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Probe continues into ‘soul-destroying’ river pollution incident

02 Aug 2021 5 minutes Read
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Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

This time a year ago anglers like Dave Collins were beginning to feel confident about the recovery of the River Llynfi after a major pollution incident in the summer of 2016.

The incident had devastated fish stocks along sections of the Powys river, which joins the River Wye a few miles to the north.

Mr Collins and colleagues from Gwent Angling Society had been monitoring the Llynfi and, after vast winter rainfall the winter before last, clearing large pieces of debris from it. They also managed the tree canopy above to let more light in.

“We invested significant resources and time to maintain the bank and in-stream habitats,” said Mr Collins.

Fish were beginning to return, but all the society’s work was about to be undone.

Another major pollution incident, which is believed to have happened on July 31, 2020, wiped out more than 10,000 fish and other wildlife.

“We completed the work two days before everything was killed again,” said Mr Collins.

“We could see the fish population developing again – we had nurtured them.

It was absolutely soul-destroying.”

Mr Collins said there are three fisheries along the stretch of river affected by the 2016 and 2020 incidents, the latter of which environment body Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has been investigating.

Gwent Angling Society leases a small fishery from a farmer and owns a larger one a little downstream.

Mr Collins is the designated water bailiff, or river keeper.

“It was absolutely fabulous fishing habitat,” he said of the pre-2016 Llynfi.

“It contained a well-established, thriving and self-sustaining population of wild brown trout, grayling, bullheads and spawning salmon.

“When you kill a river, it’s just amazing the numbers of dead fish – staggering. You have essentially lost an eco-system.”

NRW was unable to mount a prosecution for the summer pollution incident of 2016 because it was reported days after it occurred, making it much harder to pinpoint the source.

However, there had been a smaller pollution spill on the Llynfi earlier in 2016 – and NRW on that occasion prosecuted a local anaerobic digester business, GP Biotec Ltd, for spreading organic matter during inappropriate times and unsuitable weather.

This caused nutrient levels to rise and then enter the river, affecting the water quality.

Mr Collins said different pollutants affected a river in different ways.

Generally speaking, there is a rapid depletion of oxygen in the water.

“The longer it occurs, the more significant its impact,” he said.

“There are also effects on the invertebrate population, which fish and birds eat.”

Mr Collins said herons, kingfishers, dippers and otters live on or near the Llynfi.

Fish do find a way of repopulating a river though.

Mr Collins said trout and grayling will come upstream from the Wye, while smaller salmon head downstream along the Llynfi when water levels are high and fast-flowing.

This process reinforces itself every year, and the population overall begins to stabilise.

10 years

Mr Collins said he and his colleagues reckoned it would take 10 years to fully restore the fishing habitat after the 2016 incident.

He said anglers wanted reassurances that things wouldn’t go back to square one again after last year’s hammer blow.

“There is this sword of Damocles hanging over you,” said Mr Collins, a 75-year-old former research scientist who lives across the border in Herefordshire.

“We don’t think that it (the river) can be protected, or that it won’t happen again.

“Throughout the UK we have a massive ‘diffuse’ pollution problem from pigs, poultry, cows and humans.”

He said the UK and Welsh Governments should provide more money to the Environment Agency and NRW to investigate river pollution incidents.

It’s not just anglers who have a stake in rivers. Where the Llynfi meets the Wye, at Glasbury, is popular area for swimmers and canoeists.

Local film-maker Eamon Bourke told BBC magazine Countryfile last year how he headed upstream with a camerawoman, Antonia Salter, to record the dead fish in the aftermath of the July 31 incident.

“It’s grotesque that anyone could pollute a stretch of river that is a recreational place for the local community and tourists,” he said.

“This can’t be allowed to happen. I want to see a prosecution and I really want proper, regular monitoring of that tributary going forwards so that we know what’s going on.”

The River Llynfi. Photo by Gwent Angling Society

The River Llynfi is a site of special scientific interest and located within a special area of conservation – the latter designation in particular providing a high degree of protection.

The Local Democracy Reporter Service asked NRW what stage of the investigation it was at regarding last summer’s incident, what the results of any chemical or biological analysis of the water had found, and what assurances it could give about preventing further incidents.

Ann Weedy, NRW’s operations manager for Mid Wales, said: “We have collected all the evidence relevant to this case and we are finalising a case file which will be submitted to our legal team for review.

