Conservationists are stunned by devastating pollution incident on the Teifi

Conservationists from the charity, Salmon & Trout Conservation Cymru (S&TCC), are shocked by the devastating impact of a pollution incident on the River Teifi, which has killed vast numbers of fish and potentially other wildlife on a six mile stretch of this supposedly specially protected river.

Despite its international designation as a Special Area of Conservation for salmon as well as endangered fish species like lampreys and bullhead, this was not enough to protect the stunning river Teifi from the devastating agricultural pollution incident that began on Saturday (17th December).

Natural Resources Wales’s (NRW) ongoing investigation, into what is believed to have been a slurry leak in the Tregaron area, has found at least 1,000 fish have been killed. It is reported that all the salmon and sea trout in a two-mile stretch of the River Teifi have been killed by the pollution, with NRW saying that the majority of fish for up to six miles (9.6km) downriver have also died.

Flowing more than seventy miles from a source some 1500 feet up in the Cambrian Mountains to its estuary at Cardigan, the Teifi, known as the Queen of Game Fishing Rivers, is both wild and beautiful.

Helen Jobson, S&TCC’s Wales Officer,  said, “This incident can only be described as an environmental disaster which has concerning, and as yet unquantified, consequences for the fish populations, invertebrate numbers and the ecology of the river as a whole.

“This is a catastrophic pollution event for the River Teifi and because of its scale it can be considered as a serious acute incident, however if the bigger picture is looked at this could be seen as the tip of a much more extensive iceberg.”

In reality virtually all rivers in Wales are subject to a greater or lesser degree of risk from the occurrence of this kind of pollution owing to the presence of an agricultural industry that is struggling due to a lack of investment in appropriate infrastructure and management, combined with reduced regulatory resources.
Helen Jobson said, “Point source pollution events are recorded nearly every day somewhere in the country but because they are minor in nature they are dismissed as “diffuse” when actually they combine to be a chronic pollution problem that goes largely un-noticed.

“Welsh Government are currently consulting on whether Wales should adopt new regulations that support the designation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) across the whole of Wales, which would improve and strengthen the requirements on farmers for manure and slurry storage and their application.”

Rivers across Wales are impacted by degrees of pollution, notably from nitrates and phosphate.  However, Salmon & Trout Conservation Cymru (S&TCC) has shown that the biggest concern for river managers is the chronic sediment input and phosphate enrichment that consistently comes off arable farmland.  This encourages excessive algae growth, smothering spawning gravels and killing fish eggs.  Water insects, which are vital to the aquatic food chain, are also killed.  When you add directly toxic events such as this slurry spill on the Teifi, then the exasperation of fishery managers, anglers and all those with a love of Welsh rivers is not hard to understand.

S&TCC’s Wales Officer, Helen Jobson, said, “This horrendous slurry pollution on the Teifi must now send a clear message to NRW and Welsh Government that the destruction of water quality and river habitats in Welsh rivers as a result of agricultural bad practice cannot be allowed to continue.  Our salmon, trout and sea trout are natural indicators to the health of our water environment, and the Teifi event, which has killed so many salmonid fish, indicates that we are at rock bottom with our ability to protect rivers and adequately enforce legislation.”

Helen added, “S&TCC is already analysing Welsh rivers to provide sound scientific evidence of the state of water quality and, therefore, the impact on aquatic life.  Although we wish to work with NRW and Welsh Government to protect our rivers from agricultural and other stressors, we are also prepared to push for opportunities to improve management and regulatory policies. Our rivers are in need of serious help and to do nothing is not an option!”

Paul Knight, Chief Executive of Salmon & Trout Conservation UK said, “The Welsh Government needs to demonstrate how the monitoring and enforcement of the new regulations will take place and NRW and the Rural Inspectorate need to be adequately resourced and provided with the direction and support that they need to tackle the problems and this should be made an immediate priority as the clock is ticking for our precious rivers and streams in Wales.”

Conservationists are stunned by devastating pollution incident on the Teifi

Despite its international designation as a Special Area of Conservation for salmon as well as endangered fish species like lampreys and bullhead, this was not enough to protect the stunning river Teifi from the devastating agricultural pollution incident that began on Saturday (17th December).

Natural Resources Wales’s (NRW) ongoing investigation, into what is believed to have been a slurry leak in the Tregaron area, has found at least 1,000 fish have been killed. It is reported that all the salmon and sea trout in a two-mile stretch of the River Teifi have been killed by the pollution, with NRW saying that the majority of fish for up to six miles (9.6km) downriver have also died.

