Save The Ribble

A blog dedicated to preserving the beauty and delicate ecosystem of the River Ribble, and opposing the Riverworks 'vision' to build a barrage on our River and develop on our riverbanks, floodplains and green spaces, causing damage to wildlife and the environment and increasing the risk of flooding to our homes. Save the Ribble Campaign is not responsible for the content of external blogs or websites which link here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Riversway & Middleforth Election Candidates Blast Ribble Barrage and Green Belt Building Proposals

Riversway in Preston and Middleforth in Penwortham are two seats up for re-election where local residents have expressed strong opposition to the proposed Ribble barrage and massive housing and business development ideas earmarked for the Green Belt and floodplain area on the Penwortham side.

Riversway has one council seat up for grabs in the Preston City Council Elections, May 2007. The ward includes the Broadgate area, which is one of the areas that will be most affected by the increased flood risk and other adverse side effects of the Riverworks Barrage and the associated floodplain housing proposals. The issue of the barrage could be crucial in deciding who is elected.

Now we have clear statements on Riverworks from the two main candidates in the election.

Sitting Councillor, former Mayor Bhikhu Patel in the latest 'Riversway Labour Rose' seems to speak for all 3 Labour councillors in the ward when he says
"We have recently carried out an extensive consultation regarding the Vision Board's proposals for developing the docks and the barrage across the River Ribble. We support the views of the residents who are against the proposal to build the barrage"

Bhikhu says he is more in touch with local residents because he is the only candidate to actually live in the Broadgate area.

Meanwhile, former councillor Elaine Abbot, the Respect Party candidate for the area has blasted Preston City Council and the Vision Board for the Barrage in local information sheet 'Broadgate News':
"Consider the Ribble Development plans. Who are the Preston Vision Board, and does any member live in your area? I doubt it. They are a small number of unelected people with a clear interest in going against the wishes of residents. Their views are clouded by their aim to bring big business to Preston. Yet Preston Council claims it is consulting with us on this issue.

Respect supporters point out that while individual Labour councillors are now making statements against the barrage, their party leaders (and the leaders of the Tories and Liberals) on the Preston City Council Cabinet still back the proposals and point to the fact that Labour MP David Borrow sits on the Vision Board and is thus part of the quango pushing the barrage idea.

Both Bhikhu Patel and Elaine Abbott have done useful things to help the Save The Ribble Campaign, we leave it up to the local voters to decide who they believe will fight most determinedly against the Ribble Barrage and Housing ideas when they cast their votes.

Here is a link to Save The Ribble's official position on the May elections

The other candidates in the Riversway ward are Wilf Gavin (Liberal Democrat) and Ronnie Smith (Conservative) we have not heard anything from these candidates about their position on these issues yet, and invite these candidates to share their views on the Ribble Barrage and housing plans with the people of Riversway by commenting below, or emailing us - we will give Wilf and Ronnie's positions equal prominence to Bhiku and Elaines, once we actually know what they are...

This was the result in the last Riversway ward council seat election in 2006:

Crompton Linda Labour 501

Abbot Elaine Elizabeth Respect 318

Gavin Wilfred Ronald Lib Dem 221

Balshaw Jane Conservative 196

Meanwhile, in Middleforth - the Penwortham Ward at high risk from the potential impacts of the barrage and building developments being proposed for the Penwortham Green Belt and floodplain - both the Labour candidates and the Conservatives have made strong statements about these proposals.

David Bretherton and Gaynor Bretherton, the current Labour Councillors for the ward, are standing for re-election. In their latest election newsletter, they state:

'They want to see the green spaces in Middleforth improved and maintained';

'They DON'T want a barrage on the River Ribble';

'They want to see the river tidied up for the benefit of the wildlife and enjoyment of visitors'.

The South Ribble Conservative newsletter makes it clear they are 'committed to fighting ANY moves to build on our green fields and open spaces'.

Still no word from the Lib Dems in this Ward...

Contact us at and let us know what YOUR candidates are saying - and contact us if you are a candidate with views on the Riverworks "Visions" for our river and green spaces...

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Monday, April 23, 2007


In a week when Preston City Council has been branded “Nobby No Mates” over its failure to persuade South Ribble Borough Council to join its unitary status bid, key members of another neighbouring community have spoken out against Preston City Council’s barrage scheme and are demanding to know why they have not been consulted about the proposals.

In their leading articles, both the Kirkham and Fylde Express, and the Lytham St Annes Express, (April 19th 2007) reported on the Riverworks proposals to build a barrage on the River Ribble “as part of an £800m project to make Preston the third city of the North West, with 4,000 new homes, leisure, offices and shops around the new waterways, rivalling other prestigious marinas like Salford Quays”. The papers report that one possible location for the barrage is near Freckleton, just three miles from Lytham.

River Douglas (Asland) joins the Ribble, taken from Freckleton Naze - at one of the potential sites for Preston City Council's proposed barrage.

Commenting on the barrage proposals, Fylde MP Michael Jack said: “Mankind has an enormous responsibility to look after the estuary and its wildlife and I don’t think we should be monkeying around with that for the sake of making money. You play around with nature at your peril. I remain deeply sceptical about this proposal.”

Commenting on the lack of consultation about the barrage proposal, Fred Moor, secretary of Fylde Civic Awareness Group, said “it could have implications for Warton and Freckleton and even downstream in St Annes. It could lead to silt building up at the mouth of the estuary….”

It is no surprise that neighbouring communities should be so concerned about Preston City Council’s proposals. As we have argued, the way the River Ribble works means that the environmental impact of a barrage will effect all the communities along the Ribble corridor (See Barrages and Wetland Ecosystems and How the Ribble Works) and that therefore any consultation on the Riverworks proposals would have to include all the communities effected by the options under consideration (See also Save The Ribble Archives: June 5th 2006).

As Arnold Summer, coordinator for St Annes Chamber of Trade puts it : “Are you content to see Preston City control the amount of water coming down the Ribble in front of Lytham St Annes?”.

Preston City Council needs to understand that the River Ribble is not theirs to interfere with to serve their own economic development strategies and the financial and commercial interests represented by the Preston Vision Board) - particularly when such interference will have such far reaching consequences for the Ribble ecosytem and the wildlife which depends on it.

As we have argued, the SUSTAINABLE economic potential of the River Ribble lies in the Development of the Ribble Coast and Wetlands Regional Park, which would be a huge asset for all the communities along the Ribble corridor whilst also protecting the Ribble’s inter-tidal ecosytems for now and for future generations.

The beautiful Ribble intertidal habitats on the Fylde Coast.

See more about the Ribble Coast & Wetlands Regional Park here and here.

This point is reflected in the leader comment of the Kirkham and Fylde Express (19th April), which is clear in its condemnation of Preston City Council’s proposals.
Recognising the importance of the Ribble as “one of the prime wildlife locations in the UK” and its value to both locals and tourists alike the paper says “it would, therefore, seem a great shame if all this was jeopardised in order for Preston to improve its financial fortunes.”

