Riverfly Partnership News

There are many Riverfly monitoring schemes around, so it can be tricky to understand why so many different schemes are necessary.

As the population continues to expand, and our dependence on the environment increases, it is more important than ever that we keep a close eye on the health of our water ecosystems. Thankfully, there are a wide variety of citizen science schemes available that enable people of all ages and knowledge levels to engage with and monitor the condition of their rivers.

Riverfly monitoring is a brilliant way for volunteers to carry out river health checks.  Freshwater invertebrates spend the majority of their lifecycles as nymphs, where they live underwater, sometimes for years! The abundance and diversity of the invertebrate community present in a river is highly linked with the quality and quantity of the water surrounding them. This relationship allows invertebrates to be used as a diagnostic test. Similar to a blood test, by looking at what’s there and what isn’t, we can derive a wealth of information about their condition.

There are many Riverfly monitoring schemes around, so it can be tricky to understand why so many different schemes are necessary. To address this, together with our colleagues at Riverfly Partnership, we have built a helpful explanation of how SmartRivers, Extended Riverfly and ARMI all fit together. They do provide different types of information for slightly different purposes, but are all hugely important in our fight for healthy waters.

So, whether you choose to volunteer for one scheme, or all of them, please know that your contribution is incredibly valued and from all of us at S&TC and Riverfly Partnership, thank you.

For more information on S&TC’s SmartRivers: www.salmon-trout.org/smart-rivers
For more information on ARMI and Extended Riverfly: www.riverflies.org

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 is delivering results

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

Nick Measham, Deputy CEO, S&TC

To view the full interview click HERE

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

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

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

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC Science Officer said: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reporting with a purpose

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

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

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

Discharges from salad washing – Update

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

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

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

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

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

Results so far:

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

Reporting with a purpose

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

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

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

Chalk streams debated in parliament

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

Paul Knight, CEO, S&TC

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

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

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

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

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

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

S&TC’s CEO, Paul Knight, said,

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

Follow the full debate in Hansard

Reporting with a purpose

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

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

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

Dear Phil, Thank you so much!

What can we say other than a huge THANK YOU!!

Phil Chessum took on the challenge of running the Race to The King ultramarathon to raise money for S&TC. An exhausting 52.4 mile slog across the South Downs.

Completing the course in a very respectable 10 hours 26 minutes and finishing 71st out of 750 competitors, Phil's feet seemed to take the brunt of the effort.

Phil said:

"It was a bit gruelling - glad to get it over with. Feeling quite positive about it all at the moment - although having to work from home, as I can't get my shoes on!" 

Phil raised just short of £3,500 for S&TC and is still receiving donations.

The funds will be used to fund the benchmarking of a river of Phil's choice through our SmartRivers initiative, a lasting legacy worthy of such incredible efforts.

SmartRivers plays a crucial role in ensuring the longterm protection of wild waters by establishing a solid science led reference point of biodiversity, against which any future impacts can be measured and evidenced.

SmartRivers enables volunteers, supported by a training scheme, training videos, an invertebrate-identification App and support programmes, to monitor the water quality in their rivers to a near-professional standard.

Phil celebrated his achievement with a pint. And yes, his eldest son is correct. It was TWO full marathons!!

Well done Phil, and thank you so much. It's appreciated.

From all of us at Salmon & Trout Conservation

Reporting with a purpose

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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