Save our Severn

Save our Severn

I guess it’s a bit weird for me, after spending 13 years in the Commons as a member of a Select Committee, to be back appearing in front of my former colleagues as a witness in yesterday’s inquiry into the Severn Barrage. But actually this is the second witness appearance in recent months and I’m now getting used to being on the other side of the fence. In my view it’s great that the Angling Trust is now viewed by both parliamentarians and government as the organisation they want to hear from on issues affecting fish and fisheries.

As regular readers of this blog will know the Angling Trust has been working closely with our colleagues in the other main environmental and fisheries groups in highlighting the very real threats posed by building a massive concrete barrage across the Severn estuary complete with over 1,000 ‘fish-mincing turbines’ operating 24 hours a day. Our coalition of concern includes the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), RSPB, Worldwide Fund for Nature, Wildlife Trusts, Wye & Usk Foundation, Marine Conservation Society, Severn Rivers Trust, Salmon & Trout Association and Campaign to Protect Rural England. We also joined in our evidence session in front of the Energy and Climate Change Committee by the National Trust who I feel will prove to be valuable partners in this campaign.

A Concrete Monstrosity with 'fish mincing' turbines are nothing new !
A Concrete Monstrosity with ‘fish mincing’ turbines is nothing new !

We all told the committee that we we not a bunch of Nimbys and that we supported in principle tidal energy development in the Severn but that the current proposal lacks detail and claims that it would not unacceptably damage wildlife and large areas of habitat are “not realistic”. Actually, that was being polite because the developers, a mob called Hafren Power, have been downright misleading and their press statements have been verging on the dishonest.

As well as doubting claims about the environmental impact of the barrage, all four organisations expressed support for future alternative smaller projects in the Severn Estuary to test and develop new tidal energy technology which Britain could export globally.

Fish friendly…my **** !

I told the Committee a full-width barrage across the estuary would mean fish dying due to sudden changes in water pressure and salinity, and through turbine strikes.

“Claims that these turbines are fish friendly are absolute guff. This is 24/7 fish mincing. Turbines kill fish above a tip speed of 6-7 metres per second. The Hafren proposal is for a tip speed of 9 metres per second. How on earth can they make press statements that these are “fish-friendly”? They are simply not.

 “This drives a coach and horses through all environmental protections that governments have signed up to. The impact could be absolutely devastating on both the commercial fishery, on the recreational fishery and on highly protected habitat.”

RSPB Head of Site Conservation Policy Kate Jennings said experiences elsewhere suggest smaller projects would be a better way to test new technologies rather than repeat experiences in the Netherlands:

“The experience in the Eastern Scheldt estuary in the Netherlands where they built a storm surge barrier in the 1980s is the best comparator for the Severn Barrage. What they found is that 30 years after construction the estuary is still losing intertidal habitat. They think it will go on losing habitat for at least a century.

 “The official Government study into the Severn Barrage proposal in 2010 showed that there would be significant effects on the populations of 30 species of birds and that in addition to the Severn it would also have negative impact on at least five other internationally important wildlife sites nearby.”

 More Info…

If anyone is interested in watching the evidence session we were on from 10.29 to 11.26am on Thursday January 10th and you can find it here..

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=12203

There’s also some good coverage here..

Martin Harper’s blog: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/default.aspx

Guardian: http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/10/severn-barrage-wildlife-claims-guff

Liam Fox wading in: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9791628/Former-ministers-slug-it-out-over-Severn-Barrage.html

Despite a commitment to harnessing renewable energy we remained deeply sceptical that a shore‐to shore barrage on the scale of that envisaged can be delivered without unacceptable damage to the Severn Estuary, its wildlife and heritage, and the tourism, recreational and commercial activity that this supports.

Severn salmon aleaping - this must not become a picture only found in history books
Severn salmon aleaping – this must not become a picture only found in history books

 

At the end of the session we presented the Committee with a copy of a joint paper outlining our key concerns about the barrage proposal from Hafren Power

The key concerns of the NGOs regarding the impacts of a Severn Barrage are:

 

·         Impacts on the geomorphology ‐ including long‐term changes following construction of a barrage structure;

·         Impacts on hydrology and sea level‐ including near and far‐field effects, impacts on flood risk, water quality, wave climate, land drainage and groundwater;

·         Impacts on estuarine habitats – including both habitat loss at the time of construction, and that associated with changes in geomorphology and the tidal regime following construction;

·         Impacts on birds including those associated with habitat loss and change;

·         Potentially fatal impacts on rare and highly protected fish species populations including direct and indirect (cavitation effects) mortality through collision with turbine blades (a risk exacerbated by with multiple passages through the  turbines), delays to fish migration, enhanced predation, changes in water quality and salinity, and the loss of fish nursery habitat. Most of these fish populations are already well below ‘Favourable Conservation Status’ and are therefore  particularly vulnerable to further pressures; 90% of the world’s Twaite Shad population risks extinction and 25% of England and Wales’ salmonid habitat could be excluded by a barrage;

·         Impacts on coastal and terrestrial habitats, including those associated with changes in sea level, hydrology and water quality;

·         Impacts on the landscape, seascape, archaeological and amenity value associated with both the construction of a barrage and associated impacts and infrastructure.

So What Next ?

I made it clear that the Angling Trust and Fish Legal stands ready to fight any attempts to bypass the hard fought legal protection we have secured for our fisheries and the environment upon which they depend. For this barrage to proceed the UK would have to accept the destruction of the main salmon and sea trout runs in England and Wales, huge damage to migrations of highly protected species such as shad, lamprey and eels as well massive impacts on the environment of the Bristol Channel and the host of marine species for which this is an important nursery area.

None of this seems ‘fish friendly’ to me and I’d bet a fair whack that we are going to end up fighting this through the courts.

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