’ approach of regulation, inspection and enforcement, with the ‘carrot’ of public money for public goods.”

Please read our full response, together with our analysis of past codes of good practice - codes which failed sufficiently to protect our rivers and streams from that minority of poor-performing farmers.

S&TC hopes that the 2018 Bill becomes a progressive act, setting a baseline minimum performance for all farmers, as well as dangling the carrot of public money for public goods.

Agricultural Bill: Is a ‘Green Brexit’ possible?

The first major Agriculture Bill for over 70 years has now been published, promising a cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit

Currently farmers receive €4 billion in subsides each year, which is divided up related to the total amount of land farmed. For current subsidies farmers do not need to ‘do’ anything.

The new Bill proposes farmers are paid for delivering public goods; things we cannot buy in a shop, like clean water, flood attenuation, thriving wildlife and healthy soils.

 

Funding a 'Green Brexit'

The headlines are good. But as with everything, the devil will be in the detail.

This new approach will need substantial investment and coordination to ensure the right public goods happen in the right places for people and wildlife.

And the big elephant in the room is the funding. How do the Government plan to fund their ‘Green Brexit’? No details have been given on this so far.

 

Carrot vs Stick

The Government reiterated at the launch that they were committed to:

“maintaining a strong regulatory baseline, with enforcement mechanisms that are proportionate and effective”.

This is where we at S&TC have the greatest concern.

Current enforcement is just not fit for purpose. It is totally under-resourced.

We are all for having a big juicy carrot for farmers, but it must be accompanied by an equally proportionate stick where required.

The data from our own Riverfly Census indicates that many rivers in England and Wales are suffering from the impacts of excess phosphates and fine sediments from poor agricultural practices. This impacts wild fish populations, from smothering their spawning redds, to reducing the invertebrates they feed on.

For the small minority of farmers which do pollute, sometimes repetitively, strong action must be taken.

 

What happens next

The Bill proposes a long timetable, where the current system of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy will continue until 2021, then a seven-year transition period to the new system, where the old payments will gradually taper off.

Like most environmental charities, we have lobbied for years for this vision where farmers are rewarded for delivering for the environment- creating a sustainable future for farming and the environment alike.

We will see over the next few months, as the Agriculture Bill makes its way through Parliament, if that vision can survive.

However, in order to achieve a truly cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit, enforcement, or the current lack of it, must be addressed too.

To help us take action against agricultural pollution visit our ‘see it, photograph it, report it’ campaign.

-

By Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science & Policy at S&TC

Dwindling flylife evidences a worrying decline of the River Test

Decline of the River Test

The River Test is one of our most famous, if not the most famous, trout river in the country; yet we have significant evidence that it is sadly in decline.

Furthermore, we can now point the finger firmly in the direction of  Chilbolton and Fullerton Waste Water Sewage Works; or, more aptly, the permits which legally condone their destructive discharge.

 

How do we know the River Test is in trouble? 

Healthy ecosystems mean healthy waterways; if the invertebrate life is in trouble, then so too is the river. Aside from sustaining the food-chain, river insects are incredibly susceptible to certain chemicals and excess sediment and phosphate, so they also provide an excellent indicator of overall water health and issues.

Unfortunately, our River Test Riverfly Census (full report due in September) records a significant decline in riverfly and gammarus numbers between 2015 to 2017, at the Mayfly Inn.

Moreover, the data provides important evidence of the pressures facing flylife on the River Test, helping us understand what is happening and what can be done to improve the water environment and its wildlife.

Sadly, the decline in flylife on the middle reaches of the River Test is not news.

Dr Cyril Bennett and Warren Gilchrist have charted the decline in the Blue-Winged Olive population at Leckford - just downstream of our Census sample site at the Mayfly Inn – since 1995.

This decline in flylife matters not only for fish and other river creatures – invertebrates are the base of the aquatic food chain - but also for anglers, and anyone else who respects this iconic river and the creatures that reside there.

 

Why is this decline happening?

Dr Cyril Bennett has now produced a report which, together with our Mayfly Inn results, throws more light on the causes of the problem.

This data show us that elevated levels of phosphate and sediment are the overwhelmingly likely cause of the problem. (Phosphate and sediment, when present in such excess, cause a choking of the river and are essentially destructive to life).

This is supported by the Environment Agency’s own in-river phosphate data. Their data shows that phosphate levels in the Test (at the Mayfly Inn) are consistently at least double than what is expected for a chalk-stream. This has been an increasing ominous trend since 2012.

 

Decline of River Test

 

Why is there so much sediment and phosphate?

Two Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) discharge into the Test directly above the Mayfly Inn sampling site: Chilbolton and Fullerton.

Chilbolton slashed its discharges in 2007 after an upgrade. Fullerton, a much bigger operation, is reporting a steady increase in its phosphate discharge levels.

Our suspicion is that the Fullerton works is under increasing pressure from the growth of Andover. Both these works have phosphate stripping technology and appear to be within their current consent levels.

The problem, indicated by our results, is that these consent levels are far too high for the river’s ecology. This is a depressingly familiar national story.

The WWTWs are not the only source of phosphate and sediment – septic tanks and agriculture play a role – but they are one main source of the problem.

 

What is being done?

Based on S&TC's independent research and the work of Dr Cyril Bennett, the Environment Agency is now working with Southern Water to reduce its discharge of phosphate. The long-term target for the river is 30 micrograms/litre with an interim (2021) target of 40 micrograms/litre.

The problem is that Southern Water (and all other water companies) are given far too long (6 years under current regulation) to make these necessary changes.

We continue to lobby to get the companies to up their game sooner rather than later.

Perhaps Mr Gove, or whoever will be the Environment Secretary after the summer holidays, will shorten the investment cycle.

Fullerton was clearly performing much better in the recent past, so why cannot Southern Water act now?

 

Where can you find out more?

Full results from our survey for the River Test (supported in 2017/2018 by the Test & Itchen Association) will be released in September - please check our Riverfly Census page for more info.

We receive no government funding for our important research, which, critically, allows us to pressure the EA with complete impartiality. If you want to help us protect chalk-streams both locally and nationally, and contribute to the ongoing fight to preserve our precious freshwater ecosystems, then please consider joining us as member or making a donation.

 

 

We rely on your support to protect wild fish and the places they live.

By donating or joining as a member you will be making a huge contribution to the fight to protect the UK's waters and ensure a sustainable future for wild fish.

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Afon Myddyfi – Photo Story

What is happening on the Myddfyi?

The Myddyfi rises from a network of ditches and drains to the north of Salem, in the heart of rural Carmarthenshire, and flows first to the southwest, and then southwards towards Pentrefelin, before joining the Tywi at Cilsan.

It appears to enjoy good health along much of its 8km length, as witnessed at Birdshill Bridge, only a little over a kilometre from its confluence with the Tywi:

Just a short distance downstream of a confluence with a small stream which passes close to a stock feeding station, evidence of siltation is clearly visible:

Half a kilometre downstream and now on the valley floor, the Myddyfi shows increasing signs of nutrient enrichment with extensive algal growth covering the whole of the riverbed:

Finally, at its confluence with the Tywi, the combined nutrient load of both rivers results in extraordinary amounts of filamentous algae clinging to every available surface:

Richard Garner Williams, of S&TC Cymru, said,

“A certain amount of algal growth is to be expected at this time of year, particularly under the exceptional weather conditions we are currently experiencing, but this is far in excess of what would be expected with a natural bloom.

That the Myddyfi shows such a dramatic change in nutrient levels over such a short distance strongly suggests that external agents are having a profound impact along its lower reaches.”