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

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

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