If I Really Wanted to Mess Things Up
Rod Sturdy voices his opinions on Hydropower schemes in his own inimitable manner.
If I really wanted to mess things up… and had a free hand to destroy the environment with nobody to oppose me, I would make sure that the general public perceived my destructive actions as a positive contribution to the preservation of the environment. This would mean that politicians would be on my side by allowing destructive schemes to go ahead unopposed by any form of enquiry or objection process.
If, for instance, I wanted to mess up a mile or two, or even more, of river I would build a dam, which for starters would mean that large quantities of silt would be deposited on the river bed upstream, making it impossible for fish to spawn and killing off large quantities of the natural food supply. I would arrange things so that the flow was diverted, frequently exposing large areas of the bottom, killing crustaceans which fish depend on for natural food and trapping small fish ,and in particular fry, so that the overall fish population is threatened.
Just for good measure I would build in a turbine or two to mince as many fish as possible. To round it all off, I would make sure the operation of the turbine entailed sudden and dramatic rises and falls in downstream levels in order to create a hostile environment for as many of the surviving fish, vertebrates, crustaceans, plants and land animals as possible. It would not really matter that the installation was not really productive enough in terms of electricity supply to warrant building it. I would have my profit as a developer. And it would not really matter that building the thing was so fossil fuel-intensive that it would never prove its value in economic terms. Because once completed, there’s not a lot anyone can do, is there?
Once in place, hydropower installations are – of course – subject to restrictions and regulations. For example: according to Environment Agency regulations a turbine is only allowed to kill up to ten salmon and sea trout, or alternatively 100 other fish, per day without being turned off. Think about it. How is anyone to know in order to enforce the restriction? Short of a fish-friendly gnome perched over the blades keeping count, there really is not a great deal of evidence left once the fish-mincing has taken place. Apart from that, the general environmental impact makes itself felt miles up and downstream in the case of the larger hydro installations, and certainly at least a mile in either direction for small-scale ones.
Of course it would be unrealistic to regard the Environment Agency as anything but an arm of government. Anything we pay to it by way of rod licence fees or whatever is, in reality, nothing but a tax. And government agencies spend this money in the way they choose. The paying angler has no right to expect EA policy to benefit him or give him better sport. I happen to be a dyed-in-the-wool cynic about these things; but I suppose I would prefer to be called a realist. As far as government bodies are concerned, I lost any illusions about their activities being beneficial to the rest of us many, many years ago.
The Environment Agency motto just happens to be ’creating a better place’. You may have your own view on slogans like this, but I’ll give you mine anyway…
I think the reality is often the exact opposite. The Environment Agency passes applications for such hydro schemes without preliminary enquiry and submission of evidence. It effectively silences its own local experts and specialists and makes sure that the ‘head office policy’, which favours hydropower schemes uncritically, wins the day.
There is no right of appeal against granting permission to these schemes, whereas a developer is free to appeal against rejection: not exactly a level playing field. It makes no difference that run-of-the-river hydro schemes make only a very small contribution to the UK’s power needs. It makes not a jot of difference that small-scale sites – often made out to be ‘green’ and the way forward – are very questionable for both environmental and economic reasons. Such schemes are officially viewed as the way ahead to a green and pleasant future.
You would never think that the Environment Agency’s mission statement obliges it to ‘maintain and improve’ fisheries. In fact, it is busy identifying potential hydropower sites; it has already come up with more than 26,000 (yes, twenty-six thousand). The EA is therefore clearly the kind of organisation which needs to be held to account, questioned and kept in check. Believe me, it works better like that.
Hydropower schemes such as I have described have been proved to be so environmentally hostile on mainland Europe that many have now been dismantled; but of course a lot of damage has been done for that to happen. Whole stretches of river have been left without small fish and other wildlife has suffered. In many cases government grants have been handed out to the companies who have done the construction; it is a lesson the UK should take on board.
As for anglers, they are sidelined time and time again over issues like this one and nobody pays any attention to their views. Just to rub it in, such schemes often mean the loss of angling access. This is exactly what has happened to Nottingham Anglers (over Gunthorpe Weir on the Trent) and the Pride of Derby AC (over Sawley Weir).
Surprised? You really should not be. Because that’s what the powers that be do to anglers, isn’t it? And why do they do that? Because anglers tend not to be very good at sticking up for themselves, and most never get round to supporting any organisation which sets out to represent them. So nobody really needs to worry about any opposition from that direction, do they?
It is all a question of apathy on our part, in other words. Not to mention our old friend defeatism. There is a lot of both about in angling circles. So if you have not yet joined the Angling Trust, the single organisation which now represents you, you share in the blame…
Just one word of advice: do not fall into the trap of thinking that, once you have joined the Angling Trust and paid your dues, you can just sit back. The Trust/Fish Legal can and will get involved in some proposed high-profile hydropower schemes, but there are far too many all told for it to be able to cope with all of them. It is down to you to look out for proposed schemes coming to you own area, and you can bet there will be some. It is up to you to get involved in campaigning against adverse schemes. There will be plenty of advice on how to do that available to you through the Trust.
It takes resources, time and money to do the kind of really pro-active, high-profile media-intensive, professional campaigning the Angling Trust would like to do, and deserves to be able to do, on our behalf. It is an organisation which is acutely aware of what it could do with proper funding and resources.
A look at the Angling Trust website will give you more detail on this but in the end these things which are missing from its activities need to come from you: in the form of membership, donations or volunteering your services.
So it's over to you…
By the Same Author
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- Otters - This Far and no Further...
- Beavers and Us
- If I Really Wanted to Mess Things Up
- Drought, Yet Again...
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- Education, Education, Education...