River Itchen damage below Alresford Salads: Autumn 2018 photos

New photos show damage in River Itchen below Bakkavor's Alresford Salads factory.

At S&TC we have long been campaigning to stop Bakkavor discharging their salad wash effluent into the headwaters of the River Itchen.

The Itchen is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and we fear that the chemicals in their discharge are harming the environment.

Read more: Chlorine in our conservation areas?

Read more: Toxic chemicals keep coming

Our latest autumn samples of invertebrates and algal growth, from a site just downstream of the Bakkavor factory, reinforces our concern.

Our autumn river bed photos, and samples of invertebrates and algae, taken on 5 October 2018, immediately downstream of the Bakkavor salad washing factory (Alresford Salads), show the Itchen headwaters remain heavily polluted. This is in stark contrast to the condition of the Upper Test.

 

Excess algal slime demonstrates damage

The bed of the Itchen headwater stream at our sample site is covered in algal “slime”.

This is a short distance downstream from Bakkavor’s salad washing factory’s discharge point.

River Itchen photos

The bed of the stream should show clear, un-sedimented gravel like this photograph of the Test headwaters at Polhampton taken last Autumn:

Dr Nick Everall of Aquascience has analysed this sinister algal growth. This is what he reports:

“There was extensive area coverage (over 90%) of the river bed area with the thick biological growth or slime which upon microscopic examination was, aside to a bit of chalk and sediment adhesion, entirely composed of filamentous and attached algal and lesser fungal growth…

The dominant and major composition of the biological growth covering metres of the bed of the River Itchen below Alresford Salads was, often filamentous, algae (diatoms, blue-greens and green algae) with some fungal component…

It was typical of organic and nutrient enriched benthic ‘slime’ or sewage fungus’ (Fjerdingstad, 1964 and Hellawell, 1986).”

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

Invertebrates (or lack thereof)

The invertebrate sample from the Itchen headwaters was devoid of insects sensitive to pollution. There were no mayflies or gammarus.

The associated biometric measurements indicate an impact from pesticides, siltation, nutrient enrichment (phosphates) and organic pollution.

In short, the lack of invertebrates signifies the water quality is extremely poor in general – and exceptionally so for the headwaters of a Special Area of Conservation chalkstream.

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

The Upper Test sample taken in autumn 2017 was dramatically healthier. There were over 1800 gammarus and two species of mayfly, for starters. The biometrics indicated no impact from siltation, phosphates or organic pollution.

 

What are we doing about it?

We were so horrified by the invertebrate sample taken in May 2018 from the same Upper Itchen headwater site that we formally notified the Environment Agency (EA) to investigate the problem.

Read more: Alresford Salads EDR

That investigation is continuing; meanwhile we will share our latest findings with the EA, whom we are also fighting to stop Bakkavor discharging its salad wash effluent into the headwaters of the Itchen.

Read more: Will Alresford Salads end use of their chorine-free cleaning products?

In response, the EA is seeking a variation of Bakkavor’s discharge consent, but progress is painfully slow.

Overall, our data is providing strong evidence for the EA to insist Bakkavor stops pumping its effluent into the river. This is the only environmentally acceptable outcome.

As Nick Measham, Deputy Chief Exectuive of S&TC, summarises:

"It is a nonsense that biocides are discharged into any watercourse, let alone the headwaters of an SAC.

Such chemicals can be highly toxic to aquatic life, negatively impacting the health and abundance of wild salmon and trout in our waters - as well as all the other creatures that live there and together sustain freshwater's delicate ecology.

Has the EA got the courage to say no, or will industry triumph over one of Britain’s natural wonders?"

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.

S&TC joins 100 NGOs in Europe-wide #ProtectWater campaign

S&TC is one of 100 NGOs[1 ] joining forces across Europe to tackle proposed weakening of EU freshwater protection laws

As part of #ProtectWater, we are uniting to launch a campaign calling on the European Commission to defend the law that protects all sources of water, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater, during its current review.

Such laws are integral to the future health and abundance of wild fish, especially salmon and trout who urgently need their waters better protected from over-abstraction, barriers to migration and all forms of pollution. To weaken these laws further would certainly speed up salmon and trout's disappearance from our waterways, primarily through a loss of important habitat and a degradation of their water quality.