Flowing more than seventy miles from a source some 1500 feet up in the Cambrian Mountains to its estuary at Cardigan, the Teifi, known as the Queen of Game Fishing Rivers, is both wild and beautiful.

Helen Jobson, S&TCC’s Wales Officer,  said, “This incident can only be described as an environmental disaster which has concerning, and as yet unquantified, consequences for the fish populations, invertebrate numbers and the ecology of the river as a whole.

“This is a catastrophic pollution event for the River Teifi and because of its scale it can be considered as a serious acute incident, however if the bigger picture is looked at this could be seen as the tip of a much more extensive iceberg.”

In reality virtually all rivers in Wales are subject to a greater or lesser degree of risk from the occurrence of this kind of pollution owing to the presence of an agricultural industry that is struggling due to a lack of investment in appropriate infrastructure and management, combined with reduced regulatory resources.
Helen Jobson said, “Point source pollution events are recorded nearly every day somewhere in the country but because they are minor in nature they are dismissed as “diffuse” when actually they combine to be a chronic pollution problem that goes largely un-noticed.

“Welsh Government are currently consulting on whether Wales should adopt new regulations that support the designation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) across the whole of Wales, which would improve and strengthen the requirements on farmers for manure and slurry storage and their application.”

Rivers across Wales are impacted by degrees of pollution, notably from nitrates and phosphate.  However, Salmon & Trout Conservation Cymru (S&TCC) has shown that the biggest concern for river managers is the chronic sediment input and phosphate enrichment that consistently comes off arable farmland.  This encourages excessive algae growth, smothering spawning gravels and killing fish eggs.  Water insects, which are vital to the aquatic food chain, are also killed.  When you add directly toxic events such as this slurry spill on the Teifi, then the exasperation of fishery managers, anglers and all those with a love of Welsh rivers is not hard to understand.

S&TCC’s Wales Officer, Helen Jobson, said, “This horrendous slurry pollution on the Teifi must now send a clear message to NRW and Welsh Government that the destruction of water quality and river habitats in Welsh rivers as a result of agricultural bad practice cannot be allowed to continue.  Our salmon, trout and sea trout are natural indicators to the health of our water environment, and the Teifi event, which has killed so many salmonid fish, indicates that we are at rock bottom with our ability to protect rivers and adequately enforce legislation.”

Helen added, “S&TCC is already analysing Welsh rivers to provide sound scientific evidence of the state of water quality and, therefore, the impact on aquatic life.  Although we wish to work with NRW and Welsh Government to protect our rivers from agricultural and other stressors, we are also prepared to push for opportunities to improve management and regulatory policies. Our rivers are in need of serious help and to do nothing is not an option!”

Paul Knight, Chief Executive of Salmon & Trout Conservation UK said, “The Welsh Government needs to demonstrate how the monitoring and enforcement of the new regulations will take place and NRW and the Rural Inspectorate need to be adequately resourced and provided with the direction and support that they need to tackle the problems and this should be made an immediate priority as the clock is ticking for our precious rivers and streams in Wales.”

S&TC complains to BBC on biased programming

Paul Knight, S&TC CEO has sent the following letter to the BBC after the corporation aired its Christmas Supermarket Secrets programme:

We were appalled to hear the promotion given to smoked farmed salmon by Gregg Wallace in the recent BBC programme, Christmas Supermarket Secrets.  Ironically, this came at the same time as Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), the Scottish section of Salmon & Trout Conservation UK, issued a press release challenge to certain supermarkets to stop buying farmed salmon from Scottish companies with an unacceptable record of parasite control.  I am enclosing the press release with this letter but to summarise:

There is now a host of incontrovertible peer reviewed scientific evidence showing that sea lice emanating from open net salmon farms are having a lethal effect on migrating wild salmon and sea trout.  As the fish farming industry expands, sea lice are becoming increasingly difficult to control in Scotland. The hard facts, based on the quarterly data produced by the industry’s own trade association, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), are that:

  • Between July and September 2016, regions representing 52.9% of Scottish farmed salmon production were over industry’s own criteria of one adult female louse per fish, for at least one of these three months.
  • Over the year to September 2016, regions representing a staggering 80.1% of the Scottish production of farmed salmon have been over industry criteria for at least one month in the last year.
  • Over the year to September 2016, regions representing 66.4% have been over three adult female lice per fish for at least one month, the level at which the Scottish Government now requires individual farms to produce a “site specific escalation action plan”.
  • Over the year to September 2016, regions representing 18.2% have been over 8 adult female lice per fish for at least one month, the level at which the Scottish Government announced in May 2016 would result in enforcement action, including the potential to require reduction in biomass.

