Response to Southern Water Fine

Ofwat has imposed the biggest fine ever on a water company for "significant breaches of its licence conditions and its statutory duties." Southern Water has been fined £37.7m, but this has been reduced to £3m because the company has undertaken to pay customers some £123m over the next five years.

Ofwat states in its report:

We have concluded that Southern Water has deliberately misreported data to us about the performance of its wastewater treatment works. We have also concluded that it has failed: to have adequate systems of planning, governance and internal controls in place to be able to manage its wastewater treatment works; to accurately report information about the performance of these works; and to properly carry out its general statutory duties as a sewerage undertaker, to make provision for effectually dealing with and treating wastewater.”

It is extremely frustrating that this financial penalty will only compensate Southern Water’s customers and does not include any funding to clean up the environmental damage that the company has quite obviously caused in both rivers and along the coastline.

Ofwat is only concerned about regulatory obligations over which it has authority, and this does not include scrutiny of Southern Water’s environmental permit failures or, indeed, whether its employees behaved criminally in covering up its woeful operating performance.

These issues are currently being dealt with by the Environment Agency, although the Ofwat report suggests that appalling practices were endemic throughout Southern Water’s structure  “…including at senior management levels” including some designed “to prevent samples of wastewater from being taken at treatment works to check compliance with environmental permit conditions”.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor for S&TC said:

“S&TC has been pursuing this matter, including through the Information Commissioner’s Office for some time now. Given what we now know, it is inconceivable that the Environment Agency will not prosecute Southern Water, and for multiple offences. We expect nothing less. 

There must be no ‘deal’ made with Southern Water. Quite simply, the company set out to cheat the system, knowing that would harm the environment, and it must both pay for the environmental damage it has caused and be punished for what it has done. 
The entire green lobby - and its lawyers - will be watching what happens now”. 

S&TC has reported on Southern Water’s appalling environmental record before.  Although we have no evidence of similar operating practices in other water companies, it is fanciful to think that they are all lily-white in their performance since privatisation.  Some £55 billion has been paid to shareholders since privatisation, which would suggest the greatest driver for these companies is profit-sharing among investors rather than any serious sense of responsibility for environmental protection. The damage the water companies cause  either from inadequately-treated sewage polluting our rivers or the impacts of excessive water abstraction from rivers and aquifers, is immense.

As we cannot trust water companies any more, the time has arrived to require independent monitoring of all water company’s sewage works and abstractions.

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

S&TC’s recently published Riverfly Census Report highlighted the parlous state of our Southern chalkstreams, which is the freshwater habitat most vulnerable to Southern Water’s operations.  S&TC is now calling for full independent environmental monitoring of all water company operations in England.  It is not an excuse to cite lack of resources for failing to comply with adequate monitoring – it should be a legal requirement for these companies to pay for independent monitoring; they can surely afford it!”

Paul Knight CEO of S&TC UK said:

No-one can be so naïve as to think it is only Southern Water cheating like this at the expense of the environment. This is the direct result of years of cutting the regulator to the bone and relying instead on self-monitoring by polluters. It is time to reverse that trend and require independent monitoring of all large companies that can have such massive impact on the environment”.

William Hix, Chairman, Salmon & Trout Conservation commented:

“These are shocking revelations which make it difficult for the public to trust Southern Water’s treatment of the environment. It is the environment that has suffered as a result of this appalling behaviour, and if the fine is to be dramatically reduced because of undertakings given by Southern Water, then those undertakings should relate primarily to the environment rather than customers. OFWAT’s statutory duties and strategic priorities and objectives include the environment. The way in which this compromise arrangement with Southern Water essentially compensates customers (rather than the environment) for damage to the environment, reinforces the impression that OFWAT places little weight on the environment. If there is to be a massive reduction in the fine levied in response to undertakings, then those undertakings should relate to expenditure on protecting the environment. If trust in the environmental protection activity of Southern Water is to be restored, then an effective system of independent monitoring of Southern Water’s emissions to the environment must be put in place as a matter of urgency. Financing such a system, rather than refunding customers, would be the appropriate course to take in accordance with OFWAT’s and Southern Water’s duties to the environment and the nature of the failures.”