It is essential to support this law in the UK, as any weakening of this EU legislation will be transposed into UK law post-Brexit and will mean weaker protections for our waters.

Working together to protect water

The #ProtectWater campaign encourages people across the UK and Europe to participate in the European Commission’s public consultation on the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which is running until 4 March 2019.

This is the only opportunity for the general public to express their support to keep water protections strong and effective. To get involved people can simply and quickly sign-up here.

 

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office, said:

‘Member States’ half-hearted implementation of the EU water law is a crime in itself, but their desperate attempts to weaken it - and before the Commission’s fitness check has even concluded - is a step too far.

We urge citizens across Europe and beyond to join forces through the #ProtectWater campaign and make their voices heard.

We all need clean water, and without the Water Framework Directive, this will be under serious threat. Act now to defend the EU water law!’

 

Dr Janina Gray, S&TC’s Head of Science & Environmental Policy, said,

“The Water Framework Directive gives a basic protection for our rivers and waterlife, and has resulted over the years in millions of pounds of investment, mainly from water companies.

Any weakening of the WFD standards would have catastrophic implications for our waterways.

We are looking for Government commitment for greater protection for rivers, streams and wild fish following Brexit, and so ensuring that WFD’ standards remain as they are is of paramount importance to drive this.”

 

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Chair of the Blueprint for Water group in the UK, said: 

The Water Framework Directive has had a massive impact in the UK, including getting water companies to invest billions in cleaning up our rivers and restoring our aquatic habitats.

Protecting this law is essential to defend our basic human right to clean water and for all nature to thrive.’

 

Why are such laws important?

Freshwater ecosystems are the most threatened on the planet [2].

Sixty percent of EU waters are not healthy today because Member States have allowed them to be exploited and damaged for example by unsustainable agriculture, and destructive infrastructure, such as dams.

Shockingly, only 14% of rivers in England are classed as healthy. [3].

Through the WFD, Member States agreed to achieve “good status” for their waters by 2027 at the very latest. 2027 is also the year which the #ProtectWater campaign playfully poses as the fictional ‘expiration date’ for good beer.

Where political will exists, the WFD provides an effective framework for addressing the main pressures facing our waters [4], but Member States need to significantly step up their efforts and funding if the 2027 deadlines are to be achieved.

Results to improve the health of their waters have been few and far between, and Member States are now discussing how the law can be weakened to introduce greater flexibility for themselves.

More information about the #ProtectWater campaign is available at: www.livingrivers.eu or on the S&TC website:

Notes to editors: 

1. The #ProtectWater campaign is led by WWF EU, the European Environmental Bureau, European Anglers Alliance, European Rivers Network and Wetlands International, who together form the Living Rivers Europe coalition and have more than 40 million supporters between them. More than 100 organisations are backing the campaign.

In the UK a coalition of 11 organisations coordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link are supporting the campaign including: Angling Trust and Fish Legal, British Canoeing, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Institute of Fisheries Management, Marine Conservation Society, The Rivers Trust, RSPB, Salmon and Trout Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), WWF-UK and ZSL Zoological Society of London.

2. Living Planet Report, WWF, 2016
3. European waters: Assessment of status and pressures 2018, EEA, 2018
4. Bringing life back to Europe’s waters: The EU water law in action, 2018

 

About the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Living Rivers Europe

  • The WFD is one of the EU’s most progressive pieces of environmental legislation. It requires the protection, enhancement and restoration of our rivers, wetlands, lakes and coastal waters, but Member States are currently failing make it work on the ground.
  • Under the WFD, EU governments have committed to ensure no deterioration and achieve good status for the vast majority of all water bodies by 2015, and at the very latest by 2027.
  • Where implemented, the WFD has proved to be effective in achieving its goals of good water status and non-deterioration, successfully balancing environmental, social and economic requirements.
  • The WFD is currently undergoing its standard review in the form of a ‘fitness check’. Every piece of EU legislation goes through this process. The fitness check will look at the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added value of the WFD (and its 'daughter’ directives) and the Floods Directive. It includes the ongoing stakeholder consultation and public consultation.
  • As the Living Rivers Europe coalition, we are working on safeguarding the EU WFD and strengthening its implementation and enforcement. Click here to read the full Living Rivers Europe vision statement.

