S&TCS warmly welcomes the Rural Economy Committee’s report on salmon farming

S&TCS warmly welcomes the Rural Economy Committee’s report on salmon farming

Scottish Government must now act quickly to put in place greater protection for wild salmon and sea trout.

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) has warmly welcomed the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee’s report on salmon farming, published today.

The report builds on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee’s report published in March.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor for S&TCS, commented:

“This Report is a strong vindication of the campaign S&TCS has spearheaded for some years now, and the arguments we have been putting forward, often in the face of sharp criticism from both the industry and Scottish Government alike.

We are pleased to see that the REC Committee has recognised that the law is currently insufficient to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the damaging impacts of salmon farming.

We now look to Scottish Government to grasp the nettle and move quickly to legislate to improve markedly the protection of wild salmon and sea trout from the negative impacts of salmon farming.”

Key conclusions and recommendations in the REC Committee’s report include:
  • “….if the industry is to grow, the Committee considers it to be essential that it addresses and identifies solutions to the environmental and fish health challenges it faces as a priority” (Recommendation 1)
  • “….urgent and meaningful action needs to be taken to address regulatory deficiencies as well as fish health and environmental issues before the industry can expand” (Recommendation 2)
  • Sea lice triggers to be “…challenging” and Government urged to “set a threshold that is comparable with the highest international industry standards” (Recommendation 15)
  • “…a move away from a voluntary approach to compliance and reporting with regard to sea lice infestation” (Recommendation 16)
  • In relation to breaches of sea lice levels, “enforcement action… has not been sufficiently robust to date. It is therefore of the view that if the revised compliance policy is to be effective it must be robust, enforceable and include appropriate penalties” (Recommendation 17)
  • Sea lice data in real time to be published in real-time, made mandatory and “the data provided should be that which is required to inform the regulatory and enforcement regimes, as opposed to that which the industry itself takes it upon itself to produce” (Recommendations 19 to 21).
  • “the Committee is….of the view that a precautionary approach should be taken which will seek to minimise the potential risk to wild salmon stocks wherever possible” (Recommendation 40)
  • “the Committee suggests that the siting of salmon farms is key to managing any potential risk to wild salmon stocks and ensuring that the sector is managed responsibly” (Recommendation 41)
  • on the issue that none of the existing regulatory bodies currently has responsibility for the impact of salmon farms on wild salmon stocks, “the Committee believes that clarity must be provided by the Scottish Government as to how this apparent regulatory gap will be filled and which agency will assume responsibility for its management”. (Recommendation 44)
  • “The Committee shares the view of the ECCLR Committee that the siting of farms in the vicinity of known migratory routes for wild salmon must be avoided” (Recommendation 45)
  • “The Committee is of the view that a…precautionary approach must be taken in Scotland to assist in mitigating any potential impact of sea lice infestation on wild salmon. It therefore recommends that there should be an immediate and proactive shift towards siting new farms in more suitable areas away from migratory routes and that this should be highlighted in the strategic guidance on the siting of salmon farms”. (Recommendation 46)
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, said:

“Scottish Government has a clear duty to safeguard the coastal environment and those species, including wild salmon and sea trout, that depend upon healthy coastal ecosystems.

We applaud the REC Committee’s report, which cuts through many years of Scottish Government and industry spin and prevarication. The onus is now on Scottish Government to act without delay to implement the Report’s recommendations, giving wild fish much needed protection from sea lice and diseases emanating from salmon farms”.

This year’s Parliamentary inquiry into salmon farming, as conducted by the ECCLR and REC Committees, was triggered by S&TCS’ formal Petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee in 2016.

Suffering salmon: A temperature-gauge for our worryingly low water-flow

By our Head of Science and Policy, Dr Janina Gray. The original article was written for Countryside and Wildlife Link.

What would a third dry winter mean for wildlife and habitats?

Worryingly low water flows are of major concern to much wildlife, particularly salmon which rely on flowing rivers to travel to estuaries to spawn.