To date, S&TCS understands that there has been no such enforcement action from the Scottish Government.

We note that the BBC has something of a history in promoting Scottish salmon farming, but like the Scottish Government and fish farming industry, plays little more than lip service to the proven environmental damage being done by open net salmon farming.  Besides its awful lice record, this also results in farmed fish escaping to breed with wild fish and so destroying vital individual river stock gene pools built naturally since the end of the last Ice Age, and all the waste products from the industry being dumped into the marine environment.

Back in February 2016, Donald Rice met with Bill Lyons, Executive Editor of Countryfile, following a December 2015 Countryfile programme which again gave scant regard to the environmental damage from salmon farms and, as such, was widely regarded within the wild fish conservation community as very poor journalism.  Both Messrs Rice and Lyons felt they gained a great deal from that meeting, but the results have obviously not permeated through to your area of operation, which is extremely frustrating for those of us fighting to save wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout stocks from plunging even further than they have already.

You may not realise that Atlantic salmon are classified as an endangered species, and so any activity that adversely impacts their wellbeing should be outlawed.  The fact that the BBC continues to promote products sourced from the aquaculture industry is simply unacceptable – you should instead be in the forefront of journalism that puts pressure on salmon farmers to clean up their act.  We are not against fish farming per se, but it must be made environmentally sustainable by establishing a biological barrier between farmed and wild fish, which can easily be achieved by moving production from open nets into closed containment tanks.  These closed units, which are now economically viable, provide far greater control over the farming operation, preventing sea lice drift onto wild fish, escapes of farmed salmon and the dumping of waste products into the marine environment.

We urge the BBC in the strongest possible terms to undertake some more in-depth journalism around the salmon farming industry, so that in any future programmes you produce on the subject, you can give a truly balanced position to your viewers.  In so doing, you will help put consumer pressure on supermarket retailers and, therefore, fish farming companies to invest in the new technology necessary for their industry to become environmentally sustainable and, in particular, to protect wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout from further decline.

Sainsbury’s and the Co-Op called upon to give ultimatums to farmed salmon suppliers to protect iconic west coast wild salmon and sea trout populations. Green credentials on the line?

Scottish salmon farm industry supplying UK supermarkets from regions where rampant sea lice numbers pose major threat to the survival of wild salmon and sea trout.

In the run up to Christmas, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) is challenging two major supermarkets to live up to their claims of ‘environmental responsibility’ and stop putting Scottish farmed salmon on their shelves from regions in the west Highlands and Islands where sea lice infestation is still rampant, putting wild salmon and sea trout populations at severe risk.

The Co-Op and Sainsbury’s have been selling farmed salmon from fish farms within regions of Scotland where sea lice numbers have been recorded well over both industry criteria and new Government trigger levels – levels which, fisheries scientists agree, threaten huge harm to wild salmon and sea trout survival.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, said:

“By purchasing farmed salmon from regions where sea lice parasite numbers on farmed fish are so high, both Sainsbury’s and the Co-Op are failing to live up to their mantras of responsible sourcing. These supermarkets should now use their commercial clout in line with their declared environmental policies and issue ultimatums that they will cease buying any more fish from farms in badly lice-hit regions. Without such commercial pressure the salmon farmers will continue to operate with sea lice levels that will inevitably cause massive damage to wild fish, killing juvenile wild salmon and sea trout as they go to sea for the first time.”

According to the latest data published by the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation’s (SSPO), the worst regions (see note 2) for sea lice control from July to September included:

  • Loch Long and Croe, from where Marine Harvest salmon has been ‘responsibly sourced’ onto Sainsbury’s shelves this autumn;
  • Loch Fyne, from where The Scottish Salmon Company has been supplying Co-Op supermarkets this autumn;
  • the west of the Isle of Lewis, from where The Scottish Salmon Company has been supplying the Co-Op this autumn; and
  • Harris, from where Marine Harvest has been supplying Sainsbury’s this autumn.
  •  

Sainsbury’s and Marine Harvest (see notes)

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, explained:

As part of our campaign to highlight the threat to wild salmon and sea trout from the huge numbers of parasites breeding on Scottish fish-farms, we asked Sainsbury’s in 2014 to examine critically their suppliers’ record and reconsider whether they should continue to sell farmed salmon from companies that operate fish-farms in regions of Scotland that have failed to achieve proper control of sea lice.