ENDS

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

For more information and resources please visit: www.salmon-trout.org/

Notes to Editors

(1) Salmon and Trout Conservation

Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) was established as the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) in 1903 to address the damage done to our rivers by the polluting effects of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, S&TC has worked to protect fisheries, fish stocks and the wider aquatic environment for the public benefit. S&TC has charitable status in England, Wales and Scotland and its charitable objectives empower it to address all issues affecting fish and the aquatic environment, supported by robust evidence from its scientific network, and to take the widest possible remit in protecting salmonid fish stocks and the aquatic environment upon which they depend.

(2) The Riverfly Census

THE CENSUS PROCESS

The Riverfly Census utilises the invertebrate assemblage: presence, absence and abundance of certain invertebrates and the specific set of conditions they need to thrive, to indicate the types of stress our rivers are experiencing. This species-level resolution shows pressures which family-based Water Framework Directive (WFD) methods fail to capture.

The Riverfly Census has spanned three years, across 12 rivers in England. Multiple sample sites were carefully selected on each.

Kick-sweep sampling was completed in spring and autumn to EA-accepted guidelines, at all sample sites. Sampling and species-level identification were carried out by professional entomologists at Aquascience Consultancy Ltd.

Species data were inputted to Aquascience’s biometric calculator to obtain scores against key stress types: chemical, nutrient, sediment and flow. The data was then evaluated in a whole catchment context to pinpoint the likely suspects contributing to the river’s deterioration.

The data was compiled for, and is being reported to, local stakeholders and policy makers to improve management and conservation of our rivers.

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC are a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.

Salmon farming being supported by hands-off regulation and taxpayers’ money

FOI reveals hands-off regulation of salmon farming’s environmental impactand the lavish use of taxpayers’ money to support the industry

 Freedom of Information requests made by Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Marine Scotland, the Fish Health Inspectorate and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have shown the extent of Scottish Government use of taxpayers’ money to fund the salmon farming industry and the very light touch regulation of its environmental impact.

Weak regulation - SEPA

Information supplied by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (note 2) shows that only two applications for marine fish farm licences, issued under the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR), have been refused in the last five years and, over the same period, there have been no enforcement notices served for any failure to comply with the CAR licence and no prosecutions.

SEPA’s own annual compliance assessments show that Scotland’s aquaculture sector saw overall compliance levels drop during 2017 to 81.14%, against 85.75% in 2016 – meaning almost 20% of farms breached their CAR licences in 2017 (note 3) with 56 of the country's 297 licensed fish farms rated "poor", "very poor" or "at risk".

Over the last five years, 147 benthic surveys under salmon farms have been rated as ‘unsatisfactory’ which SEPA itself categorises as “an indication that the emissions arising from the site in question are of a scale that is beyond the assimilative capacity of the local environment. This classification may relate to impacts on benthic fauna or sediment chemistry, unacceptable infeed medicine residue concentrations, or a combination of these parameters”.

This is completely at odds with the assurance of Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s Chief Executive, who said last year that compliance is“non-negotiable”for fish farms (note 4).

Weak regulation – Fish Health Inspectorate and Marine Scotland

Information provided by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate(note 5), that polices farms for parasites and diseases, and investigates escapes of farmed fish, shows that, in the last five years, the FHI has served only two enforcement notices under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, relating to the failure to control sea lice on fish farms - at the Ardmaddy farm in 2015 and at Score Holms in 2017.

There have been no prosecutions of fish farms or fish-farm well-boat operators in the last five years for failure to have adequate measures in place to control sea lice to protect wild fish – this despite a huge number of fish farms breaching the Scottish Government’s 3 and 8 average lice trigger levels since their inception in 2017.

Calling time on weak regulation?

No wonder that the recent Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee Inquiry into Salmon Farming in Scotland (note 6) concluded this year, per Recommendation 2, that “The Committee strongly agrees with the view of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLR) Committee that… the “status quo” in terms of regulation and enforcement is not acceptable” and, per Recommendation 60, that the Committee, “considers that there is a need to raise the bar in Scotland by setting enhanced and effective regulatory standards to ensure that that fish health issues are properly managed and the impact on the environment is kept to an absolute minimum”.

