12 days of Rivers Trusts – Day 9: Wye and Usk Foundation
Simon Evans, CEO of Wye and Usk Foundation explains main issues within the catchment and it’s ambitions for 2019
When did your Trust form?
1996 (gaining charitable status in 1997).
How many people work at your Trust?
Currently 25, and we are expanding both the monitoring and farm advisor teams in 2019.
What are the main issues with Rivers in your catchment?
Our 2 rivers have 3 different sections, each with their own set of problems. The headwaters receive over 2,000mm of rain a year and were badly affected by coniferous plantations that drained the peat bogs and in the case of the Wye also acidified 62km of river. Through a liming programme that started in 2004, and some peatland restoration in more recent years, we have recovered the ecology of almost all of this section. Problems of altered flows remain, and if we miss one lime dose there is the potential for this section to be wiped out again.
In the middle sections, the problems are overgrazing by sheep leading to bankside and soil degradation, fish access and, since 2009, a huge increase in free range poultry. In recent years, this has been compounded by large increases in stream water temperatures. This led to a near complete failure of salmon spawning in the winter of 2015/16. WUF has fenced 375km of the tributary network and completed the restoration of fish access (65+ fish passes have opened up 1,032km of river). We are now working with the farmers to reduce phosphate loss and improve soil structure although we are hampered by the political landscape in Wales.
In the lower sections of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire, the rich soils and favourable climate for intensive agriculture has led to extreme diffuse pollution. Over 250,000t of farmers soil was recorded moving out of the Lugg catchment in one spate in 2012. Since 2010 our ever expanding team of farm advisors have worked with over 1,000 farmers gaining the confidence of the agricultural community. When combined with a partnership approach of EA regulating and Natural England ensuring agri-grants are spent effectively, problems are easing. The ecology in north Herefordshire is showing encouraging signs of recovery as soil loss reduces. Much still remains to be done, not least in taking this approach to south Herefordshire and Monmouthshire while also reducing phosphate levels further and improving soil structure.
The collapse of the salmon fishery in the 1990s led to a collapse in the fishing economy. We needed a mechanism to bring the benefits of our environmental work to the rural economy. The Fishing Passport has opened up access to rivers for anglers and is now an important component of WUF.
Then there are the rest of the issues: invasive species; inappropriate water abstraction and the threat of Severn tidal power to name just three. It is a busy team!
Are there any particular rivers keeping you up at night and why?
The Usk. We are yet to find out why salmon numbers are struggling when the streams appear fine and the neighbouring Wye is doing relatively well.
Why is the above picture your favourite photo of the year?
It is a salmon fry found by our electrofishing team in a section of the River Elan where they had been absent for over 50 years. This is the culmination of many years negotiating consents and then actually moving 3,300 tonnes of gravel. The recovery has been textbook: first, the invertebrates improved and the adult trout moved in. Then last year salmon and trout spawned successfully in the section of river previously devoid of gravel. This represents a great stride forward for the ecology of the Wye and has led to similar work happening below the Usk reservoirs.
What key issue or project will you be hoping to tackle in 2019?
Developing more PES markets on a catchment scale, maintenance of all the habitat work, buffering the rivers from the effects of climate change, carrying on with the eradication of invasive species and building a secure future base of funders who are prepared to support what WUF is doing.
Any Christmas wishes or New Year’s resolutions for the Trust this year?
Christmas wish: Welsh government stops re-organising NRW and allows space for NGOs to work effectively with farmers and NRW.
New year’s resolution: That the CEO doesn’t fiddle with anything he doesn’t understand, especially the thermostats in the office!