We received all manner of reassurances from Sainsbury’s in 2014 and 2015, but their supplier’s farms are still causing serious concern. Sainsbury’s keeps promising ‘solutions tomorrow’, but we believe it is now time for Sainsbury’s to bite the bullet and  refuse to buy Scottish farmed salmon from farms in badly lice-hit regions. That really would constitute ‘responsible sourcing’.”

Co-Operative and The Scottish Salmon Company (see notes)

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, noted:

The Co-Op prides itself on its green and environmentally responsible approach to buying fish. Such an approach is severely undermined by selling farmed salmon from Loch Roag where in September average adult female sea lice numbers reached a staggering average of 8.46 per farmed fish (more than eight times the industry’s threshold level for treatment).

At the head of this sea loch is the Langavat Special Area of Conservation – the jewel in the crown of Western Isles’ wild Atlantic salmon populations. It is supposed to enjoy the strictest possible legal protection, but it is clearly under threat from fish-farm derived sea lice. Surely the Co-Op cannot continue to claim green credentials in sourcing farmed salmon so long as it continues to take fish from the Loch Roag farms?

Industry-wide problems have continued in 2016

As the industry expands, sea lice are becoming increasingly difficult to control in Scotland. The hard facts, based on the quarterly data produced by the SSPO, are that:

Between July and September 2016, regions representing 52.9% of Scottish farmed salmon production were over industry criteria of one adult female louse per fish, for at least one of these three months.

Over the year to September 2016, regions representing a staggering 80.1% of the Scottish production of farmed salmon have been over industry criteria for at least one month in the last year.

Over the year to September 2016, regions representing 66.4% have been over three adult female lice per fish for at least one month, the level at which the Scottish Government now requires individual farms to produce a “site specific escalation action plan”.

Over the year to September 2016, regions representing 18.2% have been over 8 adult female lice per fish for at least one month, the level at which the Scottish Government announced in May 2016 would result in enforcement action, including the potential to require reduction in biomass.

To date, S&TCS understands that there has been no such enforcement action.

ENDS

Notes

In the Loch Long and Croe region, where there are three fish farms – Alsh, Duich and Ardintoul – all operated by Marine Harvest, average adult female sea lice numbers have been over industry criteria for the entire year (12 months) to September 2016, for nine of those months over the new Government trigger of three. Despite this appalling record, Sainsbury’s was ‘responsibly sourcing’ salmon from Alsh and selling it in its branches in November 2016.

In the Isle of Lewis (West) region where there are seven fish farms – Vuiabeag, Taranaish, Kyles of Vuia, Gousam, Vacasay, Vuia Mor, Eughlam – all operated  by The Scottish Salmon Company, and all lying in the path of migrating smolts leaving the Langavat Special Area of Conservation, designated under European law for the protection of wild Atlantic salmon, average adult female sea lice numbers on farmed fish in the region have been over industry criteria for last five months to September 2016, with the highest levels being recorded over the last three months than at any time since lice records were first published in 2013.

In July and August 2016, the region was over the Government trigger of three adult female lice per fish, requiring escalation plans to be drawn up, but in September the level went over eight adult female lice per fish, when enforcement action is supposed to follow from the Fish Health Inspectorate, all this despite there being 14 treatments for lice on farms in the region between July and September 2016.

Nevertheless, fish from the Isle of Lewis West was on Co-Op shelves (from the Vuia Mor farm) in November 2016, having been ‘responsibly sourced’.

In the Harris region where there are eight active fish farms – Scotasay (Marine Harvest), Soay (MH), Seaforth (MH), Trilleachan Mor (The Scottish Salmon Company), Plocrapol (TSSC), Raineach (MH), Reibinish (TSSC), Scadabay (TSSC), despite 23 separate treatments for sea lice in three months, average adult female sea lice numbers went over Scottish Government trigger levels of three adult female lice per fish in September 2016, requiring escalation plans and increased monitoring. Fish from this region has been responsibly sourced by Sainsbury’s this autumn, from some of the Marine Harvest farms.

In the Loch Fyne region where there are ten farms –  Meall Mhor, Glenan Bay, Furnace Quarry, Gob a Bharra, Quarry Point, Tarbert South, Ardcastle Bay, Ardgadden, Rubha Stillaig, Strondoir – all operated by The Scottish Salmon Company, despite 34 treatments for sea lice in just three months, Loch Fyne has been over industry criteria for the five months to September 2016 and in September 2016 was only just below the Scottish Government trigger level of three adult female lice per farmed fish. Fish from Loch Fyne has been ‘responsibly sourced’ by the Co-Op this autumn from Quarry Point and Gob a Bharra.