As our minds start focusing in on Christmas after a warm summer and mild autumn, the elephant in the room not receiving much attention at the moment, is the continued dry weather which could drive us into a 3rd dry winter. Whilst we are all enjoying a November that doesn’t involve the typical 3 inches of mud to contend with, what does this mean for the environment?

Environment Agency (EA) data shows river flows, as of 30 October, are below normal or notably low for most of the south and west of England and all but 4 EA areas are classified as in prolonged dry weather. Reservoirs in the Pennines and south west are still at risk from lower than normal levels going into winter. And the continuing dry autumn and consequent high soil moisture deficits, look set to result in a continued delay of winter groundwater recharge in southern and eastern counties.

Figure 1a) river flow (relative to time of year) 30 October 2018

1b) EA areas in relation to dry weather

For fish and our chalk streams the impacts of low flow will start being felt now. Reduced groundwater will severely impact the resilience of our chalk streams, and the low flows will increase siltation and die off of water crowfoot, which is a crucial part of the ecosystem.

Reports around the country suggest this year is looking catastrophic for salmon. Salmon spawning should be occurring between now and end of January, but low flows in the summer and up to now, have meant salmon arriving in our estuaries are delayed or just never entering freshwater. They need sufficient flow to encourage them to run, and many in-river obstacles (even fish passes) only allow access above certain water heights.

If the fish do manage to make it upstream, past all the predators (from which they have less cover to hide), the loss of wetted area will severely impact the whole year classes of juveniles, forcing them to lay eggs in sub-optimal locations.

If the low flows continue to May 2019, this will also impact downstream salmon and sea trouts molt migration, as well as coarse fish and lamprey spawning for the same reasons.

These are of course not the only impacts of low flows; others include:

  • Salinity incursions to rivers will kill freshwater organisms.
  • Pollution incidents in rivers will have a greater impact due to lack of dilution
  • Dried heathlands, grasslands, peat lands and forestry will have increased risk of fires.
  • Decreased wetted areas in ponds, lakes and in rivers combined with low flows will adversely impact on aquatic insects and amphibians.
  • Decreased wetted areas will impact breeding bird populations.

Low flows and, indeed, droughts are natural events and healthy habitats and species populations tend to be resilient to them. However, with only 14% of our rivers currently classified as healthy and salmon populations in a dire state, the potential impact of these weather events this winter is very worrying. We can do little about changing weather patterns, except to address man-made impacts, but we can collectively lobby government to take excessive water abstraction – and its solutions – more seriously, especially the need for water companies to find new sources of water that have less impact on the environment.

That means solutions which will include increasing demand management, improved natural and man-made water retention in catchments and, where necessary, reservoirs or desalination plants. Above all, we have to make sure that government departments, Ofwat etc fully appreciate that ground waters and many of our rivers just cannot take existing levels of abstraction, let alone the increases expected in areas of massive new housing and infrastructure construction. We must continue to press ever harder for government commitment to protecting the water environment, and a new, enlightened approach to abstraction policy seems a great place to start.

Follow @drjaninagray and @SalmonTroutCons

SIFCA Consultation: Help us ban inshore netting which threatens salmon & trout

Join S&TC in seeking to ban inshore netting in Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to help protect genetically-unique chalkstream salmon and sea trout.

Salmon & Trout Conservation has responded to an important consultation on the future of net fishing in the harbours and estuarine waters of the South Coast.

We want a cessation of netting in these areas out to one mile off-shore.

Anything less is not sufficiently protective of our vulnerable migratory fish, and many other species such as bass and mullet:

  • Recent research has shown that Southern Chalkstream salmon are genetically distinct from all other European populations and we therefore have an extra responsibility to protect them.
  • These waters form an important migratory route for salmon and sea trout throughout the year as they enter and leave rivers.
  • They also provide nursery and refuge areas for a wide range of fish species such as bass and mullet. These species also need protection.

The consulting body, the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Southern IFCA for short), is proposing a change in netting rules to ban drift and fixed nets but to allow the use of ring nets in the Southern IFCA district.

