Partnership approach sees north Wales’ water environment and wildlife set to improve by 2015

Posted: Monday 1st March 2010

North Wales stakeholders are helping to launch a set of ambitious plans developed by Environment Agency Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government.

North Wales stakeholders are today helping to launch a set of ambitious plans developed by Environment Agency Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government. The plans aim to improve the nation’s rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastline and groundwaters by 2015 and return all water bodies to a near natural condition, where at all possible, by 2027.

The River Basin Management Plans (RBMP), which include two river basin districts in north Wales; Western Wales and the Dee, are intended to encourage the further return of wildlife to Wales’ waters and make them better places for people as well.

Developed by the Environment Agency and approved last month by Welsh Assembly Government and UK Government the plans detail how the water environment across England and Wales will be both protected and improved in light of challenging new EU targets (Water Framework Directive). For the first time they set out how water companies, farming groups, industry, Local Authorities, the Agency and many others, will take collective action to improve the nation’s water environment.

The event, being held at the Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel in Dolgellau, follows the plans’ ministerial launch in Cardiff attended by Jane Davidson, Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing. Many involved in the original consultation for the draft plans have been invited to attend the Dolgellau event to focus on how the plans will now be implemented and delivered in north Wales.

The RBMPs detail actions to tackle pollution including run-off from rural and urban and pollution from sewage treatment works. They also address other major pressures on the water environment including over abstraction of water, which can affect wildlife and wetlands, and obstructions such as weirs and culverts that can prevent wildlife from thriving in rivers and streams.

Chris Mills, Director, Environment Agency Wales, said: “Our rivers are at their healthiest for over a century. However, much work is still needed.

“We welcome the relationships that have been built with organisations, groups and individuals during the consultation period. In order to meet the new targets across the whole of Wales’ waters we now need to focus attention on the implementation of the plans. At a local level everyone will need to play a part to deliver them including farmers, water companies and groups such as Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. We all have a role in tackling the pollution and obstructions that prevent wildlife returning to some parts of our country.

“With all sectors now committed to delivering the RBMPs this is an achievable challenge that will make Wales an even better place to live. We’ll have greener places in towns to replace the excess of concrete that exists in some places, we’ll have even healthier lakes and rivers and a cleaner coastline. We need to work together to achieve this.”

The plans will also benefit more than 50 sites which are of European importance for wildlife and will contribute to achieving the aims of the Wales Environment Strategy for protected sites. Many such sites have been damaged by past and current activities that affect the water environment, such as diffuse pollution and changes to water levels.

John Lloyd Jones, CCW Chairman said: "These plans will make a significant contribution towards conserving sites which are of European importance for wildlife. Many of these sites depend on the quality of the water environment and the action in these plans will bring huge benefits to biodiversity. We look forward to working closely again with Environment Agency Wales and others to implement the plans and prepare the next round for 2015."

Case studies:

Western Wales River Basin District:

The Afon Eden, a tributary of the Afon Mawddach near Dolgellau in mid Wales, is home to one of the few remaining viable freshwater pearl mussel populations in Wales. The lifecycle of freshwater pearl mussels depends on salmon and trout, which act as hosts for young mussels to grow and develop before establishing themselves in the river bed. As part of the RBMPs, investigations, including desk studies and additional biology, fish and water quality monitoring are being carried out by officers from Environment Agency Wales. This will help the Agency to understand the pressures on both the fish and mussel populations in the Afon Eden and ultimately achieve good ecological status in the Afon Eden.

Dee River Basin District:

The delivery of the RBMPs will see improvements in river habitats. A section of the River Alyn, an important tributary of the River Dee, has recently been restored with stones placed in it to provide shelter and resting areas for migratory fish travelling upstream. The stones also help to establish habitats for invertebrates. And in the Emral Brook, south of the village of Worthenbury, over two kilometres of bank side habitat has been recently fenced off to allow vegetation to establish and provide protection for fish and wildlife. Fifty tonnes of boulders were also placed in the brook, again to provide protection for fish and wildlife and to create further habitat.

River Alyn Himalayan Balsam Project:

The management of Himalayan Balsam in the Alyn catchment (The River Alyn flows into the River Dee) provides a positive example of organisations working together to deliver environmental benefits to watercourses. Local volunteer groups highlighted the rapid advance of Himalayan Balsam in the Alyn catchment and a pilot project was set up to control and eradicate this non-native invasive species from the area. The project brought together a variety of partners including Environment Agency Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales, Clwydian Range AONB Partnership, local authorities, Keep Wales Tidy, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Friends of Alyn Valley Woods, Cacwn Working Group, Llanferres Conservation Group and NEWWildlife.

A systematic, survey-based approach to tackling the issue, from the source of the River Alyn to Mold, was required to ensure the successful control and eradication of Himalayan Balsam in the Alyn catchment. Volunteers from all sectors including school groups and corporate volunteers physically removed the Himalayan Balsam from the riverbanks, contributing over 850 hours of labour to the project.

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