Exposing Scottish Government’s ludicrously inflated adult salmon estimates

Scottish Government first introduced classifications for the country’s salmon rivers in September 2015. These applied for the 2016 season. The classifications put all the rivers in the west Highlands and inner Hebrides in the worst-performing category (no 3), with wild salmon stocks not reaching what are known as ‘conservation limits’ – a measure of the overall health of the population.

The categories and criteria are as follows:

Category 1 rivers: “exploitation is sustainable therefore no additional management action is currently required”.

Category 2 rivers: “Management action is necessary to reduce exploitation; mandatory catch and release will not be required in the first instance, but this will be reviewed annually”.

Category 3 rivers: “Exploitation is unsustainable therefore management actions required to reduce exploitation for 1 year i.e. mandatory catch and release”.

Scottish Government has recently re-classified 22 west coast rivers to Category 1 and 35 west coast rivers to Category 2 on the basis of adult salmon population estimates, which are the product of Marine Scotland Science’s (MSS) new (flawed) methodology. The agency’s output relating to this methodology is available here

In response to major concerns about the veracity of MSS’s approach and population estimates, S&TCS recently commissioned Professor Colin Adams, the leading fisheries academic from Glasgow University, “to examine the science that lies behind the methodology being used and provide an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and assumptions of the resulting procedures.” Professor Adams report is accessible here.

Professor Adams’ conclusions include:

  • There is little doubt that the assumptions and simplifications used combined with a lack of empirical data are resulting in estimates of salmon abundances which differ significantly from the reality in a number of rivers
  • We advise that the outputs of this assessment are used with considerable caution until higher quality empirical data become available

It is becoming increasingly evident that where other data is available to test the MSS model, it is failing hugely.

Craig MacIntyre, Director of the Argyll Fisheries Trust, said:

“When we compare our survey data of several Argyll rivers with the MSS salmon abundance estimates, we conclude that MSS has overestimated the number of salmon present by up to a factor of ten. Grossly inflating salmon numbers risks setting back local conservation efforts, such as catch and release, as well as misleading local authorities and regulators when they are making decisions about aquaculture expansion.”

Bill Whyte, Chairman of the Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board, added:

“The highly questionable recategorisation of many of our rivers will serve as a green light for the salmon farming industry to push for unjustifiable expansion.”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), noted:

“It is clear that the methodology used falls far short of an acceptable standard for providing reliable estimates of salmon numbers. The model needs radical refining before it can be relied upon.”

The only fish counter in the west Highlands is on the River Morar. It shows an annual count of some 500 salmon – approximately one third of MSS’s estimate.

The Argyll Fisheries Trust has just carried out a snorkel survey of one its rivers. 30 adult salmon were counted. MSS’s estimate is 1500.

The overestimates are not limited to the west coast. For example, the River Helmsdale is given an adult salmon population by MSS of over 30,000 annually. MSS itself operates a fish counter three miles upstream of the river mouth. The annual count is generally between 4,000 and 5,000. It is hardly plausible that this huge discrepancy can be explained by tens of thousands of salmon spawning below the counter.

Similarly the River Shin is given an adult salmon population of over 35,000 annually. The fish counter in the dam at Loch Shin records less than 200 migrating each year upstream into the loch. It is simply not credible to suggest that tens of thousands of salmon spawn in the five miles of river between the dam and the river mouth.

(Sunday Herald coverage on 6 November)

Leading Scotland newspaper endorses S&TC(S) campaign

“The Herald”, one of Scotland’s leading daily newspapers, made our report on the devastation caused by the Amoebic Gill Disease outbreak at Marine Harvest salmon farms headline news.

"The Herald", one of Scotland's leading daily newspapers, made our report on the devastation caused by the Amoebic Gill Disease outbreak at Marine Harvest salmon farms headline news, and further endorsed our campaign in its editorial. 

Read both:

Fears deadly salmon illness will spread out to wild stock

Action needed to stem tide of disease in salmon farms

Virulent disease at Marine Harvest salmon farms raises concerns over potential impacts on wild fish

Integrity of Special Area of Conservation for wild salmon on Harris under threat. Other important wild fisheries also at risk.

Integrity of Special Area of Conservation for wild salmon on Harris under threat. Other important wild fisheries also at risk

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland calls on Scottish Government to intervene to protect wild fish

Marine Harvest salmon farms in the Hebrides and Wester Ross are currently host to rampant Amoebic Gill Disease (AGD), which can cause severe losses amongst affected fish. At least four sites are impacted including West Loch Tarbert and East Loch Tarbert on Harris, Loch Greshornish on Skye and the Isle of Ewe in Wester Ross. Up to 25 per cent of the fish at the afflicted sites are understood to have been lost, with hundreds of thousands of mortalities transported to Wigan (Greater Manchester) for incineration.