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

River Itchen pollution: Alresford Salads trial chlorine-free cleaning products

Is the end of chlorine-based cleaning products at Alresford salad washing plant finally in sight?

Finally, it appears Alresford salad washing plant is planning to stop using chlorine-based cleaning products.

This would mean that there would no longer be any products used to wash the site’s equipment that could react to form chloramines, which are highly toxic to water life even in very low concentrations in water.

 

A small win for S&TC

At S&TC we have been campaigning for this for a long-time.

Our own Riverfly Census invertebrate data and phosphate monitoring on the Itchen in recent years indicate that the river is far from a pristine chalkstream.

We feel it is extraordinary that chlorine products are ever allowed to be discharged, insufficiently treated, into any UK river, let alone a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) such as Itchen, the most protected under EU legalisation.

This, however, would only be a small potential win. It is important to remember that any chemicals used to disinfect and clean are, by their nature, toxic.

We do not believe any of these chemicals should be discharged into an SAC river.

 

More sustainable solution still needed

Applying the precautionary principle, the solution is easy- connect the discharge to the main sewer, as nearby competitor, Vitacress, has already done on the Bourne Rivulet.

Yes, this would be at a cost, but should a multi-million pound industry really be allowed to use an SAC to dispose of chemical waste?

 

Next steps

On the 10th September, Alresford salad washing plant began a 6-week trial into the new chlorine-free cleaning products for its night-time washing; during which time the EA has requested monitoring of the discharges. Following this:

  • The EA envisage that the updated risk assessment will be submitted to them by the end of October
  • The EA will then undertake consultation with Natural England in mid-December
  • The EA plan to consult the public on their position in February 2019

As always, we will continue to provide updates via our website, social media and email.

 

Imported pesticides in our chalkstream?

It is worth noting that we have wider concerns beyond the nighttime washing effluent.

We also have concerns about whether pesticides, which may be washed off imported salad that is being processed and bagged at Alresford, could also be ending up in the Itchen.

We plan to do more monitoring to assess this risk and will be requesting to see the EA’s official policy on protecting our rivers from the risks of chemicals washed off imported goods and discharged directly into our watercourses.

In the meantime, I’ll be washing my own salad!

-

Words by our Head of Science & Policy, Dr Janina Gray

High resolution monitoring is essential for river conservation

This is a re-posting of an original article from Environmental Technology

 

High Resolution Monitoring on the Itchen

Working on behalf of Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC), researchers from the University of Portsmouth have been investigating nutrient concentrations in the Upper River Itchen, in Hampshire, UK, to better understand where phosphorus is coming from and how it is impacting river ecology.

The work has been underway for over three years and Lauren Mattingley, Science Officer for S&TC says:

“Continuous monitoring of phosphorus has improved our understanding of nutrient dynamics in the Itchen.

To date the results from this monitoring have influenced the lowering of discharge limits from watercress companies and trout breeding farms.

The behaviour of phosphorus in rivers is relatively poorly understood, and this is often reflected in water quality standards that, in our opinion, lack the scientific evidence to adequately protect the ecology of the UK’s diverse water resources.

Research such as that which we have commissioned on the Itchen is essential to set informed phosphorus permits to protect water life.”

 

Background

The Itchen is a world famous chalk stream; renowned for its clear water and high quality fly fishing.

Designated a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ the river supports populations of water-crowfoot, Southern damselfly, Bullhead, Brook lamprey, White-clawed crayfish and otters. The upper river does not suffer from wastewater treatment works discharges, but does support two watercress farms, which have been the focus of initiatives to reduce phosphate concentrations.

S&TC is the only UK charity campaigning for wild fish and their habitats. The organisation’s goal is for UK waters to support abundant and sustainable populations of wild fish and all other water-dependent wildlife. Within its ‘Living Rivers’ campaign S&TC is seeking to tackle two of the major causes of poor water quality – fine sediment and phosphorus. The Itchen is therefore acting as a pilot river for their water quality monitoring initiatives.

Phosphorus in fresh water is a major concern globally; mainly because of its role in the formation of algal blooms and eutrophication, which have a harmful effect on water quality and habitats. Under certain conditions, raised phosphate concentrations contribute to the proliferation of nuisance phytoplankton as well as epiphytic and benthic algae.