The paper urges its readers to write to Preston City Council to voice their concerns before it's too late.

We would also urge concerned residents in Fylde and other Ribble communities to contact Save the Ribble and join our campaign.

The Kirkham and Fylde Express (April 19th 2007) also reported the concerns of environmental groups that a barrage across the Ribble would have grave consequences for the environment.

Laurence Rose, regional director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said the idea of a barrage could destroy one of Britain’s most delicate ecosystems. Mr Rose commented to the Express that: “we are extremely concerned about a barrage across a protected estuary because anything that interferes with the hydrology of the estuary is prima facie bad news.”

Waders at Lytham St Annes.

During the Winter months alone, the Ribble estuary supports some 250,000 birds from Russia, Scandinavia and Iceland which make the area their winter home each year, including species like Whooper, Bewick Swans, Pink Footed Geese, Dunlins, Sanderlings and Bar-Tailed and Black-tailed Godwits. The Ribble supports a massive 1 million birds throughout the whole year, which is why it is Internationally important.

In response to the newspaper article, Preston City Council repeated their claim that the barrage is an idea only – not a proposal. Yet they continue to promote the barrage scheme and it remains central to their Economic Regeneration Strategy and Prioritised Action Plan which states that “key project proposals include the development of a barrage across the river providing a range of economic and environmental benefits…”.

But as the Save the Ribble Campaign and other environmental groups have argued, there are no environmental benefits arising from a proposal to barrage an inter-tidal river whilst genuine economic benefits will arise in preserving the Ribble ecosystem as part of the Regional Park.

This is clearly a fact that is becoming increasingly appreciated by all the communities along the Ribble corridor.

Unfortunately, for Preston City Council, until they drop their ideas to barrage the Ribble, they are likely to lose even more friends amongst local residents and neighbouring communities.

Further to this, Dave Dunlop of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside has reiterated the Trust's serious concerns about the barrage proposal to us, emphasising that 'any development that would further constrain [the Ribble's] natural functioning is a bad idea, and would presumably be in breach of the UK Government's obligations under international convention and law.' For Dave Dunlop's full comment, click on the comments links below.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Preston City Council Looking to "Build All Over " South Ribble?

Tory MP Eric Pickles claimed in Parliament yesterday that Preston City Council's continued wish to abolish Lancashire County Council and merge with South Ribble Borough in a unified Authority is so that they can "build all over" South Ribble.

The Lancashire Evening Post reported yesterday, only partly reproduced online, that not just Preston City Council but also Preston MP Mark Hendrick wants to see Preston, South Ribble, Chorley and parts of West Lancashire unified as one Local authority. Hendrick said Lancashire should be split into a "neat jigsaw" of unitary authorities, but shadow Local Government spokesperson Eric Pickles said such a blueprint would simply lead to the urban sprawl of Preston.’

John Collins, Labour Leader of Preston City Council, has dismissed Eric Pickles claims that they want to "build all over" South Ribble, saying:

‘We already work with South Ribble and… Chorley and… other areas. We’re not looking to expand all over South Ribble – I think that’s a scare story and it does no good if the Tories whip people up with scare stories.’
(LEP 19.4.07 p8).

Erm... so if Preston City Council are NOT 'looking to expand all over South Ribble', it must that PCC are only looking TO EXPAND ALL OVER PENWORTHAM then...
...or maybe, all over South Ribble AND Chorley AND West Lancashire...?

Building on Penwortham is certainly first on the agenda:
As we have seen in Preston City Council's Riverworks documents, and in their new glossy Preston Economic Regeneration Strategy and Prioritised Action Plan (PERSPAP) brochure, their proposals for 'the development of a barrage across the river... and the development of a new "Central Park" with associated residential development' are termed as 'Key project proposals' (PERSPAP p7).

And for good measure, the picture adjoining this claim shows just some of the 4,000 new houses, which, with a business park and retail premises, are earmarked for Penwortham Green Belt opposite Avenham & Miller Parks superimposed on the top left quarter of this picture, built over the meadows, fields, woodlands, and local league football pitches on this Penwortham area...

The Penwortham Green Belt, earmarked by Preston City Council for 4,000 new houses, business parks and retail developments, with a small remaining portion stripped of its biodiversity to turn it into a formal park.

...and just in case John Collins's geography is a little hazy, we would like to point out that Penwortham is in South Ribble.

In fact, Preston City Council have claimed in a number of their documents that South Ribble's Green Belt designation presents an obstacle to the massive housing and business park developments in Preston's Riverworks proposals, and as such, Preston would like to remove these South Ribble areas from Green Belt designation to ease the passage of their building developments.

One of the documents in which PCC claim this is the Central Lancashire Sub-Regional Spatial Strategy, a document drawn up by GVA Grimley (property advisors and consultants) for a partner group which includes Preston City Council and South Ribble Borough Council.
This document argues for 'the major location for growth… the wider Preston area which "straddles" the River Ribble', building on Penwortham Green Belt a 'new sustainable community supporting the growth of the City centre' (Central Lancashire City p.24).

To achieve this it is proposed that 'consideration needs to be given to strategic Greenfield release' as Green Belt designation is a direct 'threat' to the proposal, thus 'a review of the greenbelt south of the River Ribble should be considered' (ibid p.18/19).

Some South Ribble Borough Councillors have made it clear that they see the Green Belt as “sacrosanct”. But the question is whether that opinion would hold sway in a unitary authority council chamber, particularly in view of the stated support of the leadership of South Ribble Borough Council for the Riverworks Vision.

Preston City 'vision':
As long ago as 2005, as part of their Big Lottery bid, PCC stakes a claim for the Riverworks project as the core of a new city centre for Preston which viewed South Ribble as part of a wider Preston City.
(Of course the Big Lottery bid failed due to Preston City Council’s lack of public consultation - not much changes there then!)

PCC want to develop 'a new city along an underutilised river valley that currently separates two halves of (the) established urban structure' of Preston and South Ribble.

The Council see the Riverworks project as a symbol for the new City region, viewing their proposed Ribble barrage and so-called "Central Park" building development as 'connect(ing) together the two halves of the city' (PCC Lottery Bid Appendix A: RiverCity Project).

As can be clearly seen on Preston City Council's Composite Masterplan, practically every green space in Penwortham is earmarked for building developments, including the entire provision of allotments and football pitches in Penwortham, as well as the Green Belt.

Preston City Council's "Composite Masterplan", reproduced on Taylor Young architects website.

This whole area is, of course, also operational floodplain, upon which the Environment Agency are opposed to any further building developments as this increases the risk of flooding or exacerbates floodrisk elsewhere.

See more details about the threat to our River and Green Belt Preston City Council would pose as a dominant Local Authority.