 The Committee also recommended that, “a comprehensively updated package of regulation should be developed by Marine Scotland and other regulatory bodies…”

 Importantly, the vital wild fish protection part of that package is expected to be announced by Scottish Government in June.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TCS, said:

“The almost incredibly soft touch regulation that has been applied by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Fish Health Inspectorate, and the closeness of the relationship between Marine Scotland and the industry, paints an unhealthy and unsustainable picture that the REC Committee of the Scottish Parliament decided could and should not continue.

 We look forward to the Scottish Government announcing very shortly robust measures to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the damage that has been, and is still being, caused by salmon farms”

The use of taxpayers’ money to support salmon farming in Scotland

At the same time as applying the softest of soft touch regulation, the Scottish Government has also been using significant sums of taxpayers’ money to fund the industry.

Over the last 10 years, the Scottish Government has provided £2 million to the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF) by way of annual grants (note 7).  It was the withholding of information about one SARF project - that had showed unexpected negative impacts from the use of the sea lice treatment, Slice, in salmon farms, on wild lobster and prawns - that led to five formal decisions of the Scottish Information Commissioner in favour of S&TCS and against SEPA and Scottish Government (note 8).

The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre was awarded further grants during 2016 and 2018 from the European Fisheries Fund, totalling £3.9 million (note 7).

Further grants totalling £1.5 million were given by Scottish Enterprise to the salmon farming industry between 2011 and 2018 to a range of fish farming companies, including two of the bigger companies active in Scotland, The Scottish Salmon Company, and Scottish Sea Farms (note 7), both of which are highly profitable and thus entirely capable of absorbing the cost of such routine expenses as “website development” and “international market development”. Grants for “international market development” are said by Scottish Government to consist of assistance to companies (travel, accommodation etc) to attend international trade events, trade missions etc.

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise also awarded grants to the salmon farming industry totalling £3.9 million between 2010 and 2018 (note 10) for anything from the redevelopment of fish-processing facilities to attendance at Asian trade fairs.

Of particular note is Scottish Enterprise providing £1,075,000 of Scottish Investment Bank investments to Loch Duart Limited over the period 2012 to 2016, to support the company’s sustainable farming practices” (note 7). Despite this investment, in 2019, Loch Duart Limited agreed with the Advertising Standards Authority to stop using claims of sustainability, having described itself as “the sustainable salmon company,” which prompted complaints (note 9). Overall, the relatively small firm of Loch Duart Limited has received, from various government and official sources, a total of £3.25 million over the last 10 years. According to its accounts to year end March 2018, Loch Duart made a profit of £2.6 million and paid £555,981 to its directors.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TCS, said:

“Given the amount of taxpayers’ money that has been poured into this industry over the last decade, the public has a right to expect the Scottish Government to put into effect all the recommendations of the REC Committee Report, and quickly. If the Report is allowed to gather dust, the Scottish environment and wildlife will continue to suffer.

 We call on the Cabinet Secretary to make it crystal clear to the fish farmers to expect tough regulation and not to rely on the old cosy relationship with government and regulators to protect it from proper scrutiny”. 

Supporting images available here: http://bit.ly/2x34mNH (Credit: Corin Smith)

Ends

 Issued by comms@salmon-trout.org(T: 07463 576892).  

Notes for editors

1) Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) was established as the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) in 1903 to address the damage done to our rivers by the polluting effects of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, S&TC UK has worked to protect fisheries, fish stocks and the wider aquatic environment for the public benefit. S&TC UK has charitable status in both England and Scotland (as S&TCS) and its charitable objectives empower it to address all issues affecting fish and the aquatic environment, supported by robust evidence from its scientific network, and to take the widest possible remit in protecting salmonid fish stocks and the aquatic environment upon which they depend. www.salmon-trout.org www.salmon-troutscotland.org

 

2) FOI response to S&TCS from SEPA 15thMarch 2019

 

3) See http://media.sepa.org.uk/media-releases/2018/environmental-compliance-of-scottish-business-exceeds-90-for-third-year-in-a-row.aspx

 

4) See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45752796

 

5) FOI response to S&TCS from FHI 11thMarch 2019

 

6) Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Report into Salmon farming in Scotland, 9th Report (Session 5), 2019

 

7) FOI response to S&TCS from Marine Scotland 7thMarch 2019

 

8) Scottish Information Commissioner’ decisions – at https://www.itspublicknowledge.info/ApplicationsandDecisions/Decisions/Decision_Listing.aspx

 

Decision 043/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Information relating to the use of sea lice medicine

For applicant             26 Mar 2018

 

Decision 013/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Correspondence with Marine Scotland

For applicant             31 Jan 2018

 

Decision 010/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Report on the environmental impact of sea lice medicine

For applicant             29 Jan 2018

 

Decision 199/2017

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Information concerning sea lice medicine

For applicant             30 Nov 2017

 

Decision 191/2017

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Ministers

Report on the environmental impact of sea lice medicine

For applicant            20 Nov 2017

 

9) See https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/rulings.html?q=Duart#informally-resolved

 

10) FOI response to S&TCS from HIE 8thMarch 2019

 

Bakkavör Alresford Salads Impacting Upper Itchen

Sewage and pesticides from a salad washing factory owned by Bakkavör Group Plc may present a serious threat to aquatic invertebrate life on a highly protected English chalkstream.

 The Environment Agency’s response to a formal notification of environmental damage made by S&TC in June 2018, pursuant to the Environmental Liability Directive, confirms the wild fish conservation charity’s fears: discharges from Bakkavör’s site at Alresford are threatening the fragile Upper Itchen and Alresford Pond.

Bakkavör www.bakkavor.com is a leading supplier of fresh food and salads to UK supermarkets.

The EA’s wide-ranging investigation was prompted by the results of S&TC’s invertebrate sampling at a site immediately downstream of Bakkavör’s outflows.

A copy of the sampling report (produced by Aquascience Consultancy Ltd) is available here: http://bit.ly/2RhzimT

The threat from these activities was highlighted by Joe Crowley on the BBC’s Countryfile Chalkstream Special.

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0005xlv/countryfile-chalk-streams

The EA investigation firstly exposed a failing in the factory’s own sewage works. The sewage is now being tankered away and S&TC says discharges should not restart. The headwaters of a chalkstream is not the right place to dump sewage.

The EA investigations also exposed a potential pesticide threat. The EA has not been able to rule out damage caused by traces of pesticides present on the salad leaves used by Bakkavör and which are being subsequently washed into the Upper Itchen. The EA is now undertaking more monitoring work. S&TC will follow the results of this work closely.

The S&TC notification has highlighted a wider national issue, that of the EA being unable to look at the impact on wildlife from chronic, low level and cumulative exposure to combinations of different pesticides.  This is directly relevant, not just to salad washing but to agriculture in general. S&TC will continue to raise its scientific evidence at the highest levels within UK Government and the European Commission to influence the changes required to provide our chalkstreams and all rivers with proper protection.

The EA also recognised specific damage to Alresford Pond from nitrates, which now requires remediation plans to be drawn up, as well as a severe sediment issue in the pond that threatens its long-term value to wildlife. Alresford Pond is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Nick Measham, S&TC’s Deputy CEO comments:

“The EA’s response to S&TC’s species-level monitoring shows the necessity to go beyond the technical confines of the Water Framework Directive to tackle the worrying declines in aquatic invertebrate life in the Upper Itchen. The EA’s “family-level measure” shows invertebrates to be fine at its chosen sample point well downstream of the factory, but our sample point, and the EA’s own work at Alresford, indicate real threats. The only sensible way to protect the river is for Bakkavör to be required to put the water it uses back into the river at the same quality at which it abstracts. If it can’t do that, it must cease discharging altogether.”

S&TC is delighted that the EA has persuaded Bakkavör Group Plc to consider its whole operation at Alresford to protect the Itchen. S&TC’s fierce lobbying has already stopped the company using chlorinated chemicals in its overnight wash.

S&TC is happy to work with Bakkavör Group Plc if its management begins to show a genuine willingness to undertake efforts to remedy the impacts of its operations and contribute towards restoration efforts, but S&TC will pursue the company relentlessly if it does not fulfill its obligations to protect the Upper Itchen in the future.

