Defra announced yesterday a pilot scheme to allow farmers and landowners greater freedom to dredge rivers themselves to try and stop them flooding rather than leaving it up to the Environment Agency to manage. This announcement follows previous hints from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson that he wanted to introduce a 'Dredge Your Own' river scheme.
The Angling Trust and other environmental fisheries groups have campaigned against these plans because dredging can cause catastrophic damage to river ecology and it very rarely makes any significant difference whatsoever to flooding. The new pilots, whilst very unwelcome and potentially the thin of the wedge, are thankfully considerably more restrictive than the original proposals.
There is little support for these plans from the fisheries experts at the Environment Agency. Indeed, the Agency’s own guide to Dredging and Flood Risk, available on its website, states:
“Dredging river channels doesn't make them big enough to contain the huge volumes of water during a flood. When a major flood occurs, water soon fills the river and enters what we call the 'floodplain'. The floodplain is an area of land over which water naturally flows during flooding. Even major dredging will not free up enough space in the river channel to stop this from happening.”
Furthermore, and without a trace of irony, the EA published in August its own damning study into the impacts of dredging which concludes that, far from reducing flood risk, dredging can: “speed up flow and potentially increase the risk of flooding downstream”!
The Environment Agency’s Chief Executive Paul Leinster is quoted in the Defra release as saying:
“We want to make it as easy as possible for farmers to undertake appropriate maintenance work on rural watercourses, whilst still ensuring that wildlife and the environment are properly protected.”
The Angling Trust believes that this is a fundamentally contradictory statement.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: “The Angling Trust has gone on record stating its opposition to the plans on numerous occasions and calls on the government to start listening to its own experts and to halt these plans. River management is an immensely complicated and delicate operation that requires great care and expertise to avoid damage to vital habitats for fish and other aquatic wildlife.”
“With the help of our member clubs and riparian owners we will be monitoring the outcomes of the pilot schemes to see what damage is caused to river wildlife and fisheries. Fish Legal will not hesitate to take legal action against those who cause damage to its members’ property rights in these pilot project areas. There are a host of legal hurdles that still have to be overcome, including the European Water Framework Directive and anglers can be assured that we will be watching these pilots with great care for any signs of transgressions.”