NOTES FROM A PANEL DISCUSSION
Over 40 people attended CLEAN's pannel discussion last week, with most audience members contributing questions or points to the discussion. These notes have been collated under themes and organisations, and comments from the floor are italicised as they represent public opinion and have not been fact-checked. Natural Resources Wales (NRW) emphasised that the natural environment is at the heart of wellbeing and the future generations act. They described some of the studies and reports around water quality, including The Water Framework Directive (WFD) and a stark study into salmon populations, which are an indicator species for overall catchment health. The need for reporting pollution incidents was urged to inform resource allocation and investigation as they rely on community engagement. Various studies and reports are available online as well as a public record of NRW permits for discharges. A comment from the audience was that: “Breaches of permits are not being enforced with businesses at fault still operating and usually escaping prosecution. NRW responded that: “Ineffective regulation and monitoring was put down to understaffing and inadequate resources.” Dwr Cymru (DC) indicated that their work is guided by various strategic documents around biodiversity, including: Biodiversity Strategy 2022. And their actions to meet section 6 of the Environment Act 2016 are described in: Doing The Right Thing For Nature. They assured the audience that by 2050 all assets will be operating in a sustainable way. This includes a commitment that all Invasive Non Native Species will be controlled within those assets. DC are working on live reporting of discharges, and currently share the information through organisations like Surfers Against Sewage for coastal waters and the Rivers Trust Sewage Map inland. There were 62 pollution events recorded in the catchment last year.
A strong call for more honesty, more action and more urgency was made to the broad support of the room. 2050 is not soon enough for manyof the fragile ecosystems and species populations that are already in decline or facing extinction, like the freshwater pearl mussels that were last found 20 years ago.
DC are dealing with a legacy of combined sewage systems where rainwater is mixed with sewage at source. New developments are required to separate these. Presently there is a lack of financial support for identifying mis-connections, upgrading septic tanks or installing sustainable drainage schemes as a retro fit on older properties. DC publish their Asset Management Plans which outline proposed investment over 5 year periods (currently AMP7). These decisions are evidence based responding to environmental regulators like NRW.
Dwr Cymru offer small grants for community groups who wish to engage with habitat actively, restoration or Invasive non-native species control. West Wales Rivers Trust (WWRT) described their role in river restoration, catchment management and water quality monitoring, and listed the many sources of water pollution. Also the effects of canalisation, loss of bankside vegetation and man made barriers to fish migration were highlighted as detrimental to fish populations and the ecological resilience of rivers. Slowing down rivers through bankside vegetation, wetland restoration, meanders and utilising floodplains; retains water within the catchment reducing flood risk, and cleans it through restoring natural processes. Farming Connect (FC) showcased some best practice demonstration sites achieved in partnership with farmers. Starting with a Nutrient Management Plan that recognises the value of nutrients on the farm and identifies best practise storage and application to maximise benefits and minimise losses to the environment. Riparian restoration was shown to be a win/win option for farmers, reducing hazards and health issues for livestock, combined with installing box culverts at crossing points and restricting access to the watercourses.These measures protect the environment in accordance with new legislation, reducing nutrient and soil loss through run off and erosion, and open up new opportunities to get paid for providing public goods under the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme due to launch in 2025.
Biodiversity / Ecosystem services The river Nevern, although classified as “good” overall by WFD is still poor/fair across most sub-catchments with high levels of nitrates in samples across most areas. Even “good” areas are not good, many with less than 50% biodiversity intactness (90% is the accepted threshold for a resilient ecosystem), so at a level where ecosystem collapse is likely in response to pressures from climate change and further human activity. With 80% of Pembrokeshire at the lowest levels of biodiversity. Animal and human manure are a resource rather than a waste product and through a nutrient management plan can be appropriately handled and applied to maximum benefit of the crop. Soil Ecosystems that are overloaded with nutrients are less healthy and resilient, so they are unable to provide ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and water absorption or responding to pressures such as climatic events or further nutrient loading. The re-introduction of beavers was mentioned as natural ecosystem engineers. There is apparently a lack of appropriate riparian habitat and concerns about beaver/ human conflict, especially with arable farming of maize and sugar beet. There is also concern over introducing further barriers to fish migrations with already dwindling populations. Farming Changes in farming practices have led to larger more intensive farms with animals often housed rather than grazing in fields. This is perceived to have been driven by government policy and subsidies coupled with demand for cheap food distributed through supermarkets and reducing carbon emissions per unit produced by maximising yields per head. Publicly available planning applications for new agricultural infrastructure have to include data for waste management and areas where slurry/manure will be spread.
Actions Rivers like the Nevern are not considered bad enough to attract resources. It is up to the community to hold elected members to account and draw resources to the areas that matter most locally. This could be through the development of an action plan for the river as part of a community catchment management plan. Finding local opportunities that match environmental strategies and programs.
CLEAN Afon Nyfer has 3 more months to develop projects and funding applications that will support community engagement with the issues to develop a Community Catchment Management Plan and identify ways to fund practical interventions that restore and enhance ecosystems within the Nevern catchment.