Preston City Council's continued wish to become a single Authority with South Ribble and Chorley and West Lancashire - despite an overwhelming 73% Preston residents and 90% of South Ribble residents rejecting the proposals (which led to South Ribble Borough Council withdrawing from the joint application) - shows their determination to pursue their own agenda.

By becoming a single Authority, with jurisdiction over South Ribble and other areas of Lancashire - West Lancs, like much of South Ribble, also running alongside the River and custodians of huge areas of undeveloped Green Belt - Preston City Council hope to achieve their stated ambition of becoming a huge urban conurbation like Manchester and Liverpool, regardless of what local residents want for their communities and environment.

We can assure them that the residents of Preston, South Ribble, and other communities all along the Ribble corridor are equally determined to protect the Ribble and its Green Belt - indeed, this week, the Lytham St Annes Express highlights the concerns of communities further downriver of Preston, and the deep concerns expressed by their MP Michael Jack, and the RSPB's Regional Director Laurence Rose, about Preston's Ribble barrage proposals...

Our young friend "I" and has sent us another of his fabulous pictures which put residents' sentiments very well indeed!

Long Live the Ribble very Wild!!!

You can contact us here at

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How the Ribble Works

As part of the various events at RSPB Marshside, Dr. Alan Bedford from Edge Hill University and Graham Clarkson of the RSPB gave a fascinating talk about how the Ribble Estuary works. You can find out more about walks, talks, and other wildlife events at RSPB Marshside.

The River Ribble: an intricate and dynamic Wetland Ecosystem.
We know that the Ribble’s inter-tidal ecosystem is a combination of fresh and salt waters, silts and nutrients, which give rise to the unique mudflats and saltmarshes in the Lower Ribble and particularly in the Estuary, and that the Ribble Estuary is such an incredibly rich habitat that the Ribble’s importance to wildlife is on an International scale.

Yet this ecosystem is a dynamic habitat, changing not just with the tides and the Seasons, but even in the space of a few hours.

The salinity of the Ribble’s Estuary is one of those elements which varies enormously, even in the course of a single day. Not only do the tides themselves vary - the height of the tides can vary hugely even over the course of a few days! - so does the flow of fresh water which washes down through the Ribble corridor to mix with the incoming tides. The amount and nature of this fresh water depends on the amount of rainfall higher up the Ribble valley, flowing down to the Estuary down the Ribble river, as well as down its many tributaries which all flow into the Ribble’s waters.

There are many tributary rivers which flow into the Ribble to swell her waters and provide numerous spawning grounds for migratory fish - including Atlantic Salmon and Sea Trout, these amazing fish make their arduous journey from the open seas back to their own birth places high upriver to spawn their own young.

These tributaries are not only the larger Rivers Darwen, Douglas (Asland), Calder, Hodder, and Crossens, but also the Rivers Lostock and Yarrow, Rivers Whitendale, Loud, and Brennand, the Rivers Brun and Tawd, and a huge number of smaller rivers and brooks, including Stock Beck, Pendle Water, Colne Water, Eaves Brook and Savick Brook, amongst many, many others - and ALL of these tributaries would be affected by a tidal barrage on the Ribble, not least because they would all be UPRIVER of the impounded waters.

The River Douglas and the Ribble.

This is yet another reason why the Ribble is so important: she is effectively nature’s water supply and the rainwater drain for a huge area of the North West, from Ribblehead in North Yorkshire to Lytham, St.Anne’s, Blackpool, and Southport; from Gisburne Forest and the Forest of Bowland to Settle, Clitheroe, and Ribchester; from Colne, Burnley, Accrington, Blackburn, Darwen, Wigan and Skelmersdale to Preston, Freckleton, Kirkham, Chorley, Leyland, Walton le Dale, Penwortham, Hutton, Longton, and Hesketh Bank… and many of these places also supply much of the Ribble’s essential silts and nutrients, washed downriver to the Lower Ribble and the Estuary by rainwaters.

The Ribble's silt-laden rainwaters washing under Penwortham Old Bridge to the Estuary

The Ribble’s intricate ecosystem, then, extends far beyond seeing the central river, or the estuary, in isolation: the Ribble is a living, breathing, ecosystem, a vital ecological organism.

Ribble Intertidal zone - an energy-rich and delicately-balanced ecosystem:
The Ribble is renowned for its high sedimentation – all that lovely mud! – which is carried downstream with the fresh water flows, and in from the Irish sea, and mixed up and distributed on those vital mudflats and saltmarshes by the swirling waters of the tides and the freshwater currents, every day, twice a day, as it has done for many thousands of years.

Mudflats in Penwortham

It is the Ribble’s mud which provides the strong mineral base of dead organic material which is the primary food source for the mind-blowing multitude of invertebrates which live in the Ribble’s mudflats, a multitude upon which the Ribble’s enormous bird population subsequently feeds. All that mud provides a food-rich habitat for over ¼ million birds every Winter alone – and approximately 1 million birds throughout the year, including those who stay for just a short time to refuel during their long global migrations - as this rich ooze supports so many millions of invertebrates it’s impossible to count them!

Ribble mudflats have more energy per square metre than Rainforest!

As the high levels of salt ensure the mudflats and saltmarsh don’t freeze in the winter months, this environment is a safe haven all year round for numerous migratory as well as native bird species who feed, breed, and roost here throughout the year.

Ribble Tidal Flats – neither “barren” nor useless!
The tidal flats form three basic areas: sand flats (at the geographical bottom of this intertidal ecosystem), the salt marsh at the top, and the mudflats in between, and are collectively known as tidal flats. The combined system is very rich indeed in terms of nutrients – and Dr. Bedford pointed out the nonsensical perception in the Riverworks documents that these vital wildlife habitats are “barren”, “unsightly”, and useless!

Rich Ribble mud - more energy per square metre than Rainforest.

Their vital importance to wildlife is why mudflats and saltmarsh are protected under UK, European, and International Law, and why they are currently a particularly high priority for both creation and restoration as part of the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan Habitats, and as part of Defra and the Environment Agency’s biodiversity enhancement aims.
Defra and the EA also wish to invest in tidal flat maintenance and restoration as these also act as effective and sustainable flood defences to coastal and riverside communities.

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud!
Whilst the Ribble’s harsh environment means that the mudflats are low in biodiversity in terms of the number of species per square metre, the enormous numbers of the relatively few species of invertebrates (worms and snails) that live there means the Ribble’s mudflats are so rich that they support more life per square metre than tropical Rainforest! The Ribble's mudflats also act as Nurseries to sea fish fry (babies) such as Plaice until they are mature enough to cope with the open seas.