“We cannot at present release any further details regarding the case which might undermine any potential legal proceedings.”

She confirmed that water samples underwent chemical and biological analysis, but that NRW couldn’t comment due to the investigation and potential legal proceedings.

In answer to the question about preventing future incidents, she said: “Preventing pollution affecting the people and wildlife of Wales is a big part of the work we do at NRW, but everyone has a duty to ensure their practices don’t cause significant adverse effects on our rivers.

“Where an incident has caused serious damage to a river, we will investigate the matter and bring enforcement action where needed.”

You might think that anglers might be starting to consider another pastime, but not Mr Collins.

“Absolutely not – I’m addicted,” he said.

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#1Chris
#1Chris
1 month ago

Should be “sole” destroying maybe?

#1Chris
#1Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  #1Chris

This one not popular? Shouldn’t carp on about it I suppose

#1Chris
#1Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  #1Chris

Oh well. No point in me “pouting”

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  #1Chris

Perhaps some pedant objected because sole are a seawater fish and this is about river pollution and therefore “sole destroying” would be inaccurate. Must be one hell of a pedant.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

Sorry my mistake, there is a species of sole that is freshwater. Damn!

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
1 month ago

It is a very short river from Llangorse Lake to the bridge at Glasbury. If they can’t find the responsible parties here there isn’t much hope in the rest of Wales.

Glen
Glen
1 month ago

Welsh rivers have been in steady decline for years because of pollution from agriculture and human sewage.

NRW are totally useless and unfit for purpose.

#1Chris
#1Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Glen

Every river in Cymru now has evidence of otters. No rivers are dead (except when something like this happens).
On the contrary, NRW in Cymru and EA in England are doing a great job.
But river patrols preventing polluters is not feasible. People must also take responsibility. I give no hoots about angling or anglers. I’m concerned like most about the river ecosystem.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  #1Chris

Two sides to that coin in a nutshell…who gets closest to the truth?

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

What bothers me is that the Welsh Government tries to improve river quality by designating the whole of Wales as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ). So what happens? The farming lobby try to get it overturned with help from the Conservative party and (shamefully) Plaid Cymru.

Farmers seem to think they have the right to poor as much sh!t into our rivers as they like and generally pollute the countryside with impunity. And then they have the cheek to claim they are protecting the ‘natural’ landscape.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

So many chicken factories in Powys, How that has come about needs a public inquiry.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Boycotting the factory chickens and only buying free range is the answer. It’s not as if the factory chickens will lose out as a result.

Glen
Glen
1 month ago
Reply to  #1Chris

You obviously have no knowledge of the state of our rivers whatsoever.
Only 16% of English rivers is the water quality classified as ‘good’.
The situation in Wales is little better.

#1Chris
#1Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Glen

How pompous of you. And yet what I have said is correct. SoNaRR 2020 gives 44% of rivers as “good or better” so your “facts” are incorrect. The majority of the remainder are moderate , not poor. Want to try another swipe Aquaman?

Last edited 1 month ago by #1Chris
#1Chris
#1Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  #1Chris

Looks like “someone” is upset that our rivers are not as bad as Glen here falsely claimed? Or is it because rudeness was met with rudeness and feelings were hurt?

Last edited 1 month ago by #1Chris
Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  Glen

All Rivers Matter.

I don’t care where they are.

What’s the point in pointing fingers and saying ‘our rivers are better than yours’? It’s in ALL of our interests to have clean rivers (and clean beaches, air, soil etc.), pollution couldn’t give a rat’s ar*e about national boundaries.

HywelE
HywelE
1 month ago

George Monbiot did a good video on this subject recently – https://www.rivercide.tv/
worth seeing for what he has to say about the NRW and their ilk, and how ordinary people can have an input into the problem.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  HywelE

Diolch HwyelE, I am half way through it, shocking!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Not impressed by LesleyGriffiths…

G Horton-Jones
G Horton-Jones
1 month ago

The problem since the 1960s has been the rise of slurry. This has led to massive super tankers and even larger tractors to haul 2 to 3 tonnes of what is almost exclusively filthy water
NRW needs to address this issue . I have spread wood chips and horse manure over one acre each Autumn and there has been a massive increase in soil fertility and a re!ated improvement in the variety of wild life.on the land.

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