SmartRivers is delivering results

The hot dry summer has exposed the stress our rivers are under

Nick Measham, Deputy CEO, S&TC

To view the full interview click HERE

The hot dry summer has exposed the stress our rivers are under – particularly in Southern chalkstreams where algal growth and sediment is choking life to a seemingly unprecedented extent. Once clean gravels are covered in thick mats of algae and river weeds are festooned with tresses of filamentous algae. Elsewhere in England and Wales, lethal fish-killing slurry spills are occurring with distressing frequency.

S&TC’s Riverfly Census and our SmartRivers’ initiative, using volunteers to collect species-level data to Environment Agency (EA) standards, demonstrates the destructive impact agriculture is having on water quality through sediment, phosphate and chemicals leaching into rivers. Sewage works remain a problem – albeit possibly a reducing one if their own monitoring is to be believed which, as a result of the case of Southern Water, we need to remain sceptical about.

Great news then that SmartRivers is spreading rapidly across the country thanks to support from Esmée Fairbairn, Patagonia and others. This volunteer data collection is providing evidence of the good, the bad and the ugly in our rivers.

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC Science Officer said: 

"Since launch in spring this year, the ‘SmartRivers’ effect has begun to spread across the UK. With five hubs established and a further six in the process of enrolment, in just a short period of time SmartRivers has already started to grow."

Autumn 2019 has seen the completion of Wiltshire Fisheries Association's training, the enrolment of Stour Fishery Association in Kent and the first round of volunteer species identification from Bowland Game Fishing Association . Meanwhile back at HQ we are hard at work preparing new species to be added to our app, filling gaps identified by our hubs.

Another focus is the development of our linked database. This will communicate with the Environment Agency’s data and other citizen science data platforms. By ensuring our data speaks to other data, we have the best chance of understanding and alleviating the subtle, often invisible pressures threatening nature’s nursery of wild salmon and trout

The power of this species-level invertebrate data is that it enables the local SmartRivers’ hubs, supported by S&TC, to produce robust and tangible results. The EA’s action to force Bakkavör to stop discharging deadly pesticides washed off imported salads into the headwaters of the Itchen is just one case in point.

Nick Measham, S&TC’s Deputy CEO (Project Manager for the Riverfly Census and SmartRivers) said,

"The work to get Bakkavor to remove pesticides from its discharge is setting national precedents and changing policy. The local EA has already asked another salad-washer, Vitacress, to take out pesticides from its discharge. We will keep up the pressure until all salad and vegetable processing clean up their act."

On that note, we are hopeful that Bakkavor will be able to employ sophisticated technology to clean its discharge to an acceptable level. We will be keeping up the pressure to ensure this happens as we told the EA in a meeting this week. Other potential actions on the back of SmartRivers’ data are well-advanced in the Hampshire Avon catchment, another SAC river in a poor condition in many places.

Our fundamental aim is to make sure agricultural regulations are observed and enforced if need be. This will not be easy. The resources currently available to the EA to inspect farms are insufficient. A farm is inspected on average once every 200 years. We need all the SmartRivers’ evidence we can muster.

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.

Discharges from salad washing – Update

Salad washing on the Upper Itchen: A local problem with national significance…

Nick Measham , Deputy CEO, S&TC writes…….

S&TC’s battle to stop Bakkavör discharging pesticides and chlorinated plant-cleaning chemicals from its salad washing activities is achieving increased environmental protection, and not just for the Upper Itchen. [Previously covered by BBC Countryfile]

As a result of an Environment Agency investigation, in response to S&TC’s Environmental Damage challenge, both Bakkavör and The Watercress Company will be subject to individual pesticide discharge limits and required to carry out monitoring for a wide range of toxins.

The outcome so far is an improvement but much more remains to be done both on the Itchen and nationally to provide protection against pesticides in combination. Our fight to change national policy to require consideration of the impact of a mixture of pesticides continues.

