Angling Trust and Fish Legal submit evidence on water quality to Parliament

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Sep 5, 2020
The Angling Trust and Fish Legal have made a joint submission to the Environmental Audit Select Committee’s inquiry into the quality of water in our rivers.

The Environmental Audit Committee is seeking a range of views on the impact sewage pollution, particularly from Combined Sewage Overflows (CSO), is having on the quality of water found in our rivers.

In the evidence provided to the committee, the Angling Trust and Fish Legal have pointed out that the poor water quality found in many of our rivers is the consequence of many factors and not just CSOs. Poorly maintained and operated sewage treatment works and poor land management resulting in run off are both important factors that need to be considered.

But all of the problems our rivers face are compounded by the inadequate and grossly underfunded nature of the Environment Agency’s and Natural Resources Wales’ monitoring system. Before anything meaningful can be done to address water quality it is vital we have a comprehensive and effective monitoring system in place.

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said:

“You can hold inquiries, you can tinker with the standards and regulations as much as you like, but if you are not properly monitoring what is happening to our rivers and enforcing actions where failures are found, they will make little difference. Without comprehensive monitoring you are flying blind. Claims by the government and the Environment Agency on how clean our rivers are simply won’t wash without good monitoring.”

In their submission, the organisations pointed out that in addition to a lack of funding the monitoring regime placed too much reliance on “spot sampling”. This is a flawed approach. The limitations of spot sampling in practice are acknowledged in a recently published Natural Resources Wales (NRW) report concerning phosphate pollution on the River Wye, where it openly states:

‘Many water bodies showed a pattern of episodic poor water quality. Detecting such episodes is a particular challenge for a programme based on spot sampling, since relatively rare events can have a major impact on the outcome of assessments. Inevitably, not all such episodes will be detected by such sampling, and it is also not possible to know with any certainty whether these occur on a regular basis, or are genuine one-offs.’

Penny Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal, said:

“We have taken numerous successful legal cases in support of angling clubs, anglers and fish which have shown, time and again, that as well as the lack of enforcement, the lack of monitoring and thus the identification of problems before they become major incidents has been a contributing factor.

“The lack of monitoring and the failures of the monitoring approach is well known. And yet, the new River Surveillance Network introduced by the Environment Agency makes the same mistakes and is over reliant on spot sampling.”

When the much-delayed Environment Bill finally comes back to Parliament, the government have committed to develop a set of legal targets to protect biodiversity and the environment. In their submission, the Angling Trust and Fish Legal have made it clear there needs to be robust targets to ensure we have strong action on water quality and the protection of our freshwater habitats.

Sign our petition calling for better protection of our waters

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mike fox

'Just Me and the Fish'
Site Supporter
Apr 5, 2011
A message from Simon Cooper of Fishing Breaks.
Late last year many of you very kindly supported my entreaty to lobby your MP in respect of the Environment Bill; at that moment we were specifically concerned about sewage treatment but out of that has come great progress to halt another great scourge to our rivers: over abstraction.

The Environment Bill is still winding its way through parliament but thanks to an amendment by Sir Charles Walker MP new powers will come into being that should be used to protect all rivers, including chalkstreams, at times of greatest threat. In a letter to Sir Charles, Environment minister Rebecca Pow wrote last month,

“I strongly agree that it is important for the Secretary of State’s new powers to be as effective as possible in protecting the water environment from the broadest range of damage. To this end, the powers have been drafted in such a way that the reference to ‘damage’ includes damage caused by low flow levels in a river due to unsustainable abstraction. I will be pleased to clarify this in the Explanatory Notes for the Bill and to confirm this at the Dispatch Box.”​

Much though many of us don’t like any abstraction we have to be realistic. Rivers, and the water they provide, is a national resource that has to be shared. We can’t simply say no and, actually, that would be unreasonable. Speaking specifically about chalkstreams, for 8 months out of 12 abstraction makes not a penny difference to flow or habitat. Looking out my window the Wallop Brook it is pushing through as much water on this single February day as it will in the whole of August.

And that’s the point. Boreholes are fine when used in time of plenty. But when your borehole damages my river you have to stop. For sharing is a two way street and nobody, be it an organisation, corporation or government appointed body should ever have any right to deplete a scarce resource to the detriment of others.​