Diffuse sources of phosphate include storm water and agricultural run-off from land, and point sources include septic tanks and wastewater discharges from industry and sewage treatment works. Soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) is the main concern, because of its availability for aquatic organism growth, but other forms of phosphate such as particulate phosphate can contribute to nutrient enrichment.

The EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) required the UK to achieve ‘good status’ of all water bodies (including rivers, streams, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater) by 2015, but in 2012 only 36% of water bodies were classified as ‘good’ or better.

The UK Technical Advisory Group (UKTAG) published recommendations in 2013 to revise the standards for phosphorus in rivers, because those set in 2009 were not sufficiently stringent - in 75% of rivers with clear ecological impacts of nutrient enrichment, the existing standards produced phosphorus classifications of good or even high status! DEFRA, therefore, revised the phosphorus standards to lower concentrations. However, the SRP concentration limits vary widely according to the location and alkalinity of the river.

Recognising a gap in the understanding of the relationship between phosphorus and aquatic ecology, S&TC has a unique agreement with the Environment Agency (EA) in Hampshire in which key environmental targets have been established for the Rivers Itchen and Test to help drive ecological improvements. The agreed targets are set around the number of key water insects that should be expected in a 3-minute kick-sweep sample. The targets are for the middle and lower reaches of the catchment to support at least 500 freshwater shrimps (Gammarus) and 10 separate mayfly species - all of which are susceptible to different forms of pollution, so their presence provides a measure of the river’s health.

S&TC has also conducted research investigating the effects of fine sediment and SRP on the hatching of the blue winged olive, Serratella ignita (Ephemerellidae: Ephemeroptera) a crucial component of the aquatic food chain. The results found that a cocktail of SRP and fine sediment at concentrations exceeding those found in many UK rivers (25 mg/L fine sediment and 0.07 mg/L phosphate) caused 80% of the eggs in the experiment to die. This unique research highlighted the environmental damage caused by phosphorus beyond eutrophication.

 

Water sampling and analysis

Five automatic samplers have been strategically located on the river, each collecting daily samples. This generates 120 samples per 24 day cycle, which are collected and transferred to the Portsmouth laboratory. The samples are split into three for the analysis of Total Phosphate, Soluble Reactive Phosphate (SRP) and Total Dissolved Phosphate (TDP).

To accommodate such a high volume of work, the lab in the University of Portsmouth’s School of Earth & Environmental Sciences employs a QuAAtro 5-channel segmented flow autoanalyzer, from SEAL Analytical.

“The QuAAtro has been in heavy use for over 9 years,”

says Senior Scientific Officer Dr Adil Bakir.

“It has been employed on a number of academic and commercial research projects, and is also used for teaching. As a 5-channel instrument, we are able to study phosphate, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia and silicate, but our work on the Itchen is focused on the different forms of phosphate.”

The University of Portsmouth’s Environmental Chemistry Analytical Laboratory provides analytical and consultancy services for businesses, universities and other organisations. Dr Bakir says: “With the QuaAAttro we are able to analyse diverse matrices including river water, sea water and wastewater, and with automatic dilution and high levels of sensitivity, we are able to measure a wide range of concentrations.”

 

Developing effective discharge consents

The analytical work undertaken by the laboratory at the University of Portsmouth has greatly improved the understanding of the ecology of the River Itchen and thereby informed the development of appropriate discharge consents for the watercress farms.

Effective 1st January 2016, new discharge permits were issued by the Environment Agency that set limits on phosphate discharges to the River Itchen system. For the Vitacress Pinglestone Farm these limits were set at 0.064 mg/L and measured as an annual mean increase compared to the inlet sample. S&TC now works closely with Vitacress, monitoring immediately downstream of the discharge so that the effects of the new discharge limit can be effectively assessed.

Looking forward, Lauren says:

“The lessons that we have learned on the Itchen are transferrable, and do not only apply to chalk streams. All rivers have their issues and inputs, so proper diagnosis and understanding of how these shape the biology is essential to the successful restoration of degraded systems.

In an ideal world, phosphorus targets would be established on a river by river basis, and determined by research and proper monitoring.

River ecology is impacted by a wide variety of factors and while nutrients represent a serious risk, it is important for us to understand all of the threats, and the relationships between them.

In summary, without high-resolution monitoring, river standards will be less reliable and river restoration efforts will be blind to their consequences.”