Results so far:

  • On the Upper Itchen, the Environment Agency (EA) is seeking to revise the discharge permits of both Bakkavör and The Watercress Company’s to limit pesticide concentrations. Bakkavör discharges its overnight factory cleaning waste water directly into the river, but the daily water used to wash the salad leaves goes to The Watercress Company cress beds. TWC does not use pesticides in its growing activities and has therefore not been monitored up to now.
  • We understand Bakkavör is already trialling equipment to remove the pesticides from its discharges to enable it to meet the limits the EA imposes. The company has already stopped using chlorinated chemicals in its plant cleaning waste water.
  • It looks like the EA will require Vitacress’ salad washing plant on the Bourne Rivulet, a tributary of the Test, to meet the same pesticide discharge standards as Bakkavör.

What’s next?

  • The immediate next step is to ensure any revised discharge permits protect the river from the salad washing activities. While the EA has accepted the need for pesticide limits and associated monitoring, S&TC will scrutinise proposed permit changes, when they are published, to ensure the pesticide limits deliver the highest standards of protection currently available.
  • These current standards only consider pesticides individually not in the cocktail which is discharging into the Upper Itchen. There is an urgent need for the Government to investigate the impact of chronic, often low-level pesticide impacts in combination. We are extremely concerned about the impact of multiple different pesticides in combination. The EA’s investigation report following the Environmental Damage challenge in respect of the Upper Itchen refers to the risks on page 36:

“this poses a potential risk of exposure to invertebrates downstream of the discharge and being exposed to multiple different pesticide compounds intermittently at low concentrations (which may be above the Probable No Effect Concentration on infrequent occasions). 

 Current UK policy is to look at the effect of individual pesticides, not the effective exposure to a mixture. A change to policy is being considered at a European Union level, but we are a long way (temporally) from this policy being revised.”

This delay in acting on potentially lethal cocktails of pesticides is just plain wrong and, like so much government policy, completely ignores the precautionary principle. S&TC has written to Dr. Thérèse Coffey to ask what Defra intends to do about this on the Itchen, other SAC rivers and, indeed, any river.

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.

Chalk streams debated in parliament

We always intended the Riverfly Census to be a lobbying document as well as reporting on the science, and this has been an excellent first political outing for it.

Paul Knight, CEO, S&TC

In a speech during a House of Commons debate on "Degraded chalk stream environments", Richard Benyon MP cited evidence from S&TC’s ground breaking Riverfly Census Report. Further, he referenced our investigative work into previously unknown pesticide issues associated with a salad washing plant owned by multinational food group, Bakkavör. [recently covered by BBC Countryfile]

By way of response, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister, Dr Thérèse Coffee, rather worryingly pointed to the EA’s permitting system for discharges into rivers as giving them adequate protection. S&TC does not agree.

Nick Measham, S&TC’s Deputy CEO (Project Manager for the Riverfly Census and SmartRivers) said,

“Richard Benyon used S&TC’s professionally sampled and analysed data to show that our rivers are far from being protected at the moment, especially our chalk streams, which we have shown are badly impacted not only by toxic chemicals, but excess phosphate and sediment as well.  We suspect that one of the outcomes of our Bakkavör work may well have national implications for discharges directly into watercourses, so Dr Coffee might not be quite so confident in her agency’s permitting performance in the near future.”

S&TC’s Head of Science, Dr Janina Gray, added,

“Our Riverfly Census results show the power of good science to establish the ecological health status of our rivers and at the same time encourage the Environment Agency to actually take action when problems are highlighted.  It also shows that by producing sound science such as the Riverfly Census results, we can support Richard Benyon and his Parliamentary colleagues with solid evidence to help them influence change at the highest level.”

S&TC’s CEO, Paul Knight, said,

“Richard Benyon’s speech was a welcome public endorsement of our approach to protecting wild water and all that relies on it. He outlined that our data had shown a pesticide discharge from Bakkavor’s plant into the River Itchen that had gone unnoticed, until the arrival of the S&TC team to analyse the invertebrates. This precipitated the Environment Agency conducting their own analysis, which confirmed our results. It is clear none of this would have happened without our intervention, data gathering and subsequent lobbying.”

Follow the full debate in Hansard

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.

Salmon stock exploitation: Wales delays, while England acts

Salmon stock exploitation: Wales delays, while England acts

On the 14th June 2019, in response to troubling results from their own analysis of Severn salmon stocks, the Environment Agency (EA) implemented an emergency bylaw prohibiting the use of certain nets in the estuary and imposed compulsory catch and release on all other nets and rod and line fisheries on the whole of the river for the remainder of the season.

