Investigations begin on Yorkshire’s rivers

Posted: Wednesday 13th April 2011

Experts in Yorkshire have turned sleuth in a bid to protect the county’s environmental assets.

They’ve kicked off a mammoth piece of detective work to bring rivers and streams up to tough new standards.

Our rivers are the cleanest they’ve been for 20 years, but new measures have been introduced Europe-wide which take other factors into account, such as the potential to support wildlife and fish movement.

Now the Environment Agency has started to look closely at those rivers, streams and other water bodies that don’t quite make the grade.

Investigations will centre around those where it’s not clear what’s causing them to fail or where there is still a question around what a potential solution could be.

In Yorkshire alone, there are nearly 1,500 investigations to be done – taking in more than 5,345 km
of rivers.

Environment Agency programme manager Jeff Pacey said: “We want to build on the improvements that have already been made through investment and regulation. These new standards broaden the range of what we need to consider when looking at a river’s whole ecosystem.

“It’s no good having water quality good enough for salmon to spawn if spawning grounds are silted up or they can’t get up stream because there are barriers in the way.”

The Environment Agency has put together River Basin Management Plans which highlight what can be done before 2015.

Investigations will show where future investment needs to be and where there are opportunities to work with others for the benefit of the environment.

“A lot of this work can be done using evidence we’ve already collected from various sources,” said Mr Pacey. “In other places we may have to look closely at the area to establish what action needs to be taken.”

Solutions could include improving bank side wildlife habitat, influencing farmers to follow best practice when using fertilisers or pesticides, or installing a fish pass to help salmon and sea trout reach their spawning grounds.

All European countries have been given the same task as part of the Water Framework Directive.

Here are a few examples of some of the work being done:

North Yorkshire

Sediment from man-made drainage channels (known as grips) gets into the upland tributaries of the Rivers Nidd and Swale when it rains. This causes problems for fish and other river life by, among other things, wiping out their eggs, and means parts of the river don’t meet the new standards.

The Environment Agency is working with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England in a project to block up the worst of the grips, which has the added benefit of preventing peat erosion.

West Yorkshire

Migrating fish, such as salmon, sea trout and eels, are finding it difficult to get up the Rivers Calder and Aire because their way is blocked by 40 weirs. The passage of fish is one of the new standards we have to meet.

The Environment Agency has fitted fish and eel passes to some of these structures, including Castleford, Gargrave and Rothwell. We hope these, and other planning improvements, will help establish spawning grounds for migratory fish on the Aire and Calder.

South Yorkshire

Some rivers in South Yorkshire and East Derbyshire are failing to meet the new standards because of chemicals found in oil, coal and tar deposits, produced as by-products of fuel burning.

We’ve already been tackling this issue with our partners to clean up pollution caused by coke and coal product plants. Latest studies have shown that concentrations of these chemical are continuing to decline.

East Yorkshire

We’re using a special technique to track down why rivers which feed into the sea along the East Coast are failing to meet the new European standards.

Causes of poor water quality may be due to a combination of agricultural, trade and sewage effluent, but at the moment it’s difficult to say which.

We’re using a technique known as Microbial Source Tracking (MST) on water samples to identify which type of animal sewage comes from. This will take us one step further to tracking down the source of the pollution.

Facts and figures

Europe’s Water Framework Directive in Yorkshire covers:

• 516 rivers and canals
• The East Coast
• 25 underground waters
• Five water bodies linked to river estuaries

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