We consider the threat from ring netting to salmon and sea trout (let alone bass and mullet) to still be too high for these nets to be allowed. We recommend a ban on all inshore netting to one mile offshore in the Southern IFCA district.

How can you help?

Please respond to the Southern IFCA consultation by the closing date of 7 December 2018.

The official documents are available on the SIFCA website. Please follow these steps to submit your input to the consultation:

  1. Click on this link to take you to the overview page on the Southern IFCA website.
  2. Download the 'Southern IFCA Consultation Document' - available directly here in Word Doc (the SIFCA website, unhelpfully, contains only a PDF - we have provided a Word Doc for easy editing).
  3. Complete your answers from page 18 onwards - please feel free to use our responses. You can view our full PDF submission here, OR simply use our word doc of answers only (for ease of copying).
  4. Responses must be submitted by 7 th December 2018. You can respond in writing by email to: enquiries@southern-ifca.gov.uk. Or by post to: Southern IFCA, 64 Ashley Road, Parkstone, Poole, Dorset BH14 9BN.

Your responses truly count – numbers matter!

Important Links

S&TC Cymru welcomes new agricultural pollution regulations

Welcome news from Wales: New regulatory measures to tackle agricultural pollution

Following an extensive lobbying exercise, S&TC Cymru are greatly encouraged by the recent announcement by Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, to introduce regulatory measures to combat the growing threat to the freshwater environment from agricultural pollution.

The regulations will come into force in January 2020 with transitional periods for some elements to allow farmers time to adapt and ensure compliance. The regulations, to be confirmed next spring, will include the following measures:

  • Nutrient management planning
  • Sustainable fertiliser applications linked to the requirement of the crop
  • Protection of water from pollution related to when, where and how fertilisers are spread
  • Manure storage standards

A statement by Lesley Griffiths explained the the need for stricter regulations:

"...poor practice is leaving many stretches of rivers devoid of fish.

...In the long-term, we will develop a regulatory baseline, informed by responses to the Brexit and our Land consultation.  But in the short term, we must take action now to deal with these unacceptable levels of agricultural pollution.

...The regulations will replicate good practice which many farms are already implementing routinely - this must become the norm.

...The regulations will enable firm and consistent enforcement to be taken. The regulations will also ensure there are no barriers to trade of agricultural produce with the European Union following Brexit and help us meet national and international obligations on water quality.

This is the right thing to do – for the environment, for the economy and for the reputation of farming in Wales.”

View: Agricultural Incidents to Water in Wales (from 1st Jan 2010 to 28th Feb 2018 ) [Source: NRW]

S&TC Cymru's observations

S&TC Cymru welcome this news; indeed our rivers and fish have told us for some time that stricter rules, and more stringent enforcement of such rules, is urgently needed to protect against bad agricultural practice.

Our National Officer for Wales, Richard Garner Williams, summarises our thoughts on the announcement below; following consultations with our environmental lawyer, who provides the legal analysis which supports our demands for revision of the law; and based upon professionally-analysed scientific evidence of direct impact on invertebrates and the freshwater ecosystem.

agricultural pollution regulations

Above: Slurry spreading in wet weather, violating voluntary CoGAP.

Voluntary code is not enough

Unlike in Scotland and England, where basic measures or general binding rules place statutory constraints on the dispersal of, among other materials, farmyard slurry, the only guidance currently relating to such practices in Wales is the voluntary Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP).

A review by S&TC Cymru of this, and earlier codes, showed that little has changed since 1991 and, in some cases, since 1985, in the advice given to Welsh farmers on methods of practice that would avoid polluting our streams and rivers.

Read More: Our response to EFRA regarding the Agriculture Bill in England

welsh agricultural pollution regulations

Above: Dead fish following a pollution incident in the Clywedog in September.

A minority of farmers

Regrettably, a minority of farmers have consistently chosen to disregard these codes, resulting in increased incidents of acute pollution and a rise in the pervasive effects of widespread diffuse pollution.

