Fish deaths are the visible sign of a bigger problem

Thursday 22nd December 2016

Photo by Steffan Lewis

Over a thousand fish, including salmon and sea trout were killed in the River Teifi earlier this week following an agricultural pollution incident.

Today (23 December 2016) sees the close of a government consultation in response to one such agricultural pollution, nitrates. Wildlife Trusts Wales has hopes that this consultation will result in a significant reduction in pollution from agriculture. This is because of the significant long-term and cumulative impact agricultural pollution poses to natural and semi-natural habitats, and the wildlife that depends on them.

Rivers, lakes, wetlands and coasts are some of the best loved parts of our country, and waterbodies often sit at the heart of the local community.

However, many are not doing so well; for example:
• 53% of freshwater and wetland species declined over the long term
• 13% of freshwater and wetland species are threatened with extinction from Great Britain.

Following the recent incident in the River Teifi, one of Europe’s best rivers for wildlife, local anglers are concerned that it might take decades for the river to recover following this incident. Most pollution incidents are not so dramatic, they are smaller or slower acting however they are very large in number and their combined effects are still extremely serious.

For example, high nitrate concentrations coming off fields into rivers contribute to an overall deterioration in water quality and lead to nutrient enrichment known as eutrophication. This can lead to toxic algal blooms which absorb all the oxygen from both freshwater and coastal waterbodies, significantly affecting wildlife.

James Byrne, Living Landscapes Manager for Wildlife Trusts Wales, said:

“Pollution isn’t just impacting on wildlife but on people’s pockets also. For example, pollution is increasing the cost of treating water, water companies in the UK spent over £300m to reduce the nitrate pollution that occurred between 2005-10.”

As the cost of removing nitrate from drinking water is high, preventing nitrate leaching into drinking water sources is particularly cost effective. Compared to treatment, preventing water pollution at source can have a significant cost-benefit ratio, as high as 1:65 through direct savings in treatment infrastructure and indirect benefits to society.

Mr. Byrne continued:

“The Wildlife Trusts in Wales have long called for significant diffuse pollution issues in Wales to be addressed. That’s why we are responding to the Welsh Governments consultation on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) . We are recommending a range of measures to tackle the significant pressures on Welsh waterbodies due to pollution from agriculture.”

Read the Wildlife Tusts Wales response to the consultation on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones here.

Read the Wildlife Tusts Wales response to the consultation on local air quality and noise management in Wales here.