Plastic Rivers

Plastic Rivers: An overlooked but essential element of the global plastic problem

We are all familiar with the shocking plastic-related headlines and imagery that has filled our media channels over the past year: sea turtles with straws up their noses, the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and fears about plastics in our seafood.

But our plastic problem begins upstream.

Plastic pollution is frequently described as an ‘ocean epidemic’. Although this is the truth, microplastics are much more than an ocean specific issue. Microplastics are everywhere; soil, air and our rivers - but for the most part these are overlooked.

 

80% of marine plastic comes from freshwater

Around 80% of marine microplastics come from freshwater run-off, meaning there is a whole period where microplastics persist in rivers before they are flushed into the ocean.

It is essential we stop seeing rivers simply as plastic ‘couriers’ and answer the big question: what impact are these plastic particles having on life in freshwater?

 

What impact is plastic having on freshwater life?

Evidence from the marine environment suggests microplastics may be considered contaminants of emerging concern in freshwater.

It is already known that there is an energetic cost associated with ingestion of microplastics by organisms. That is, plastic consumption effects the very survival of our freshwater wildlife because it changes their inate behaviour.

For example, when plastic particles are consumed, they mimic fullness, so animals stop eating and suffer from poor nutrition.

There is also potential for ecotoxicological harm, as plastics act like sponges, absorbing chemicals in the water. Once eaten, these chemicals can be released from the plastic into whatever has eaten it. And so forth, up the food chain.

 

How does river plastic affect wild fish?

For salmon and sea trout, we know chemicals in water have a directly negative effect on completion of their life cycles, particularly the phase where they transform to become ready for life at sea.

So it is logical to ask an important question: are these damaging chemicals becoming more available to these fish - and in higher doses - through the ingestion of plastic particles?

New research is being commissioned and investigations are being made into understanding and controlling the freshwater element of plastic pollution.

Wastewater treatment plants (a large input of microplastics that come from domestic and industrial sources) are currently not designed to remove microplastics effectively, but new filtration options are being discussed.

 

How can we plastic-proof our rivers?

There is huge scope for positive change, with people and businesses being more aware of their plastic footprints than ever before.

From paper straws to reusable cups, every change we make is a win for the water environment. We urge people to remember that this impact extends way beyond marine; in fact, most plastic pollution begins life in our rivers, where it will also be having an impact - one that often seems overlooked.

At S&TC HQ we have gone single-use-plastic free, and would urge others to do the same.

Moving forward, we would like to see action in the form of a monitoring protocol and standard for river microplastics, so watch this space!

Until we fully grasp and measure the problem, we will not be able to effectively control it.

Additionally, only by understanding the dynamics of microplastics in freshwater, will we be able to effectively measure and manage the contribution to our oceans, in turn protecting marine and freshwater life.

---> By Lauren Mattingley, S&TC's Science Office

S&TC formally notifies EA over River Itchen damage below Alresford Salads

Salmon & Trout Conservation has formally notified (1) the Environment Agency about serious and ongoing damage to the River Itchen, a highly protected Special Area of Conservation (2).

S&TC commissioned professional monitoring has exposed extensive decline among important riverfly insects, as confirmed by the Environment Agency’s own data, in an area immediately downstream of Alresford Salads (3).

Alresford Salads (4), a wholly owned subsidiary of Bakkavor, is permitted under the terms of its current permit (issued 2002) to discharge the equivalent of seven tankers of chemical effluent into the headwaters of the River Itchen every morning.

Their effluent, a cocktail of watered-down detergents and biocides from overnight factory cleaning, creates chloramines which are highly toxic to aquatic life. These lethal chemicals persist in the water for weeks, travel downstream some distance and could be contributing to the evidenced poor health of the river and its inhabitants.

Consultant Dr Nick Everall reported that his sampling and analysis showed that:

“The River Itchen at this point produced metrics reflective of poor industrial usage water with no fishery or amenity value... [it is] polluted by any number of standard measures taken.

It was more reminiscent of the River Trent before it was cleaned up.It was not, would not, or should not be expected for the headwaters of a SAC chalkstream”

Below: The sample site below Alresford Salads, underneath the water

alresford salads

Below: The sample site below Alresford Salads

alresford salads

 

The damage was most notable in the range of insect life found, or not found, in the river. 