S&TC Cymru appreciates that the majority of farmers operate to commendable levels of stewardship, but there exists a minority who have ignored voluntary codes of practice and will probably ignore new basic measures as well. This results in reputational damage; not only to the Welsh agricultural sector, but also the wider rural economy and the international standing of Welsh produce.

welsh agricultural pollution regulations

Above:River water polluted with slurry following spreading on nearby fields.

Rigorous enforcement needed

The success or otherwise of new basic measures in addressing the persistent and pernicious effects of agricultural pollution will require more rigorous and regular inspection of farmed premises than at present, if we wish to see a change in the behaviour of this recidivist minority.

It is therefore essential that an undertaking is given to provide the necessary financial provision for Natural Resources Wales to fully exercise their authority as statutory environmental regulator from the outset, in order that the new measures can be enforced without delay.

Welsh agricultural pollution regulations

Above: Highly poluuted water from the Cywyn in September, following a slurry pollution incident.

S&TC & agricultural pollution: next steps

Over recent years S&TC Cymru has committed a large proportion of its limited resources towards highlighting the impact of agricultural pollution on the wild fish of Wales, and we are relieved that Government has finally chosen to act.

We look forward to hearing the details of the Cabinet Secretary’s intentions in due course, and trust that they will fulfil our hopes for a reversal in the current troubling decline in numbers of our precious salmon and sewin.

In the meantime, you can learn more and help us tackle agricultural pollution by visiting our campaign page and following the instruction to report any incidents to us.


Related Articles:

Our View: is a Green Brexit possible?

S&TC response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018

“Organic” farmed salmon – let’s get real

“Organic” farmed salmon

Similar scenarios play out at dinner tables up and down the UK, particularly during the festive season.

Salmon, either smoked or “fresh”, is served and the host, feigning environmental awareness, announces along the lines of:

“Don’t worry, we are always very responsible – we only ever buy ‘organic’ salmon.”

But is eating “organic” farmed salmon really environmentally responsible?

The blunt and unequivocal answer is, no!

“Organic” salmon is a con. It is simply a marketing ploy‎, aimed at the naive and ignorant well-heeled, especially those who frequent the more prestigious supermarkets and food emporiums, to persuade them to pay a premium price for something that is almost the same as bog standard farmed salmon.

The only real difference is that “organic” salmon is stocked in open net cages at a lower density. There is no separation between the farmed fish and the wider environment; fish faeces, in vast quantities, still pollutes and destroys the integrity of the seabed.

“Organic” salmon farmers still use all the same chemicals, including lice treatments, thus killing other crustaceans in the vicinity.

The problems with lice and escapes are just as prevalent in “organic” salmon - hence the impacts on wild fish are identical.

The Soil Association’s indefensible endorsement of any farmed salmon undermines the credibility of, and indeed is an indelible stain on, the organisation’s reputation.

So, the next time you hear a smug announcement from your host that the salmon being served is so-called “organic” and therefore by implication “is ok to eat”, I suggest giving it a wide berth.

At the same time, you should tactfully explain that he or she is being duped and, if they give a damn about the environmental damage all salmon farming, including that purporting to be “organic”, causes (especially to wild salmon and sea trout in the west Highlands and Islands), they should not allow such dross of sham pedigree to besmirch and contaminate their table.

 

Views of our Scottish Director, AGS

Salmon farming industry blames wild fish for sea lice infestations

Sea lice on farmed salmon – the ultimate solution

In September, following months of media exposes of salmon farming’s dire environmental failures, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) announced the appointment of a leading political journalist to the newly created role of “Director of Strategic Engagement”.

In the SSPO’s news release, the appointee is quoted as “looking forward to playing my part in helping the industry cement its already excellent reputation for sustainability...”. One wonders just where he has been to reach such a view of the industry’s record!

Now it seems that his first strategic initiative is coalescing. The strategy, designed to deflect criticism when sea lice numbers on farms spiral out of control, is to shift the blame.