It’s a Bug’s Life
Sand Hoppers, for instance, burrow in the mud and feed on the rich supply of micro-particles in there – and their digging is itself very important to stabilise the mud – and there are between 50,000 and 400,000 of these little diggers per square metre!!!
Those water snails we see at low tide leaving little trails wandering all over the mud and sand flats exist in the Ribble’s mud at the rate of 35,000 per square metre
Cockles siphon for food very close to the surface; lug worms leave their little tell-tale squirls of sand on the surface… and there are loads of other worms, snails and shellfish, all co-existing in the Ribble’s rich mud at the rate of many hundreds of thousands per square metre! No wonder that the Ribble is such a vital feeding ground for so many hundreds of thousands of birds all year round!!!
To read more about the importance of invertebrates to the inter-tidal ecosystem, see Buglife.

The Birds and the … Invertebrates:
The rate of heat loss in birds is huge, and high tides mean even less feeding time. Different wading birds have evolved different feeding styles and bills because, in such a tight feeding time-frame, they need to get feeding as quickly and efficiently as possible, each evolving unique methods to catch their favourite fast-food Bug-burger.

Each bird will look out for the tell-tale signs of their prey and catch them with their own unique method, some by touch and some by sight. Strong winds can create problems for visual feeders:

Shelduck for example, “scythe” the mud, squeezing muddy water out and leaving them with the creatures in their bills…
Knot feed by touch, feeling for the invertebrates in the mud – possibly even by the tiny vibrations of the creatures as they move. Their feeding is often referred to as “stitching”, the birds feeding in groups with quick movements of their heads…
Redshank are visual feeders, also using a “stitching” technique, and feed through the night too. They hunt alone, however, to avoid their prey being disturbed by other birds, and they consume 40,000 corophium (sand hoppers) per day – 2 per second of available feeding time…

Because of the high levels of energy these birds need to consume to stay alive, they have to use every opportunity to feed on the mudflats exposed by the receding tide.
Oystercatcher and Curlew, for example, have to feed for between 40% and 60% of the time during the summer months, 75% in the Winter, while Knot have to feed for 60% of the time in the summer months, and between 90% and 98% of the time between January and March – that’s pretty much constantly, just to stay alive.
In February 1991 for example, the cold killed 850 out of every 4,000 Redshank.
The Ribble’s incredibly rich mudflats are VITAL to a significant number of the Earth’s bird population.

Birds which feed on the saltmarsh plants (such as samphire) include Wigeon, Barnacle Geese, and Pink Footed Geese – and Skylarks - and need to feed prolifically to extract enough nutrients from plants, which are much lower in energy than invertebrates. Wigeon for example feed for 14 hours per day…
Skylarks feed on saltmarsh seeds and breed during the solstice tides as there is a much lower tidal range in mid-summer. Saltmarsh is an endangered habitat - it is rarer than Rainforest.

Ribble saltmarsh at Marshside - the best place in the North West to see and hear Skylarks.

Birds and the Ribble Estuary:
The Ribble Estuary supports more bird species in internationally significant numbers that any other wetland site in Britain – apart from Morecambe Bay sometimes! Despite the enormous difference in size of these two Lancashire wetlands, the Ribble and Morecambe Bay are almost indistinguishable from one another in terms of the bird species they support, and frequently change places between first and second position in the Wetlands Premier League. Only the Wash, on the East coast of Britain, comes close to these Lancashire giants in terms of the numbers of bird species supported.

The majority of wading birds tend to feed most intensively at incoming tide rather than outgoing tide as the incoming waters often encourage the invertebrates to the surface. The saltmarsh, a rare and protected habitat dominated by grasses, is often more useful for roosting and breeding than feeding for many bird species, providing a good site for spotting predators, safe for moulting and nesting and roosting at high tide. Yet, significant bird species also feed on the saltmarsh plants themselves, including Pink Footed Geese, Wigeon, and Skylarks.

Wind, Rain, and Tides…
The variable tides, moods and seasons of the Ribble are an intrinsic part of our love for this glorious River, and occasionally some of our local communities have close encounters with the Ribble when inclement weather conditions and tidal movements coincide!

Submerged bench in Penwortham, looking towards Broadgate.

This river flooding is due to high rainfall, and often occurs when in conjunction with high river levels, such as at high tide, and at certain phases of the moon - a situation which can be exacerbated when there are strong onshore winds, and is a particular risk during the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.

Ribble in spate through Penwortham and Preston.

Defra and the Environment Agency keep a close eye on our flood defences and rainfall patterns as part of the Ribble Shoreline Management Plan, which is equally concerned with the long-term protection of the Ribble’s inter-tidal habitats, and plans for the next 50 to 100 years of Ribble coastal and the tidal sections of the river basin up to Penwortham Old Bridge.

The assessment of the flood risk and the Ribble’s ecosystem for wildlife and human communities further upriver is covered by the Integrated Ribble Catchment Management Plan - implemented as part of the EU Water Framework Directive as the Ribble is Britain's Pilot WFU River - which caters for the entire Ribble river system. This includes the whole catchment area and the numerous large and smaller rivers which feed into the Ribble itself, and covers everything from Fisheries issues to flooding to extraction and pollution issues to protecting and enhancing the Ribble's biodiversity and wetland ecosystem.

Both Plans aim to ensure the protection and enhancement of flood defences AND wetland wildlife habitat as part of their broader remit of river basin management, and it is the well-being and integrity of both which compliment each other in actively providing one of the richest wetland habitats in Europe at the same time as effectively providing Ribbleside communities with flood protection!

It is a fact that the intertidal wetland system of mudflats and saltmarsh acts as the most sustainable, effective, and cost-effective forms of flood defence provision from both sea level rises and higher rainfall. This is why the Ribble Shoreline Management Plan actively pursues the protection and (re)creation of more intertidal zones to protect both human and wildlife communities from the threat of climate change.
This is also why barrages and building on the river's floodplain will increase floodrisk to local communities.

The Ribble SMP has targeted Hesketh Out Marsh as the first major area of land to be returned to its original saltmarsh condition, and work has begun on this project, which will incidentally create one of the largest Wetland Nature Reserves in Europe whilst actively helping to protect Ribbleside communities from the sea, including Hundred End, Rufford, Much Hoole, and broader areas of South Ribble in particular, but the diffusion and absorption of the sea’s tidal energy it will effect also help to protect communities such as Preston, Penwortham, Freckleton, and Warton.
Hesketh New Marsh and Hesketh Old Marsh may be also be returned to the Ribble in future years, to add greater protection against flooding further upstream. This Plan also identifies other Ribble floodplain areas which could be returned to the intertidal zone in the long term – such as Banks, Hutton and Penwortham – to allow even greater scope for creating further wetland flood defences in decades to come, should the need arise as a consequence of climate change…
This is why the Environment Agency believe building on the floodplain is not a good idea!

The Tide is High but I’m Holding On!
But back to the tides… The highest tides mean less feeding time for the Ribble’s bird population who have less space and time in which to feed, and then only once the tide recedes again!

As the birds need to feed for between 60% and 98% of their time in order to mitigate the huge rate of heat-loss birds experience in the winter months, high tides can be a real problem for them. In February 1991 for instance, the cold killed approximately 850 out of every 4,000 Redshank.