For example, aquatic life in the river is heavily dependent on a small shrimp which should be extremely numerous - thousands should be found in each three minute kick sample. Recent tests, however, have found less than one hundred per sample. This is indicative of the invertebrate life in the river and it affects all fish, bird and mammal life.

As Nick Measham, Freshwater Campaigns Manager for S&TC, explains:

“Not only are insects the foundation of the aquatic food chain, their susceptibility to certain types of pollution make them important indicators of the ecological health of a river.

The decline of the Itchen’s invertebrates, that the work we commissioned has clearly shown, indicates the decline of the chalkstream itself."

Sadly, these problems below and around Alresford Salads are not new to ST&C, locals, the EA or indeed Bakkavor themselves. In February 2018, S&TC worked to secure some seven thousand signatures on a petition related to their permit. However, the pollution from the washing plant has continued unabated.

Nick Measham summarises S&TC's position:

We now look to the Environment Agency to investigate rapidly exactly what is causing this decline and, most importantly, to take early action, on a precautionary basis, as the Habitats Directive requires them to do, to stop this damage occurring and allow the river to recover to what a chalkstream should be.

S&TC will be watching and scrutinising the Agency’s response extremely closely.”

 

Notes:

1
The notification relates to damage being caused to the River Itchen Special Area for Conservation, designed under the European Union Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

The notification of environmental damage has been made pursuant to the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015.

Per Regulation 29(3), the Agency must consider S&TC’s notification and inform S&TC as to the action, if any, that it intends to take, including, per Regulation 29(4)(a), notifying the operator concerned of the notification and the accompanying information and, per 29(4)(b), inviting the operator to submit comments.

2
The English Nature 2005 citation for the Itchen SAC states that:
“The Itchen typifies the classic chalk river and shows a greater uniformity in physical characteristics along its entire length than other rivers of this type. Since the river is mainly spring-fed, there is only a narrow range of seasonal variation in physical and chemical characteristics. The water is of high quality, being naturally base-rich and of great clarity; and its temperature is relatively constant, with dissolved oxygen levels at or near saturation. The river’s vegetation is dominated by higher plants, and the aquatic flora is exceptionally species rich with many of the typical chalk stream plants present in abundance. The majority of species are present throughout the system and downstream changes are less than in most other rivers. The river is rich in invertebrates and supports diverse populations of aquatic molluscs. The Itchen supports one of the few populations of the native freshwater crayfish remaining in the rivers of southern England…” (emphasis added)

3
The damage has occurred and is occurring to the River Itchen SAC downstream of the Alresford watercress bed and salad washing operations and is evidenced by operator-supplied data analysed in 2016 for S&TC and which has been previously shared with the EA and independent sampling data from 2018 that shows an invertebrate population “more reminiscent of the River Trent before it was cleaned up” than of a chalkstream SAC river.

The independent sampling was conducted by Dr. Nick Everall MIFM C Env of Aquascience Consultancy Limited on 13th May 2018 about 100m immediately below the Alresford Salads plant on the upper River Itchen headwater. Visually the bed was covered in a thick matt of dying benthic algae and ‘sewage fungus’ type organisms with a sediment ‘concretised’ bed.

4
The Alresford salad washing and watercress bed site consists of watercress beds where watercress is grown by The Watercress Company and a salad importing and washing business, producing bagged salads for supermarkets, run by Alresford Salads, which is wholly owned by Bakkavor. Taken together, the whole site is subject to a complex system of abstraction and discharge permits issued by the Environment Agency.

There is, currently, a permit application in relation to salad washing at Alresford, which has been the subject of much controversy and is still to be determined by the Environment Agency. This permit is focussing on what to do with effluent that contains chemicals (bleaches and detergents) from night-time cleaning of equipment at the salad washing plant, which are lethal to aquatic life and could be contributing to the evidenced poor health of the river.

Concern is also being raised as to what pesticides may be washed off the imported salad that is washed and bagged at Alresford, and whether those residues also end up in the River Itchen.

Additionally, the upper Itchen as a whole is subject to inputs of phosphate, a nutrient that causes damage to the ecology of rivers, particularly chalkstreams, when present in excess. Watercress beds are one significant source of phosphate, as are sewage works, septic tanks and poorly-managed farms.

ENDS

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.

 

 

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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.”