Richard Garner Williams, S&TC Cymru said:

“S&TC Cymru congratulate the EA on this decisive move and trust that the bylaw will be observed by all.” 

Somewhat worryingly however, until the Welsh Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs decides to approve similar bylaws for Wales, proposed eighteen months ago by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), this EA bylaw cannot be enforced on the Welsh reaches of the Severn, nor its tributaries. Further, despite the stock assessment for 2018 showing every salmon river in Wales to be "at risk, or probably at risk, of failing to meet its conservation limits," NRW remain unable to extend the enforcement of compulsory catch and release of salmon to all Welsh rivers.[1] Solely the result of political feet dragging.­­

NRW have previously conducted three comprehensive regional consultations on proposed changes to rod and net bylaws with regard to salmon and sea trout in Wales. The first and most extensive, in terms of geographical coverage, concerned every river in Wales but for the Dee, Wye and Severn. Two further, more specific, consultations then followed. One concerning the Dee and the Wye, both of which rise in Wales but bless England with their presence for part of their journey to the sea, and another for the Severn, which while it rises in Wales, flows for the greater part of its length through England.

By reciprocal arrangement the regulations relating to the exploitation of the salmon populations of the Dee and the Wye are governed by NRW, while management of the Severn salmon stocks falls to the EA.

With salmon stock assessments in Wales showing a continued decline, NRW contends it is imperative to implement a policy of compulsory catch and release on all Welsh waters to protect remaining salmon populations from further exploitation. As a result of the NRW consultations, bylaws were proposed placing restrictions on method, such as banning the use of treble hooks and all forms of bait. Further restrictions to those stipulated in the current bylaws relating to sewin (sea trout) were also put forward for consultation.

2018 Salmon Stock Assessment: http://bit.ly/2wtMlrK

In early 2018 these bylaw proposals were endorsed by the board of NRW and submitted to Welsh Government for confirmation. Six months later, in the autumn of 2018, in a wholly unexpected turn of events, Lesley Griffiths, the then Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs and more recently Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs announced her conclusion that given “the level of response to the consultation, the number of outstanding objections to the byelaw proposals and the nature of the correspondence” it is “the most appropriate course of action to conduct a local Inquiry which will allow independent scrutiny of NRW’s proposals.”[2]

Richard Garner Williams commented:

“Proposals to protect salmon stocks in Wales have been put on hold while a protracted enquiry runs its course. The Inspector has now delivered his report but we remain none the wiser about the future intentions of the Welsh Government towards regulating the exploitation of a rapidly declining species. Meanwhile NRW have published their stock assessment for 2018 showing every salmon river in Wales to be at risk, or probably at risk, of failing to meet its conservation limits. Time is not a luxury we have in the fight to save wild Welsh Atlantic salmon for future generations.”

  1. Compulsory catch and release of salmon is already force on the Wye, Taff and Rhymni under the demands of an existing bylaw.
  2. https://naturalresourceswales.gov.uk/guidance-and-advice/business-sectors/fisheries/local-inquiry-into-nrw-s-proposals-for-new-rod-and-net-fishing-byelaws/?lang=en

For more information please contact: wales@salmon-trout.org

 

Troubling news from Wales

Troubling news from Wales as the recently published 2018 assessments of salmon and sea trout populations point towards a continued decline.

Stocks in twelve of the twenty-three principle salmon rivers were deemed to be “at risk” of failing to reach their conservation limits for sustainable recruitment and those in the remaining eleven rivers to be “probably at risk”.

Sewin stocks were found to be in an equally worrying situation with populations in sixteen of the thirty-three principle rivers revealed to be “at risk” and all but two of the remainder “probably at risk”. The need for urgent action to halt these declines grows by the day, not least in remedying the deterioration in water quality of several rivers brought about by intensive agriculture.

We eagerly await an announcement from Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, on the details of the new regulations to tackle agricultural pollution to be implemented in January 2020 in the hope that they will be sufficiently robust to bring an end to the current unacceptable practices of a small number of irresponsible operators. While they will not be sufficient in themselves to bring about a complete recovery of stocks, they will nevertheless be warmly welcomed as an important first step in addressing the plight of our precious sewin and salmon.

