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.

Stay up to date with our latest news & press releases

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.”

River Avon: Riverfly Census Results

River Avon Riverfly Census

The results are in from our ground-breaking Riverfly Census campaign for the River Avon. View the results below and read more about what we found, why it is important, and what we are doing next!

What is the River Avon Riverfly Census campaign about?

Our campaign is to reverse the decline in water quality in the Avon. Water quality (or the lack of it) determines the ability of a river to support life.

Our Riverfly Census along the River Avon has revealed significantly less water insects than should be present, trending downwards by up to 50% since 2015, due mainly to excessive phosphorus and sediment in the water.

How does this campaign affect salmon and trout?

Water insects are an accurate measure of water health, and in the River Avon (designated a Special Area of Conservation) they are under significant pressure from phosphorus, sediment pollution and pesticides. We know this from our independent professional surveying - our 3 year-long Riverfly Census - which is unique to S&TC and highly rigorous across the UK.

Specifically, our research has unearthed a surprising decline in Blue Winged Olive flies, a crucial part of the river food web and a staple in any chalk stream. Loss of such an important species definitely indicates a cry for help in the Avon, and directly impacts the health and abundance of salmon and trout. Other stats show distributing downward trends:

  • Over 60% of sites showed worrying chemical footprints in Autumn 2017
  • Over 50% decrease in numbers of different mayflies at Stratford Bridge since 2015
  • Over 52% decreases in the amount of all species at Ham Hatches since 2017

We have summarised these findings into a simple one-page fact sheet, perfect for sharing. Please view this here.

Alternately, we welcome you to view and share the full report and data sheet.

Phosphorus and sediment do occur naturally in rivers in small amounts, but in excessive quantities are lethal to water insects. They promote algal growth, which chokes the river of life and negatively impacts egg development of invertebrates through suffocation. We believe these stressors are responsible for the shortage in these essential insects. The EA have similarly demonstrated that there is too much phosphorus in the river from their own monitoring.

Excessive quantities of phosphorus and sediment can be caused by many things, including fertilisers, septic tanks, road run-off, loose soil from farming practices, dust, dirt, and sewage. Indeed, the Amesbury and Ratfyn Sewage Treatment Works have had an increasing upward trend of phosphorus in their final effluent (2012-2017 data), which we suspect is a large contributory factor.

Overall, the River Avon ranked No.1 in terms of health and vitality in our 2015 Riverfly Census; now in 2018 it has significantly declined and taken a turn for the worst. At some sights, mayfly species had declined almost 40% since 2015, and Stratford Bridge declined by over 50% in 2017 compared to 2015 & 2016.

 

View the fact sheet, report and data here:

What is our plan to tackle these issues?

At S&TC, our entire model is fact based campaigning. As such, our full technical report from the Avon has been taken to the Environment Agency (the regulator) and other river stakeholders (such as Wessex Water). We are seeking to influence change by finding more conservation friendly ways forward.

Together with SADAC, we have formally registered our concern with the EA that there is too much phosphorus in the river. We are due to meet with them imminently to discuss their response to our request for action.

A nutrient management plan has been developed by the EA and Natural England to address poor water quality caused by phosphorus contributions from the upper catchment, but we are not yet seeing significant results.

We have therefore met with Wessex Water to present our data and concerns regarding the Amesbury and Ratfyn Sewage Treatment Works, and we continue to pressure them to improve discharge.

The next step is further research, to strengthen our case and force the EA to listen. 

How can you help?

The invertebrate data has indicated that the main problem is phosphorus, so we now need further, more specific, independent data to move forward with the EA and produce real change.

We need to raise money to carry out high-resolution phosphorous monitoring on the River Avon, which involves placing chemical monitoring units at specific sites. We already own these units, but sampling costs at each site are upwards of £3,000 a year, and we need to run at least 4 sites (including monitors above and below the sewage treatment works).

We are looking to individuals, businesses and organisations local to the Avon, or passionate about maintaining this iconic stretch of river, to help us meet this goal. Please support us in protecting one of Britain’s finest and most vulnerable chalk streams. Your funds help us in the following way:

  • £14 runs a sampler at one site for one day
  • £50 analyses one sample from one site
  • £100 runs a sampler at one site for a week
  • £3,000 runs a sampling site for an entire year

Additionally, it is important to note that we are taking a much wider view of the issues on the Avon, beyond just sewage. A wider problem, in our view, is bad agricultural practices; which we continue to research into - both the problems and potential solutions - and work with the EA to influence change. This is where longer-term support of our work is vital; and we gratefully thank our members for their ongoing help.

How else can you support us?

In many places the river still looks beautiful, but of course you can’t really see phosphorus. So alongside funding our research, we also need to educate people on ‘invisible threats’ and what is happening beneath the surface. The sharing of this research is the first step in highlighting, and educating on, these unseen issues in the Avon.

