The Environment Agency has caused outrage amongst local campaigners in West Berkshire by issuing a discharge permit which will allow poor quality effluent from a new housing development to be discharged into the River Lambourn, a precious chalk stream that is famed for its wildlife and fly fishing and protected as a Special Area of Conservation, the highest designation. An alternative option of discharging the sewage from the new development into the main sewer for more treatment to higher standards was rejected due to higher cost.
The Angling Trust is encouraging all anglers throughout the UK to get behind the local campaign and to sign the national 38 degrees petition, not only to protect this particular river, but also because this looks set to be a national issue with all the political parties pledging to build hundreds of thousands of new homes in the next parliament. The Trust believes that all new housing developments should employ the best available technology to treat sewage and minimise water use to avoid untold damage to the nation’s water environment, as set out in the Blueprint for Water, supported by 16 national organisations.
The Trust is writing to Environment Agency to challenge its decision to allow inferior quality 'secondary treated sewage' to be discharged directly into a chalk stream. It is also writing to Natural England asking for its assessment of the impact of the discharge on the river’s Special Area of Conservation status.
A recent assessment of waterbodies by the Environment Agency found that just 17% of waterbodies are in good ecological status and the regulator’s latest draft river basin management plans do not project any significant improvements in the near future. The decision to issue a discharge consent on the River Lambourn runs the risk of causing deterioration of this river, which would be illegal under the EU Water Framework Directive and, if it is indicative of national policy, a steady decline in water quality throughout the country as new homes are built.
The Lambourn is one of a globally-rare group of chalk streams, 85% of which are in England. The Angling Trust has highlighted the plight of these rivers through its Chalkstream Charter, supported by the Salmon and Trout Association, WWF-UK, The Wildlife Trusts and The Rivers Trust along with local fisheries and river groups from Dorset to Yorkshire.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: 'It beggars belief that the Environment Agency has approved this permit to pollute when it is struggling to achieve any progress nationally with reducing the levels of phosphate and other pollutants in our rivers. The Agency has a duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries; it does not have a duty to increase the profits of housing developers. If the regulator takes decisions like this all over the country, the wave of new housebuilding we are likely to see in the next five years could cause massive damage to the water environment, the health of fisheries and the quality of fishing for decades to come.'
Angling Trust National Campaigns Co-ordinator Martin Salter, who regularly fishes the Lambourn added: 'I hope that local politicians in Newbury, from Richard Benyon right through to the local district councillors will not use this disgraceful decision by the EA to sneak through a completely unacceptable planning application. All public representatives have a duty to protect the environment and this is a chance for them to stand up and be counted.'
William Daniel, Angling Trust Ambassador and Managing Director of Famous Fishing, which has leased the fishing rights on the Weston stretch of the Lambourn for the past 20 years, commented: 'Yet again the Environment Agency has shown itself to be unfit for purpose and in breach of its duty to protect the aquatic environment. Instead of insisting on the original, perfectly viable and less damaging alternative available (i.e. connecting to the sewage main), the EA is now endorsing and permitting the pollution of the Lambourn, a river so precious that it merits the very highest level of protection in Europe. It is clearly not getting that protection. We have to stop this becoming a precedent, so I urge everyone who cares to sign the petition.'