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

“The EA cannot continue to put chemicals, especially pesticides, in the too difficult to deal with box. The Upper Itchen highlights urgent action is required to monitor and regulate the synergistic and/or additive effects of chemicals. This cocktail of chemicals is having an environmental impact now and can no longer be ignored. S&TC see the formal notification to the EA as a first step in better understanding the pressures impacting the Upper Itchen, now we will be seeking action to address these. Business as usual is no longer an option.”

ENDS

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

 

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC are a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.

Troubling news from Wales

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Header Image Credit: Steffan Jones

Profits And Pollution

"S&TC has for a long time questioned the English water companies over their abstraction policies, especially in water-scarce, aquifer-fed regions, but now it appears that other sectors of the industry are under scrutiny."

Paul Knight, CEO Salmon & Trout Conservation writes…..

Carry out the basic duties

In the Financial Times recently, it was reported that Southern Water Services is being investigated by the regulator, Ofwat, over allegations that it breached its statutory duties on sewage treatment.

In fact, this investigation had already been the subject of earlier FOI requests submitted by S&TC in 2018. Our investigation had required a referral to the Information Commissioner before OFWAT signalled last December that they were still investigating SWS and had been since June 2017.

OFWAT confirmed to S&TC that their investigation covered “the company’s general duty to, among other things, provide and maintain its sewerage system to ensure its area is effectually drained (Section 94 Water Industry Act 1991) and the company’s obligation to ensure it has adequate financial and management resources and systems of planning and control in place to enable it to fulfil its statutory obligations (Condition F of its licence)”.

The investigation, which covers wastewater treatment works operated by SWS, is also looking at the company’s reporting of relevant compliance information to OFWAT, focused on the years from 2010 to 2017. OFWAT is looking at whether SWS needs to make future revenue adjustments and/or pay penalties.

In short, this is all about SWS’s basic duty, to operate sewers, collect sewage and treat sewage to render it harmless. If it has failed to do this properly, in  some systematic way,  it would be shocking.

We now see that the allegations are so strong that the Serious Fraud Office could become involved.

Overwhelming Overflows

S&TC’s Riverfly Census results are showing just what a dreadful ecological state some of our rivers are in at the moment, and impact from inadequately-treated sewage is undoubtedly one of the sources of the offending pollution, together with the lack of dilution for pollutants due to excessive water abstraction.  This is especially the case in some smaller, rural treatment works, where investment has not been as great as in larger urban areas. Many of these rural units cannot cope with being inundated in storm-water events and have no option but to spill raw sewage into rivers.  Our wild fish stocks inevitably suffer in such events, as does their food chain and the whole ecology of our river systems.

While water companies must be commended for the huge investment that has been made to clean up the environment since privatisation in 1989, to enable that to happen, they have accumulated some £51bn of debt, while a staggering £56bn has been paid out to shareholders in dividends - according to an analysis of Ofwat’s accounts by the Financial Times. In contrast, we note that Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water) is a not for profit company.

Profit should not be made off the back of pollution

SWS is owned by a consortium of private equity and infrastructure investors, including, amongst others, UBS Asset Management and JPMorgan Asset Management.  Between 2016 and 2017, SWS distributed no less than £190m in shareholder dividends while its treatment works continued to discharge under-treated sewage into the environment. We have to ask whether investors such as UBS and JP Morgan will ever have the best interests of our water environment as a priority, over making a return on capital?  The investigation  by Ofwat, and the possibility of the involvement of the Serious Fraud Office, suggests that those of us trying to protect our rivers, coasts and their dependent wild stocks of fish, should be very concerned indeed.

At S&TC, we now have the evidence within our Riverfly Census Report to put in front of decision makers to demand that they regulate water polluters with a great deal more zeal than they have done in the past.  In terms of water companies, that means that Ofwat must go further than merely ensuring customers pay the minimum possible for their water supplies and sewage treatment – there has to be a genuine responsibility for environmental protection. The better news is that we hear rumours of the Environment Agency getting tougher with water companies but, again, they need the resources to operate effectively.

The Riverfly Census: Launch

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

Nick Mesham, Deputy CEO, Salmon & Trout Conservation

To download the full report: CLICK HERE 

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

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

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

Next steps: SmartRivers 

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

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

We have the funding to help you make this happen.