 

Unlike Scotland and England, where the potential impact of everyday farming practices on water are regulated under a suite of legally enforced rules and measures, farmers in Wales have until recently only been expected to follow the voluntary Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP). There is a lot to be said for minimising regulatory control and respecting an individual’s right to use their own land as they please; but with rights come responsibilities which, when shouldered in a conscientious manner, naturally result in equitable outcomes. Sadly, that has not been the case with CoGAP and in recent years we have seen a startling increase in incidents of agricultural pollution, particularly so within the dairy sector, as producers have expanded their herds and effectively abandoned all notion of voluntary restraint in the spreading of slurry.

For more information please contact: wales@salmon-trout.org

2018 Sea Trout Stock Assessment: http://bit.ly/2XapNIa

2018 Salmon Stock Assessment: http://bit.ly/2wtMlrK

Header Image Credit: Steffan Jones

The Riverfly Census: Launch

“If you do nothing else this month, read the Riverfly Census report which got its first airing at a mid-May reception in London.”

Nick Mesham, Deputy CEO, Salmon & Trout Conservation

To download the full report: CLICK HERE 

Once upon a time, industry was poisoning the nation’s life-blood rivers, but the story nowadays is all about more subtle but equally lethal threats.

The RiverFly Census presents the conclusions and policy recommendations from three years of unprecedented species-level research and analysis across 12 rivers from southern chalk streams to the north’s Eden and Coquet.

The scope of the analysis is staggering: we (or rather, our independent scientist, Dr Nick Everall and his team) have sampled 34,000 river-dwelling invertebrates from more than 480 different species. This massive data set of aquatic “wee beasties” has provided hard evidence on the decline of riverfly life and tells a story of the pollution stresses our rivers face. By the Environment Agency’s own reckoning, only 14 % of our rivers are healthy and we reckon it is worse than that.

Next steps: SmartRivers 

We will be using the results from the Census to campaign for action to restore our rivers, but our work will not stop there. We need much more evidence from other rivers to maximise our impact, but we cannot do this alone.

We are calling on volunteers to extend the Riverfly Census’s probing health check to as many rivers in the UK as we can with our SmartRivers initiative (https://www.salmon-trout.org/smart-rivers/.

We have the funding to help you make this happen.

If you are up to the challenge, contact us at smartrivers@salmon-trout.org or 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.

SmartRivers Update – June 2019

May saw the initiation of another one of our SmartRivers pilot hubs. We are very happy to be adding two chalkstreams - the Avon and the Wylye - to the SmartRivers family, thanks to Wiltshire Fisheries Association.

Taking river guardianship into our own hands

For all rivers being added to SmartRivers, a professional scientist has to come and complete an initial benchmark, just for one year. We successfully collected the spring benchmark for the new Wylye and Avon sites, and will return to complete the benchmark in autumn. The benchmark is the backbone of any new SmartRivers hub, as it is a scientifically verified baseline to compare volunteer samples to.

IMG_1672

Following collection of the benchmark, we had an exciting session teaching the WFA volunteers how to kick-sweep sample to the possible highest standard; from divvying up the habitats properly to using the correct net technique. Technique is crucial to ensure the data we obtain is as representative as possible and usable to drive change.

IMG_1693

IMG_1702

I took the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of my favourite nymphs - the flat-bodied mayfly. Their streamlined bodies have remained the same for millions of years, making them perfectly adapted to cling onto the riverbed under high flow conditions. Flat-bodied mayflies are great news for wild fish, as they are an important food source and indicate good water quality.

Later in the day we were off the river bank and inside giving WFA a lesson in cleaning and sorting their samples. SmartRivers is completely flexible, so you can get as hands on as you like. Whether you post your sample to an expert to identify, or ID yourself, there is an option for everyone.

Looking forward to autumn, which will see collection of the final benchmark sample and more training for WFA. This time focusing on species-level identification, using species from their own waters.

Header image credit: Lauren @ Salmon & Trout Conservation

For SmartRivers enquiries contact Lauren at smartrivers@salmon-trout.org

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.