When the mudflats are only exposed for a short time, due to high rainfall and high tides – such as we saw in Penwortham and Broadgate over this last Winter - whilst it has meant we have been able to see the Redshank, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Sanderling, Teal, Shelduck, and other birds feeding higher up the mudflats much closer to us so we can get a good look at them (as long as we are careful they don’t see us and take flight!), it has also meant there is less exposed mud and for much shorter periods, putting real pressure on the ability of these beautiful birds to survive the Winter months. Luckily, the Winter has also been mild, so hopefully the high rainfall this Winter won’t have had a dramatic impact on the birds’ survival rates…

Even now, the wading birds such as Redshank, are still feeding on the mudflats as high upriver as Penwortham and Preston, their soulful cries echoing over the river, before they finally set off to their breeding grounds, many actually stay to breed on the Ribble’s saltmarshes, but the rest migrate back to Iceland, Southern Europe, and North Africa. The Redshank on the Penwortham and Preston mudflats are flocking together as they prepare to leave us until Autumn when the Ribble’s Winter bird population returns once again…

This flock of Redshank in Penwortham and Broadgate were chased off the Moorhens’ “patch” of mudflats every time they landed there!

The Ribble’s wetland ecosystem then, isn’t just a word, it’s a vibrant and vital interrelated ecological environment, each part dependent upon other parts, each micro-climate dependent on the whole.
This is why barrages, which interfere with the natural movements and behaviour of salt and fresh waters, silts and nutrients, cause so much damage to wetland ecosystems, and consequently, the Earth’s ecological and environmental sustainability.
This is why the Ribble's designation as a Regional Park recognises the vital importance of the Ribble Coast & Wetlands - to wildlife and human communities, now and in the long term.

Long Live the Ribble Wild!

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Council Elections May 2007

The elections for council seats in Preston and South Ribble are here again, and in some political parties election literature, the threat by Preston Vision Board to barrage the Ribble and build 4000 houses in its floodplain is like the 'elephant in the room that nobody mentions' - they are sticking their heads in the sand like ostriches, and hoping that this threat to local people and our river doesn't become an election issue.

Meanwhile, one party, standing in many seats across Preston, has the headline 'Save The Ribble' prominent in its literature and is asking very legitimate questions about the Preston Vision Board. The Save The Ribble Campaign is not aligned to any political party, but it is clear from this that SOME local candidates are taking this issue very seriously.

We at Save The Ribble have even been asked by some local residents to stand in these elections ourselves, as 'Save The Ribble' candidates. We decided not to do this, this time, and we also made a clear decision NOT TO ENDORSE ANY PARTICULAR CANDIDATE OR PARTY this time round.

There has been a small number of local politicians over the last year who have been brave enough to take a clear and public pro-Ribble position and make open statements against the idea of a Ribble Barrage. These include Labour Councillor John Swindells, Respect Councillor Michael Lavalette and Conservative MP Michael Jack.
Labour Councillor Bhiku Patel is now openly opposed to the barrage proposal, and Labour Councillors David Bretherton and Gaynor Bretherton in Penwortham are now openly opposing the Ribble barrage and "Vision" to build on the Penwortham Green Belt and Flood plain.
Two or three other councillors have privately given the Save The Ribble Campaign very valuable information and advice, including one former Mayor. Too many local politicians however have kept silent on this subject, meekly toeing the 'party line' and failing to ask questions of the unelected and unrepresentative 'Vision Board' that seems to be making all the real political decisions in Preston and South Ribble, others have taken great pains to 'sit on the fence', often making themselves look ridiculous in the process as it is clear that many local residents - and some local Councillors - recognise the damage these particular Riverworks proposals will bring to our local and national environment, and to our lives.

Our advice to the public in these elections is to ask canvassers the following questions:

1. What is your candidates' position on the Ribble Barrage proposals?

2. What is your candidates' position on the 4000 houses proposed to be built on the Ribble Greenbelt?

3. What has your candidate done practically to support the Save The Ribble Campaign, and to oppose the Barrage and Housing ideas?

4. What is your candidate going to do over the next year to oppose the Barrage and Floodplain Housing ideas?

Do not accept vague answers and fence sitting!

We invite all candidates in these elections to post their own answers to these 4 questions in the 'comments' section below.

We at 'Save The Ribble' have members from all political persuasions, and some of us simply distrust politicians intensely. We will be watching our councillors from all the political parties closely over the next few months, and their performance in publicly opposing the barrage and greenbelt housing plans will determine whether we decide to endorse them, or even to stand against them as 'Save The Ribble' candidates in May 2008.

Local candidates who have so far replied to questions from their local residents regarding the Ribble Barrage and Ribbleside Green Belt and Floodplain developments are:

Salim Desai, Labour candidate standing against Michael Lavalette in Preston Town Centre Ward has stated his strong support for the Ribble and countryside areas as a natural environment, and said 'I personally am yet to be convinced regarding the benefits that these propositions hold... I am totally against making this land available to developers so that they can profit at the expense of Preston Rate Payers...'
In his leaflet, delivered through doors in the area, Salim Desai's only mention of this issue is that he has 'already consulted residents... about the proposed River works project' - the consultation undertaken by a few local councillors was, however, ONLY regarding the Docks proposals, and unfortunately limited to a couple of areas of Preston;

Steve Bennett, Labour councillor for Bamber Bridge North says:
"The footpaths that run alongside the river through the parks and to the city centre are a pleasure to walk and I believe a unique asset to the whole area. The river has been improved to a degree that it is now one of the finest fishing rivers in the country and is cleaner than anytime since the industrial revolution. I would not like to see any of these improvements and amenities jeopardised by any ill thought out proposals. If the proposals reach the consultation phase I would certainly oppose the scheme and I am sure that there will be considerable public pressure to reject the plans".

Cliff Hughes, the Conservative councillor for Lostock Hall, was not specifically asked about the barrage and building developments but spoke to a local resident about the local area from Lostock Hall down to the river, and he seems to be passionate about keeping the existing green fields as they are... He suggests that the Friends of Walton Park form a trust to protect the area... Any local residents at Lostock Hall who have more definate comments from Cllr Hughes or any other candidates regarding the barrage and building developments, please let us know...

Gaynor Bretherton and David Bretherton, Cllrs for Middleforth Ward, Penwortham, have moved to a more definate stance since declaring that, as far as the barrage is concerned, 'we will be against any proposition as it presently stands' as they state in their Election Newsletter that they 'DON'T want a barrage on the River Ribble' and that they 'want to see the green spaces in Middleforth improved and maintained' and 'want to see the river tidied up for the benefit of the wildlife and enjoyment of visitors'. Regarding the building developments, David and Gaynor say ,'We would like to see more investment being put into tidying up the river which would enhance the environment for the wildlife and which in turn would perhaps encourage more people to enjoy the unspoilt facilities it has to offer... We think its a brilliant idea to extend the Local Nature Reserve for local visitors so in principle we would be against the idea of build on the flood[plains]';

The South Ribble conservatives have published a declaration that they 'are committed to fighting ANY moves to build on [South Ribble] green fields and open spaces' (Common Sense Election "Special Edition" p3), but make NO MENTION of the Ribble barrage proposal...