Marine Harvest is struggling to manage the situation and has been slow to admit the extent of the problems. AGD is a very unpleasant disease which causes asphyxia; many fish then suffocate to death. Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) is adamant that the Scottish Government should act now to protect wild fish.

Whilst Scotland’s Fish Health Inspectorate (http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0039/00393037.pdf) states that AGD is “occasionally recorded on wild salmon without causing significant pathology”, it concedes that there is a “difficulty of obtaining samples for disease diagnosis in wild fish”. Juvenile wild salmon (smolts) migrate from their rivers in the spring, passing through the coastal zone, before heading out to sea. If they are infected as they swim past disease-harbouring farms, it is impossible to monitor their fate.

Paul Hopper, Senior Biologist at the Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust (OHFT), explained:

“If AGD is still present next spring, wild salmon smolts on their outward migration to sea could be put at risk. Unlike with fish farms it is very difficult to obtain samples of wild fish at sea and hence gauge any impact on wild populations. Incidents of the disease have been recorded in Scotland at water temperatures as low as 7.5°C and accordingly we cannot rely on a drop in sea water temperature to help alleviate the situation imminently.”

Mr Hopper added:

“We are extremely concerned about AGD in West Loch Tarbert as well as the earlier lack of communication on this outbreak from the company involved. Having now held meetings with the local fish farmers, we have been reassured that the industry is working hard to improve the situation through treatments and careful management of their stocks. We cannot emphasise enough how important it is for the aquaculture industry to report incidences of diseases like AGD without delay so that all stakeholders can immediately work together to protect both farmed and already threatened wild fish stocks.”

Marine Harvest’s West Loch Tarbert farm is adjacent to the North Harris Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for Atlantic salmon.

Innes Morrison, Clerk to the Western Isles Fishery Board and Factor at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle Estate (with the fishings in the North Harris SAC), noted:

“We are very concerned that, if the disease is not eradicated by the spring, the migrating juvenile salmon from our SAC rivers will be vulnerable to deadly infection. In the meantime our sea trout, which remain in coastal waters, will surely be prone to infection. The salmon farming industry in the Western Isles seems to lurch from crisis to crisis – with both disease and sea lice epidemics – and yet virtually all applications for new farms or expansions are still being rubber-stamped by the local council with little if any concern for the environmental impact.”

Major mortalities due to AGD have now also been confirmed by the Fish Health Inspectorate at Marine Harvest’s site at Isle of Ewe in Wester Ross.

Bill Whyte, Chairman of the Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board, said:

“The cloak of secrecy surrounding the presence of AGD at Marine Harvest’s farm in Loch Ewe is inexcusable. This outbreak of AGD must surely prompt further questions as to the suitability and viability of Loch Ewe for salmon farming. Prior to the arrival of the industry in Loch Ewe, the Loch Maree system was an iconic fishery for both wild salmon and sea trout.”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), said:

“If any terrestrial farming industry was beset by a similarly rampant and highly contagious disease, the authorities would step in immediately and ruthlessly cull all affected stocks. But because the tens of thousands of fish affected by and dying from AGD are unseen beneath the waves, the Scottish Government adopts a laissez-faire approach. Leaving aside the suffering caused to the fish in the cages, given the potential risks identified by local wild fish experts and the apparent inability of Marine Harvest to eradicate the disease, surely the Government now has a responsibility to intervene and order the immediate slaughter of the farmed stocks in question.”

A further concern amongst wild fish experts – with implications for wild salmon and sea trout – is the reluctance of salmon farm managers to treat AGD-affected fish against sea lice as the chemicals used may cause additional stress and thus exacerbate the incidence of AGD.

ENDS

Commemorative award spring-boards the next generation into protecting our rivers

A remarkable conservation award, set up in the memory of Anne Voss-Bark, by Salmon & Trout Conservation UK and the Arundell Arms Hotel was presented to Robin Knight, from Winkleigh, Devon;  an up and coming star in river conservation circles.

Anne Voss-Bark was a renowned river conservationist, close friend of Ted Hughes and one of the best known anglers in the West Country. 

The award was presented to Robin Knight at the Arundall Arms in Devon, by Anne’s son, Adam Fox-Edwards, who now runs the hotel. 

For over 50 years, Anne Voss-Bark turned this initially rather run-down hotel into an eminent fishing and country sports hotel. For her conservation achievements she was awarded the MBE in 1996 at the age of 84.