Action is required NOW. Over the next 3 to 5 years the pressure on the river will only increase as we expand as a population (for example, there is extensive building in the Avon Valley, and the army is soon re-basing at Salisbury). This means increased pressure on sewage works and increased run-off into the river, so the EA urgently need to establish control.

Please assist us in spreading the word about the opportunities to improve the River Avon by sharing this content with locals, anglers, nature and water enthusiasts, wildlife lovers, relevant NGO’s and charities, and anyone else who may be interested or able to assist us. Download everything you need below:

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.

S&TC Cymru: Snapshot survey of the River Tywi (Towy)

S&TC Cymru has reacted to growing concerns surrounding the prolific algal growth witnessed on the Tywi over recent weeks by conducting a snapshot survey of the most affected part of the river.

Conditions at the time of the visit (11th of June 2018) reflected a prolonged absence of rain coupled with long days of largely uninterrupted sunlight. This had resulted in reduced, but not unseasonably low, water levels.

Algal growth in backwaters and shallows is not untypical under such conditions, but the extent of the observed examples immediately suggested the river to be carrying elevated levels of nutrients:

As local land owner, Sir Edward Dashwood explains:

"I am very concerned about the health of the Towy. Over the last few years there has been a marked decline in the water quality and a huge increase in pollution levels, which is affecting not only fish but all sorts of life in the river."

 

What does our sampling tell us?

The greater part of the renowned Golden Grove fishery was found to be suffering from extensive growths of filamentous algae (species not identified), to the extent that meaningful kick sampling over much of its length proved impossible:

Ranunculus aquatilis or common water-crowfoot was conspicuous by its absence. The few strands that remained were largely, if not completely, choked with filamentous algae.

Where it was possible to sample, the results revealed abundant numbers of:

  • BWO nymphs (±70)
  • Small cased caddis (±30)

... but low numbers of other groups of riverflies:

  • Baetidae (±10)
  • Heptagenidae (±4)
  • Stoneflies (±10)
  • Caseless caddis (4)

Gammarus (3) were also noticeably few in number.

The relative paucity of the latter groups suggests that their environment is under long term stress, while the profusion of filamentous algae clearly indicates that the river is carrying a nutrient load far in excess of natural levels.

(Sample taken at  51°52'20.6"N 4°00'54.8"W - Google maps link https://goo.gl/maps/caD32dB8DBm )

 

What is causing such prolific algal growth?

High algal abundance continued above the outfall of a sewage treatment works, indicating that other sources of nutrients must exist upstream of this point.

Furthermore, given the relatively low human population in the surrounding area, it is unlikely that leakage or discharge from domestic sewage services would be sufficient to have such an extensive impact.

 

What might be the cause of the problem?

Local anecdotal reports of repeated spreading of farmyard slurry across large areas of land within close proximity to the river would suggest that direct run off, or long term leaching, might, at the very least, be a contributory factor.  

As Sir Edward explains:

"Many smaller farms have now ceased dairy farming completely in the Towy Valley, but the few that remain have upped their numbers to an extraordinary level, milking many hundreds of cows each."

Examination of the river at Llangadog, some six miles upstream told a very different story. Ranunculus was flourishing and the river bed showed no signs of algal growth:

This story was repeated further upstream again at Llandovery where fish were seen rising and also on the Afon Bran, a minor tributary where ranunculus grew in profusion:

 

What can be done?

Despite the brevity of the visit, it is clear from our observations that the Tywi is suffering significant nutrient enrichment along its length between Llangadog and Llandeilo.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the enrichment may be a consequence of slurry dispersal on fields across the valley floor between these two points, but a further, more detailed investigation would be required to establish whether this is from a single source or more diffuse in nature.

As Sir Edward says:

"Not only is this of concern, but these factory operations can no longer keep their stock on straw in the traditional manner, and there is little place for their slurry to end up, one way or another, but in or near the river.

For the sake of future generations we have to work with them and find a way to help them urgently address these issues."

Should further investigations confirm slurry to be the culprit, the possibility exists of veterinary pharmaceutical products such as antihelmintics also entering the river and impacting upon invertebrate species.

Given the prevailing absence of rain it might also be possible that the nutrients could be leaching from the surrounding area via groundwater. This might explain the persistence of the algal growth in the river and would point to excessive nutrient levels at soil depths, beyond the reach of the roots of grasses and other crops.

In the absence of any other obvious evidence it is highly probable that the algal growth and reduced numbers of invertebrates observed in the River Tywi are indicative of excessive nutrients entering its waters as a consequence of the repeated spreading of farmyard slurry over extensive areas of land on the valley floor.

 

Dai Roberts (independent Riverfly monitor)

By Richard Garner Williams, S&TC Cymru