Other Councillors who have previously expressed their concerns regarding these developments are:

Cllr John Coombes, Fylde Borough Council Leader;
Cllr Paul Cummins, Sefton BC, Environmental Protection Department;
Freckleton Parish Council made a declaration of opposition to any Ribble barrage scheme...

Here is the full list of Preston City Council Candidates
and South Ribble Borough Council Candidates

Contact your Councillor and the other candidates standing in your Ward, and let us know what they reply...

We will be watching all these councillors and candidates carefully to see whether over the next year, they turn their words into genuine pro-Ribble actions.

Contact us here at or post your comments below...

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Barrages and Wetland Ecosystems: the Environmental and Economic Impacts.

Save the Ribble Campaign are local Ribbleside residents who are spearheading the opposition to the Riverworks Ribble barrage, and the proposal to build thousands of new houses and businesses on Ribbleside Green Belt and operational floodplain in Penwortham.

Here we will look at:
- why the Ribble is so important;
- what effects these proposals will have on its environmental integrity;
- the economic impact;
and take a detailed look at
- the example set by the Cardiff Bay Barrage.

We will also address the global significance of the Ribble Wetland in terms of issues of Sustainable Development through a link to one of our sister blogs, The Ribble Cycle Diaries, and thus why the Ribble Coast & Wetlands Regional Park rather than a Ribble barrage and Green Belt development is the only viable option for the future.

The Ribble Estuary is legally protected under UK, EU, and International law, due to its environmental significance to wildlife on an International scale. It is a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Conservation (Habitats &c) Regs 1994, and the EU Birds Directive 1979, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Biological Heritage Site (BHS), and a Ramsar Site (Ramsar International Wetland Convention 1971).
It is worth noting that the Internationally-significant numbers of individual bird species the Ribble supports, alone award the Ribble its SPA status 16 times over – it’s THAT important.

The Ribble is also protected along its length as a Biological Heritage Site, and it is also the pilot UK River for the EU Water Framework Directive.
According to the Environment Agency, the presence of a barrage structure across a main water body automatically places it at high risk of not achieving the EU WaterFramework objectives.

River floodplains are important to local communities, local wildlife, and the integrity of our wetland ecosystems, which is why the Environment Agency are strongly opposed to further developments on these vital areas.

Green Belt has its own protections from building development due to its vital importance to our native and migratory wildlife, and to our quality of life, and because this precious resource is being steadily depleted year after year.

Our woodlandand farmland birds have declined by 50% on average over the last few decades – some species by as much as 95%.

The Ribble’s Green Belt areas are especially precious then, as they contribute to our countryside wildlife habitats, our floodplain provision, and the integrity of our Internationally important River ecosystem. They are also, of course, aesthetically beautiful.

The Ribble barrage and floodplain development proposals will damage this Nationally and Internationally protected wetland in two crucial ways:

1). A barrage would interfere with the free-flow of fresh and salt waters, silts and nutrients, which the tidal movements and downriver flows of the Ribble basin produce to replenish the inter-tidal mudflats and saltmarsh twice a day, every day, as it has done for thousands of years;

2). Building on the floodplain and Green Belt would remove this area from the Ribble’s operational floodplain, and remove most of this area from Green Belt provision, thus would deplete the integrity of the Ribble’s dynamic ecosystem on two key levels.

It is clear that both of these proposals run counter to Legal, Governmental, and local Planning criteria. The Legal protection of the Ribble under the Conservation Regulations 1994 alone deems that any development which even may impact on the Ribble’s SPA can not go ahead unless there is ‘no alternative’ – which clearly there is.

It is also clear that both of these proposals are neither environmentally nor economically sustainable.

Read the Environment Agency’s and Natural England’s statement of concern regarding the proposed Severn barrage as an example of their understanding of the damage barrages cause.

Riverworks initial claims are that ‘preliminary indications’ suggest ‘the likely capital cost of constructing the barrage ranges between £16m and £60m’ (Riverworks 01: Quality Riverside).
Hmmm… not only are these figures enormously different – one being a cool £44 million larger than the other!! – but there are no indications what these figures are based on, and as we know, estimates for ensuring large projects get the go-ahead are always wildly underestimated: see for example the new Wembley Stadium, the Millenium Dome, Britain’s bid vs actual costs for the next Olympics as a few pertinent examples... not to mention the Cardiff Barrage…

The Cardiff Bay Barrage was initially proposed at an estimated cost of £40million, which then became £113 million, but actually cost at least £200 million just to construct, and literally more than double this figure in real terms - £402 million - and to address the ongoing environmental impacts is costing well over £20 million EVERY YEAR, year after year, as will be discussed in detail below…

The other rather thorny issue for the Ribble Barrage is that Halcrow’s “Ribble Weir Appraisal”, commissioned by Preston Council the last time they thought of trying the barrage scheme out, has pointed out that there would need to be between two and four such structures anyway, due to the geological fall of the river bed between the Docks and the Tickled Trout opposite Brockholes... so we could easily be looking at least double if not quadruple their own estimate to between £32 million and £240 million before we even start to address the inevitable underestimations…

… and we wouldn’t mind betting that even Riverwork’s own larger estimate does not include re-routeing the dozens of streams, drains and culverts in Preston and Penwortham alone which would have no-where to drain if the river is permanently high, or building (let alone running) the pumping stations, water quality assessment mechanisms, waste treatment measures, the MASSIVE Environmental mitigation schemes that would be LEGALLY necessary to try to offset the damage caused, not to mention the staff, consultation costs, and resources needed to operate all these schemes…

As an example, we’ll take a tour of the Cardiff Bay Barrage, and the Environmental and Economic Impacts, and look at the numbers which just don’t add up.

Entrance to the Cardiff Bay Barrage

The idea of building a barrage across the Taff Estuary (Cardiff Bay), and turning the once-magnificent Bay of Tigers into a picture-postcard boating lake was first suggested in 1987 by the then Welsh Secretary, Nicholas Edwards. His ‘whim’ to “prettify” Cardiff by permanently covering its “unsightly” tidal mudflats (yes, that ignorant dismissal of the life-blood of an inter-tidal ecosystem again) – also one of Britain’s important inter-tidal habitats for over-wintering birds (over 8,000 in number) including several protected species of wading birds - produced what must be one of the most costly ideas in recent British history, in environmental, economic, and sustainable development terms.

The concerns about the Barrage proposal raised by local residents, the RSPB, a number of Environmental experts, and the Environment Agency, amongst others, were ignored yet unfortunately proved to be well-founded.