Anne Voss Bark, was married to Conrad Voss Bark, former BBC parliamentary correspondent for the BBC and as a close friend of Ted Hughes she jointly founded the West Country Rivers Trust with him.  She was a dedicated conservationist and her love of fly fishing made her aware of changes in the countryside that were detrimental to our rivers and fish.  She was, for instance, amongst the first to recognise the damage being done by agricultural fertilizers leaching from soil into local river catchments.

The main aim of the award is to give the winning candidate unbeatable work experience and an opportunity of pursuing a career in river management and conservation.

The Award includes one week at the Arundell Arms learning hands-on fisheries management and fly-fishing from the experienced river managers and gillies, as well as one week with the West Country Rivers Trust; learning catchment management and water science from the Trust’s eminent scientists.

The prize also includes expenses of up to £500 donated by Salmon & Trout Conservation UK and the Fario Club of Paris

Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science and Policy with Salmon & Trout Conservation UK said, “We were hugely impressed with Robin’s passion for his subject.  His love of fishing, as well as other country activities, including walking and wildlife spotting, laid the foundations for him to go to university and study a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Management and Geography.

“His literature review on livestock poaching on water courses in the Torridge catchment, Devon illustrates many of the modern problems that we face nationally with our precious rivers and streams.  It was very impressive and we consider that he was a very worthy winner of this Award.”

Robin Knight said, “I am really delighted to win this award and very grateful to the Arundell Arms and Salmon & Trout Conservation UK.  I am passionate about making our natural world better and have focused my educational achievements on the aquatic environment.  I intend to continue to pursue my career in this important and sometimes much neglected sector, where there are many gaps in our knowledge, which need addressing.  My award provides the spring-board to the next stage of my career and I am looking forward to gaining more practical ‘hands-on’ experience, learning more about river and catchment management from leading experts so that I can concentrate my energies into establishing a full-time career in this sector.”

The award is supported by the International Fario Club, of which Anne was an honorary life member. The club was founded by Charles Ritz, the well-known hotelier and fly fisherman. This fellowship of travelling Anglers, now led by Laurent Sainsot, shows a deep concern for the environment and rivers.     ENDS

Norfolk farmers form a cluster to protect the River Wensum

A group of sixteen farmers and their advisers gathered together last week with Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) and FWAG (Norfolk) to discuss the shocking results of the recent Riverfly Census that was carried out by S&TC UK on rivers across the country including the Wensum.

A group of sixteen farmers and their advisers gathered together last week with Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) and FWAG (Norfolk) to discuss the shocking results of the recent Riverfly Census that was carried out by S&TC UK on rivers across the country including the Wensum.

Explaining the results, Nick Measham, from S&TC UK and author of the Census said, “The Census revealed that the river Wensum’s fly life is suffering as a result of phosphorous and sediment pollution mostly as a result of run-off from agricultural activities. It was very disappointing that the River Wensum, which is one of the UK’s four highly protecting chalkstreams fared so badly in the survey.”

Riverflies and other invertebrates are excellent indicators of the underlying ecological condition of our rivers because different species of invertebrates demonstrate different tolerances to the various forms of stress from pollution. 

Nick Measham explains, “England’s 200 or so chalkstreams form about 85% of the world’s total stock of this richly diverse and complex habitat.  Almost all of them are in a dismal state of decline. Plants, insects, fish, mammals and bird-life are suffering as a result of the loss of fly life, which plays a crucial role in the aquatic food chain. Basically lose your fly life and you will lose many other important species too.”

However, all is not lost for the Wensum.  Last year, Natural England established a Facilitation Fund, which is an innovative scheme that aims to encourage farmers to form a Farmer Cluster and to work together on a landscape-scale to protect the fragile wetland habitats surrounding the Wensum. The sixteen farmers that have formed the Farmer Cluster on the Wensum catchment are supported and guided by Heidi Smith from FWAG Norfolk.  They have been working collaboratively for the past year to focus their conservation efforts on developing landscape scale projects that will help protect the precious river environment from potential impacts from farming activities.

Heidi Smith from FWAG said, “This is a really exciting project and all the farmers are totally committed to working together to achieve results.  Although the results of the Riverfly Census were a shock, we feel that over time, the many innovations being implemented by the group on a large-scale and across the catchment will start to turn the river environment around.  The project has only been going for a year and so we look forward to S&TC UK’s next round of monitoring to see what improvements have taken place.”