Salmon farming industry blames wild fish

Recently S&TCS have been forwarded emails from two industry luminaries, addressed to Scottish Ministers and other influential MSPs. They both make similar points:

Julie Hesketh-Laird, CEO SSPO:

"With respect to lice, our members operating in sea lochs can observe an increased sea lice challenge in an environment in which they coexist with returning lice burdened mature wild salmon."

Ben Hadfield, MD Marine Harvest Scotland:

"We associate returning (wild) adult salmon with a period of enhanced infection rates of farmed stock, which are placed in the sea without a sea lice challenge."

In essence the salmon farming industry blames wild fish. They are saying that wild mature or adult salmon are to blame, indeed that they are the cause of the industry’s sea lice woes.

They clearly imply that we should forget about poor management and/or husbandry on farms and the fact that hundreds of thousands of fish crammed into a confined netted area are a perfect breeding reservoir for sea lice, because wild fish are the problem.

The logical extension to Ms Hesketh-Laird’s and Mr Hadfield’s ludicrous statements is that, in order to eliminate sea lice issues on farms, all wild salmon in the salmon farming areas of the west Highlands and Islands should be exterminated; indeed, do away with wild fish and at a stroke you remove much of the opposition to salmon farming and its expansion.

Salmon farming PR machine

To the industry, sustainability is just a vague PR concept to which cynical lip-service has to be paid.

And, as for the fate of wild fish, on the evidence of recent events, they really do not give a flying fig.

Incidentally, Ms Hesketh-Laird and Mr Hadfield are the industry’s two representatives on Scottish Government’s new Salmon Interactions Working Group, yet another talking shop initiative designed to kick the real issues for wild fish deep into the long grass.

If their input is consistent with their quotes above, then it should be a very short-lived affair.

What next?

We await the report from the current Parliamentary Inquiry into the industry, and wonder what the committee members might think of this seemingly desperate attempt by salmon farmers to lay the blame for their lice issues at the door of wild migrating salmon, a species that has been returning to Scottish west Highland and Island rivers since the Ice Age.

Meanwhile, be assured that S&TC Scotland will continue to fight to protect these fish, and their sea trout relatives, from the ravages of Scottish open-net salmon farming – an industry with an appalling environmental record and an increasingly desperate list of lamentable excuses.

- AGS

Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018: Winner announced

Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018: Winner Announced at Arundell Arms

S&TC are proud to announce that their prestigious Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018 has been awarded to PHD student William Davison, of Exeter University.

The award was presented to William on the 10th of October at the Arundell Arms, by proprietor, and Anne-voss Bark's son, Adam Fox Edwards and S&TC Executive Vice-President Tony Bird, in a lunch attended by award partners, the Fario Club and West Country Rivers Trust.

Above: Adam Fox Edwards (Arundel Arms), William Davison and Tony Bird (S&TC)

Set up by S&TC in 2014, in collaboration with the Arundel Arms and Fario Club, the Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award provides successful applicants with invaluable work experience with the West Country Rivers Trust; learning catchment management and water science from the trust's eminent scientists, including a fly fishing course and complimentary stay at the Arundell Arms hotel.

The award is open each year to young fisheries or aquatic students and offers an unbeatable opportunity to learn the practical elements of river restoration and management.

 

Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018 Winner

William Davison, a first year PhD student from the University of Exeter, with a background in ecological physiology, is this year's lucky winner of the award.

He brings his extensive field skills to the placement, gained during his research career at the University of Exeter and associated study abroad year at the University Of Queensland, which took him to remote Heron Island. He says,

“This placement allows me to see first-hand how local charities are working on the front line to restore and protect the aquatic environments around which I grew up, and the animals on which I have chosen to focus my research studies."

William has recently finished the placement and has now returned to his PhD in aquatic biology, working specifically on land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) for salmonids. Such work aligns closely with S&TC's vision and campaign for closed contentment salmon farming in Scotland. William says,

"The opportunity to learn about management of wild salmon and trout allows me to take a more holistic approach to my PhD by including a wider understanding of management strategies for wild populations.