If you are up to the challenge, contact us at smartrivers@salmon-trout.org or on 01425 652461

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC are a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.

SmartRivers Update – June 2019

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

Taking river guardianship into our own hands

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

IMG_1672

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

IMG_1693
IMG_1702

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

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

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

Header image credit: Lauren @ Salmon & Trout Conservation

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

The Riverfly Census: Full Report

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

Paul Knight, Chief Executive, Salmon & Trout Conservation

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

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

To download the full report: CLICK HERE 

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

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

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

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC Science Officer, added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC are a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.

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

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

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

Getting the quotas right

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

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

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

The current situation

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

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

What this means closer to home...

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

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

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

- Paul Knight, CEO

International Year of the Salmon – Our annual seminar in Wales

Latest figures reveal populations in 21 of the country’s 23 principle salmon rivers to be probably at risk or at risk of failing to meet their conservation limits. It was with this thought in mind that the recent S&TC Cymru annual seminar took on an International Year of the Salmon theme, posing the question: “Can we save the Atlantic salmon?”

The overall consensus

Robust presentations citing the latest discoveries in our understanding of salmon population dynamics left delegates in no doubt that a new approach towards habitat management and water quality management is required if we are to maximise spawning success and achieve maximum escapement. Learn more about how S&TC are fighting for healthy habitats here.

Central to achieving good water quality is a science-backed understanding of what the pressures are. Our Riverfly Census provides critical insights into the health of the freshwater environment, but also provides benchmarks against which to assess the success or otherwise of various management interventions.

It is imperative that the Riverfly Census work is continued through its future development and expansion into S&TC’s SmartRivers; where local people will be able to harness the power of species-level invertebrate analysis to pinpoint water quality pressures on their own rivers.

Summary of the day

Proceedings began with a passionate personal account by author and broadcaster Will Millard of the important role salmon, clean rivers and wild fish have played in his life and his desire to see them restored and protected. Our CEO Paul Knight explained the important and role S&TC has played over the past century advocating on behalf of salmon while deputy CEO Nick Measham revealed the manner in which our Riverfly Census can be used to highlight the threats facing the invertebrate population upon which salmon parr depend.

Dr Nigel Milner related the role played by the IFM at NASCO and the need to revise current stock assessment methods to better understand and predict the dynamics of salmon populations. Ian Davidson of NRW continued the stock assessment theme and the
important role played by the Welsh Dee or Dyfrdwy as an index river. The dynamics and fate of small and declining salmon populations were presented by Professor Carlos Garcia de Leaniz of Swansea University who also drew attention to the hitherto underestimated importance of salmon choosing to spawn in different rivers to those in which they originated. The morning session was drawn to a close by author and Gamefisher editor Tom Fort who narrated a fascinating thousand year history of salmon exploitation in British rivers by both nets and rods.

The afternoon session got under way with a comprehensive and encouraging report from Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s Environment Programme Manager, Gail Davies, on the company’s
contributions towards conserving the freshwater environment and safeguarding the future of our wild fish. Dr Guy Mawle gave a detailed and valuable account of his own thoughts and observations, posing some challenging questions regarding possible reasons for recent declines in reported salmon numbers from his home river, the Usk. Drawing the theme of the day to a close, Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE of Afonydd Cymru and the Wye and Usk Foundation related his own conclusions drawn from a long and intimate connection with the Wye and offered some valuable suggestions on the steps required if we are to see our salmon stocks return to truly sustainable levels.

Our Fundraising Manager, Guy Edwards, then gave a short but powerful presentation on the value of our financial independence and the need to allow science to lead us in our campaigning efforts. This was followed by S&TC trustee Tony Bostock who provided a very useful summary of the day’s proceedings before thanking the contributors for their valuable contributions.

Seminar coordinator and S&TC’s National Officer for Wales, Richard Garner Williams, wishes to thank all concerned for making the day such a success and looks forward to repeating the exercise in 2020.

Header image credit: Alan Ward at country field media.

For Welsh enquiries contact: wales@salmon-trout.org

For Riverfly Census enquiries contact: lauren@salmon-trout.org