After warning the Environment Agency over two decades that sewage was destroying a once pristine protected lake, the Agency has turned on the anglers who have been lobbying to stop the pollution.
When the Llanberis lake or Llyn Padarn - a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Snowdonia - turned green in 2009, the Agency said it was a "natural phenomenon" and nothing to worry about, blaming climate change. But now, despite its own reports which admit that treated and untreated sewage is the main cause of decline of the lake, the Agency is investigating the angling club's activities, alleging that fishing for arctic char in the lake could be damaging the environment.
Chris Mills, the head of the Agency in Wales, wrote to Fish Legal asking for its member club to supply catch returns so that the Agency could assess the impact of angling as an "economic activity" under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (Wales) Regulations 2009.
This comes from the Environment Agency in direct response to Fish Legal challenging the Agency's inaction by formally notifying them of environmental damage at Llyn Padarn in accordance with the Regulations back in February. - citing the sewage problem.
This is the latest twist in a long running battle between the Environment Agency and Fish Legal, which has been acting for the Seiont, Gwyrfai and Llyfni Fishing Society in connection with the pollution in Llyn Padarn since the early 1990s.
Justin Neal, Head Solicitor at Fish Legal said:
"This is possibly the most cynical response I've had from the Agency in this case so far. The club has fought tirelessly for years to try and stop Welsh Water polluting the lake - even taking them to court in 1993 which, despite losing the case, resulted in phosphate stripping being introduced at the Llanberis treatment works. For the Agency to even consider that the club is in some way responsible for the decline in char numbers is absolutely absurd. The evidence that the sewage is damaging the lake and the char habitat is, on the other hand, clear and confirmed by Agency's own reports. When the Agency is reluctant to act on patently obvious evidence and turns on the campaigners, one has to question the motives of the Agency. The Agency is also just plain wrong in suggesting that angling is causing damage to the environment. If that were so, what has the Agency as the fisheries regulator been doing for the last 20 years? The Agency needs to reconsider its whole approach to protecting the environment and do what is right - not what suits it politically or makes a bad situation look better for it and the water company"
The Seiont, Gwyrfai and Llyfni Fishing Society Secretary Huw Hughes said:
"My worry is that the regulator has a very cosy relationship with the polluter and doesn't seem willing to do much about the obvious problem. Our angling club has been fishing the lake responsibly since 1908 and its members currently fish the lake infrequently because the fishing for salmon, trout and char is so bad. We only caught single figures of char last year - yet the sewage keeps coming and we find brown sludge from the algae at the far end of the lake. It was the club which complained to the Agency and its predecessor since the 1990's but with no progress. Now they are pointing the finger at us."
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of Fish Legal and the Angling Trust said:
"The Environment Agency is trying to use regulations intended for the control of industrial operations to investigate a few anglers with rods. The Agency has a duty to protect and improve the water environment and angling, but instead seems hell bent on protecting the right of a water company to spill sewage into a beautiful upland lake. What used to be a brilliant fishery, enjoyed by local anglers and visitors, has declined because of its inaction as a regulator. It should be apologising to anglers, not accusing them of damaging fish stocks."
- The Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2009 transpose a piece of European legislation (DIRECTIVE 2004/35/CE) which was intended to ensure that the 'polluter pays' for prevention and remedying of environmental damage.
Operations such are water company discharges, waste disposal operations and mining facilities are caught by the regulations. Environmental Damage is defined as damage caused to (a) protected species or natural habitats, or a site of special scientific interest, (b) surface water or groundwater, or (c) land,as specified in this regulation. The Environment Agency can serve a remediation notice under the regulations requiring an operator responsible for environmental damage to pay for measures to address the harm.
- The Environment Agency previously described the algal blooms seen in 2009 as a "natural phenomenon"
- The Agency finally admitted that phosphate inputs from sewage were causing a decline in water quality in a report in 2011.