The sixteen farms involved in the project are quite diverse and range from a small organic grazier to larger concerns that either have stock or grow crops such as oil seed rape, sugar beet or barley. Pensthorpe Natural  Park, where the event was held is also a member of the Farmer Cluster and Bill Jordan, who owns the park is very enthusiastic about working with the other farmers to improve the aquatic environment on the Wensum over the coming years.

Many of those within the Farmer Cluster are either in a Stewardship Scheme such as the Higher Level Scheme or the Entry Level Scheme. 

To counteract some of the negative impacts along the river catchment from farming activities, the group are implementing a wide range of measures such as growing buffer strips, ploughing across fields, tramline disruption, planting cover crops and growing nitrogen fixing legumes. Over time, the combined efforts of all the farmers should start to reduce the amount of soil being lost from the land and generally improve soil health while protecting the river.

Nick Measham said, “Meeting the Farmer Cluster group is a wonderful opportunity to share knowledge and best practice to help make a difference.  It is hugely apparent that these farmers are totally committed 100 per cent to the future conservation of the Wensum and each one of them is passionate about doing a great job.  We are currently repeating our Riverfly Census on the Wensum and although it is going to take time to get it back into pristine condition, I am sure that the dedication of the Wensum Farmer Cluster will ensure that this will be the case over the next few years.”     ENDS

“Deadweight costs” hamper agriculture, says report

The Institute of Economic Affairs has recently reported that Brussels has fallen victim to environmentalists’ lobbying and introduced unnecessary regulation for agriculture which has had little benefit for consumers and has ‘created deadweight costs’ through bureaucracy.

The Institute of Economic Affairs has recently reported that Brussels has fallen victim to environmentalists’ lobbying and introduced unnecessary regulation for agriculture which has had little benefit for consumers and has ‘created deadweight costs’ through bureaucracy.  This, added to the fact that farm subsidies have been increasingly tied to environmental requirements imposed on farmers, has led to increased costs for both consumers and taxpayers.  The Institute goes on to argue that consumers should be able to buy cheap food without the added costs associated with farmers having to protect the environment.

Even more concerning, the report goes on to say that, “One cause of the growth in regulation is the use of the precautionary principle. This is poorly defined. However, in general, it means that the benefit of the doubt is given to the protection against any possible harm at the expense of consumer, business or economic interests.  The result has been a drift towards overregulation and a jettisoning of rational principles of managing and taking into account risk.”

The precautionary principle actually says that lack of scientific evidence of damage should not be a barrier to adopting measures to protect the environment.  But rather than this being a barrier to development in the UK, I am struggling to think of an example where the precautionary approach has actually been adopted to protect fish or the water environment.  Certainly not on agriculture, where soil loss in particular has led to increased sedimentation and excessive levels of phosphate and other chemicals that our Riverfly Census is showing is having a devastating impact on invertebrate populations on many of our rivers.  This is one of the major reasons why only 17% of rivers are classified as ecologically good – yet the Institute seems happy for the trashing to continue and, presumably, even expand if it means the production of cheaper food.

I find this type of report a national disgrace, declares S&TC CEO Paul Knight.  It is delivered from a group of people seemingly ignorant of the consequences of allowing unregulated land management to destroy our rivers, and the many services they provide for communities, let alone the water ecology they support.  And they obviously have no idea of the costs associated with cleaning up rivers – for instance, dredging sediment that should never have been allowed to enter the watercourse in the first place, or water companies spending customers’ money on expensive phosphate strippers to remove a nutrient that should have stayed on the land.

Brexit has given us at least one advantage – we will have to adopt a new agricultural programme to take the place of CAP, which creates opportunity.  The bad news is that the current political thinking within Defra is for less regulation and red tape, which does not bode well for environmental protection.

We, along with colleagues in other fisheries and conservation groups, will be lobbying hard over the Brexit negotiations for farmers to be rewarded for adopting practices that protect river corridors and the terrestrial environment, and not just handed subsidies because they happen to own and farm land.  We are talking with farming groups at the moment and the vast majority seem totally on-side with that principle.  Most farmers are horrified when they realize the consequences of soil and nutrient loss into rivers, and are keen to find solutions that actually save them money as well as protecting watercourses.  There are plenty of win-wins – such as minimum or zero tillage – that they can adopt, as shown by the excellent work done by our colleagues at GWCT at their experimental farm at Loddington.

What we cannot allow is for the ignorance of outfits like the Institute of Economic Affairs to use the excuse of Brexit to allow even greater degradation of our rivers and, therefore, invertebrates and wild fish species.  Rather, we must make it a priority to put in place a new agricultural policy that has benefits for both wider-thinking land managers and the environment upon which we all ultimately depend.