Local resident Sian Best has published an excellent exposé of the Cardiff Barrage scheme in which the Barrage is revealed as ‘the outcome of a secretive and ill-informed sequence of political decisions of uncertain purpose… which now, and for the foreseeable future, leeches money from the Welsh economy, without any discernible public benefit and with much potential for public harm’ (A Whim Set in Concrete 2004, Seren Books, p.11).

The implications for local democracy are also staggering, with the barrage proposers in the local Councils, development companies, and Whitehall, ensuring commercial interests came first, riding rough-shod over local residents’ needs or wishes, local councillors who saw the other alternatives for "regeneration" and defied the Party line to represent the best interests of their electorate, environmental protection and assessments, and even involved ‘changes… made to the conservation status of the Bay in the [local] Structure Plan… to ease the Barrage… progress’ (Best 144, and 88).

Local Residents? What do they know?
Local residents in Cardiff opposed the Barrage because of the environmental damage it would cause to a protected inter-tidal habitat, the increased floodrisk it would bring to their homes, and the massive and unjustifiable expense of the project.

Their fears that impounding the Rivers Taff and Ely behind a tidal barrage would damage the inter-tidal habitat of the SSSI-registered Bay and therefore a substantial part of the Severn Estuary SPA (of which Cardiff Bay forms a part), and would lead to increased floodrisk to their homes, were dismissed in favour of the ‘enormous economic benefits’ it was perceived a barrage would bring, and anything between 11,000 and 30,000 new jobs promised…

It turns out that local residents’ concerns were more than justified, and that any economic “benefits” have been more than compensated for by the enormous economic drain the barrage continues to prove, year after year after year…

To try to avoid the thorny issue of the inevitable environmental impact the barrage would cause, the proposers of the barrage quickly turned the argument into a birds vs human debate (from jobs and urban regeneration and redevelopment and economic benefits, to flood defences – sound familiar?), which was a nonsense from the start: local residents were not opposed to redeveloping the Cardiff Docks area, but argued that a barrage was not necessary for this redevelopment to take place, and that making more of the fantastic wildlife of the Bay – which had the greatest tide range in Europe as well as huge flocks of wading birds - would be an asset!

The alternatives to a barrage were never considered by the barrage proposers, despite much work by environmentally-responsible architect Professor Chris Baines, local residents, environmental impact assessments and the RSPB (Best 70-79), who could all clearly see the enormous benefits for wildlife, local people, and tourism that a natural inter-tidal Bay would bring. Subsequently, when asked what had attracted them to the redeveloped Docks area, not one of the new or relocated businesses cited the barrage as the reason they moved to the area (Best 29).

The “new jobs” promise turned out a tad whimsical too… initial promises appeared to be plucked out of the air: 11,000 new jobs became 20,000 then ‘almost 30,000 jobs’ (Best 59, & 63) depending on who was speaking, and after a loss of approximately 15,000 existing jobs amongst local people (businesses cleared wholesale to make way for the shiny new Docks developments), and with many of the new jobs filled by the workers that the new businesses which moved in brought with them, the net gain of the 16,750 new jobs quoted as an actual final figure by the Cardiff Harbour Authority is nearer 2,000, so only a fraction of the new jobs promised have actually materialised. Even if the 16,000 figure IS nearer the mark, it is still half the figure of 30,000 often quoted, showing the economic figures were rather loose, to say the least.

Economic benefits, or an obscene drain on resources?
Estimates of how much the Barrage would cost ranged from £40 million initially, to £113 million for its later incarnation, but the actual cost – for construction alone - on completion in 2000 was £200 million… (see Best 8), with ‘the total cost’ estimated in 1989 ‘to be some £402 million’ (Ian Grist, Under Secretary of State for Wales, 1989, quoted Best 107) – and that was before it was actually completed, and before the costly remedial works had to be done to the inadequate sluice gate system in 2000-2001, on the insistence of the EA... not to mention the urgent dredging of impounded silts…

Then there’s the annual running costs for the barrage, which three years ago were costing the Welsh Assembly £21.4 million (see Best 8) per year, while the cost of the “replacement” habitat at Gwent Levels rose from £5.7 million in 1995 to £10.4 million in 2000 (yet has proven largely ineffective for crucial bird species displaced by the barrage)…

Then there’s the Environment Agency’s own annual economic expenditure on assessing and trying to redress the Environmental Impacts of the barrage…

So far then, a conservative estimate – given that the figures mentioned here are only some of the costs involved as many of the works we know have taken place we do not have figures for – appear to place the total costs so far to be £402 million to 1989, plus at least £20 million every year since the barrage was “completed” in 2000, meaning another £120 million to 2006, so a running total of £522 million and climbing by over £20 million every year -
- not counting the Environment Agency’s own expenditure, or the substantial remedial works the Cardiff authorities had to undertake to render the barrage fully operational; or the algal scum-scooping boats; rubbish clearance; midge, rodent and pollution issues; aeration system and oxygenation back-up vessels…

Environmental Impacts and the Net Losses to Wildlife:
The Cardiff Barrage was originally muted as a much smaller structure, further upriver than the barrage was finally built and therefore not originally intended to cover the inter-tidal area itself, and was proposed as part of a new road crossing across the River Taff.

A report into the potential environmental impacts on the wildlife of this initial barrage site, further upriver than the Estuary, found that the levels of disturbance to the birds on ‘this small but important SSSI’ would ‘increase’, and recommended the Taff Estuary be designated a Local Nature Reserve as this would ‘leave the birds undisturbed and provide a very valuable local amenity… [which] would amply repay all efforts made to conserve it’.

SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest) means a site is entitled to protection from damage or destruction, and Dr. Peter Ferns, the author of the report, clearly recognised the damage the original upriver barrage proposal would cause to the downstream inter-tidal mudflats, as well as recognising the benefits to wildlife, local amenity value, and the local economy that preserving the Bay’s inter-tidal mudflats as a Nature Reserve and tourist attraction would bring.

But instead of listening to environmental assessments and residents’ concerns and forgetting about the barrage part of the development proposals for the area, the local Councils decided to put the barrage across the mouth of the Estuary itself and consequently drown the whole site.

A few questions leap to mind…
What is the value of commissioning environmental impact assessments if you intend to ignore them anyway? A Public Relations exercise…?

How can arguments purporting to the “economic necessity” of a barrage be justified when this costs so much more in monetary as well as environmental terms than the wildlife facility alternative would generate?

Sustainable development…?