This experience puts me in a better informed position to help promote aquaculture techniques that allow farmed and wild salmonids to both thrive and perform the vital services we require of them."

Wild fish and their habitats were of great importance to Anne Voss-Bark, and the award recognises and nurtures the same passion in it's students. Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science at S&TC, says,

“William demonstrates why this award is so important and offers such an amazing opportunity for someone just starting their career and are passionate about making a difference for our wild salmon and sea trout. The award offers unbeatable work experience and invaluable exposure to all our organisations' campaigning and projects”

 

Anne Voss-Bark

Anne Voss-Bark was a dedicated conservationist and prominent hotelier. Her love of fly fishing made her aware of changes in the countryside detrimental to our rivers and fish, which she worked tirelessly to combat.

Anne will also always be well-remembered as the perfect hostess at the Arundell Arms in Lifton, Devon, which was rather run down on acquisition but developed by her over nearly 50 years into today’s eminent fishing and country sports hotel.

S&TC are proud to honour the memory of Anne Voss-Bark through the award, nurturing the next generation of aquatic scientists and conservationists in the process.

River Itchen damage below Alresford Salads: Autumn 2018 photos

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

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

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

Read more: Chlorine in our conservation areas?

Read more: Toxic chemicals keep coming

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

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

 

Excess algal slime demonstrates damage

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

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

River Itchen photos

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

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

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

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

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

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

Invertebrates (or lack thereof)

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

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

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

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

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

 

What are we doing about it?

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

Read more: Alresford Salads EDR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S&TC response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018

S&TC's EFRA response

S&TC respond to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018.

Our Head of Science and Environmental Policy, Dr Janina Gray, recently wrote about the Bill, stating that, while we cautiously welcome the Bill, the devil will be in the detail and especially in the amount of commitment to resources by the Government to enforcing the legislation for the minority of farmers who persistently pollute our rivers and streams.

Read More - Our view: Is a Green Brexit possible?

Read More - View our full response to EFRA

 

What does the Agriculture Bill 2018 propose?

The Bill basically proposes that farmers should still be paid subsidies and grants from Government, as they have been under the EU Common Agricultural Policy, but that public money in future should only be distributed in return for public goods.

In our case, that means genuine protection for our rivers, fish and waterlife, which, under the current system, is by no means assured.

Sediment from poorly managed soils, excess nutrients (especially phosphates), slurry and dry manure from dairy farms and agricultural chemicals all currently pollute waterways and, while it is a minority of farmers who are responsible, it is a significant minority. Furthermore, the connectivity of rivers means that just a few irresponsible farmers in a catchment can negate all the good work of their responsible neighbours.

 

Enforcement required

In our response to EFRA, our legal adviser, Guy Linley-Adams, has highlighted that, far from being  a significant advance in the protection of watercourses from agricultural pollution, the new Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018, passed earlier this year, merely repeats the codes of good practice dating back as far as 1985.

True, the new Regulations make certain poor agricultural practices a criminal offence; but previous codes and legislation were not all voluntary, and yet enforcement has been sadly lacking for three decades. Many of our rivers have steadily declined in health over that time.

Read our response to EFRA

 

Moving forward

The Agriculture Bill now gives us all an opportunity to make sure the new 2018 Regulations are met on all farms, by ensuring that, in future, farmers who do not meet the new Regulations cannot be given public money.

As Guy says,

“To deal with the stubborn problems of agricultural diffuse pollution, the new system must combine the ‘stick’ approach of regulation, inspection and enforcement, with the ‘carrot’ of public money for public goods.”

Please read our full response, together with our analysis of past codes of good practice - codes which failed sufficiently to protect our rivers and streams from that minority of poor-performing farmers.

S&TC hopes that the 2018 Bill becomes a progressive act, setting a baseline minimum performance for all farmers, as well as dangling the carrot of public money for public goods.

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

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

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

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

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

Working together to protect water

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Why are such laws important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes to editors: 

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

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

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

 

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

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