The Cardiff Barrage, then, has impounded a significant area of inter-tidal wetland which is now a fresh-water lake, and thus directly removed a valuable section of inter-tidal habitat from the Severn Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA)…

Environmental Impacts and the Economic Drain:
As a consequence of the barrage, the Cardiff authorities AND the Environment Agency have had to pay out - and continue to pay out - enormous sums of money to try to redress the environmental impacts. These measures have included – and continue to include - creating “alternative wildlife habitat” elsewhere; set up and run pumping stations to keep groundwater levels from rising too high and flooding homes; re-introduce 50,000 baby Salmon into the river every year, year on year; dredging; pest control; water quality problems in the artificial lake…

Habitat recreation:
As a legal requirement, a 439ha (hectare) wetland was “created” on the Gwent Levels in an attempt to mitigate against the loss of inter-tidal wetland habitat on the Taff… this cost many millions, but unfortunately has proved to be largely a disaster for a number of wildlife species (Best 71-2;) – and, whilst the true impact will not be known for several years yet, both bird and fish species indeed appear to have suffered, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Shelduck apparently catastrophically, having all but disappeared from the area and not having relocated to the new site. A Study into these effects found the following:

The study concentrated on 5 key species (that is, most numerous) of over-wintering wader birds present in the Bay prior to impoundment: Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank.

Q: Were the numbers and distribution of birds within the Bay affected by construction work associated with the Barrage?

A: Initial work indicated that the overall numbers of over-wintering water birds supported in the Bay had declined prior to impoundment, perhaps due to changes in habitat quality. The distribution and behaviour of birds in the Bay were also affected by disturbance caused by Barrage construction.

Q: Were birds displaced by the Impoundment of the Bay and how did the water bird community change?

A: Prior to impoundment, the Bay supported a diverse water bird community, dominated by large (over-wintering) numbers of estuarine birds. Since impoundment a smaller community of birds has existed in the Bay. Only very small numbers of the 5 key species (Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank) have continued to use the Bay as a high tide roost site during winter, and only occasionally do individuals remain to forage at low tide.

Q: Were birds displaced from the Bay able to re-locate to other neighbouring sites?

A: There is evidence that 3 of the 5 key species (Shelduck, Oystercatcher and Curlew) displaced from Cardiff Bay settled at adjacent sites in the first winter following impoundment. However, these increases were not maintained and, with the exception of Curlew, there was no evidence that birds subsequently attempted to settle elsewhere. In the case of Dunlin, it was not possible to determine whether displaced birds were able to settle elsewhere due to an ongoing decline of the local population.

Q: Was there any impact on the condition and survival of birds that were forced to re-locate?

A: Most of the Redshank from the Bay were displaced to the Rhymney estuary. There is evidence that adult Redshank displaced from the Bay had difficulty in maintaining their body condition in the first winter following impoundment and suggested that the winter survival rate of Cardiff Bay Redshank fell after their displacement.

It is worth mentioning that the devastating impact the Cardiff Barrage has had on some species of wading bird is in the context of the 8,000 over-wintering birds Cardiff's inter-tidal mudflats used to support pre-barrage, therefore the concerns of the potential impact of the proposed Ribble barrage has to be viewed in the context of the 250,000 over-wintering birds the Ribble Estuary supports every year.

Fish species are another serious issue, and the monitoring of all fish species following the impounding of the Taff is ongoing.

That the Environment Agency are releasing ‘50,000 salmon smolts (baby fish) into the River Taff every year as presumed mitigation with respect to the construction of the barrage’ is very telling in terms of the impacts barrages are known to cause, even when designed with so-called fish passes.

The Environment Agency have had to commit large resources to try to mitigate against the Environmental Impacts of the Cardiff barrage (more details can be found here and at the end of this article).

The Cardiff Harbour Board’s Cardiff Bay Barrage “Environmental Report 2005-2006” raises the following issues, all of which also have to involve EA resources, as well as heavy economic input by the Cardiff Authorities – proud, it appears, of their ability to tackle the environmental problems the barrage is causing:.

‘The environmental conditions within the Bay and rivers [impounded behind the barrage] are favourable for the formation of large blooms of planktonic algae. Blooms can die forming scums on the surface of the water. Blue-green algal scums may contain toxins that could pose a risk to public health… [and are] both unsightly and giving rise to malodours as they decompose. Decaying blooms may also cause a breech in the oxygen standard’.
As a result, the Cardiff authorities have had to purchase special boats and equipment for removing these scums from the water surface… costing thousands to buy, staff to operate, and still leaving the water quality problems which cause the scums in the first place…and these toxic scums are then disposed of onto the Severn Estuary inter-tidal SSSI & SPA mudflats…

Bay level and flood defence:
‘Cardiff Bay barrage was designed to exclude estuarial water from the freshwater bay. The Severn estuary has a tidal range of up to 14 metres which means that at high tide the sea level can often be higher than the bay level which is normally maintained at 4.5 metres above Ordnance Datum… To exclude sea water the sluice gates are closed when the sea level is 30 centimetres below bay level on the ebb tide… during [which time] the combined flows of the rivers Taff and Ely are stored within the 200 hectare freshwater bay… in the event that river flow would result in an unacceptable rise in bay level… the bay level is lowered… to provide additional storage volume…’
To cut to the chase, the barrage has to have sluice gates, which are closed to prevent the tides coming in, but which can then, subject to river flow, increase floodrisk upstream of the barrage as the artificially-high water levels impounded by the barrage allow no extra capacity for extra river waters. To decrease this floodrisk, the impounded water has to be allowed to flow out into the estuary before the tide comes in, to allow greater storage capacity behind the barrage if predictions of river flow indicate high levels will occur during high tides…As it is, the EA had to insist that the original impounded water level be reduced from +8metres to +4metres AOD as the floodrisk was deemed too great.

Bizarrely, the importance of Cardiff Bay to wildlife is recognised in the Report, the monitoring of changes in biodiversity are recognised as necessary, and insists that ‘all new developments are assessed on their impact upon the natural environment, and planning guidance is provided to mitigate or compensate for any loss of habitat’ as part of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Act (1993) … the Act which ALLOWED the barrage to go ahead and thus destroying a significant area of SSSI-protected intertidal mudflats!!!
The “mitigation” against the destruction of the Cardiff Bay SSSI was the provision of wetland on the Gwent Levels – which is not only a different kind of biodiversity habitat to the one destroyed by the barrage, but the vast majority of displaced birds have not turned up there, showing that a natural inter-tidal ecosystem cannot be “compensated” for elsewhere.

Dissolved Oxygen:
‘when the weather is warm and there is little wind and rain, the dissolved oxygen levels in the deeper waters of the Bay will naturally drop. Low dissolved oxygen levels could significantly impact upon the fish, invertebrate and birds living in and off Cardiff Bay. The Cardiff Bay Barrage Act 1993 requires the dissolved oxygen levels to be at a minimum of 5mg/l in all places and all times. Cardiff Harbour Authority therefore uses an aeration system to mix the water thereby raising the dissolved oxygen levels… Additionally, if required, oxygen is added to the water using a mobile oxygenation vessel. Continuous real-time water quality monitoring and routine water quality sampling analysis facilitate the measurement of dissolved oxygen levels’.
In other words, barrage-impounded water = perpetual problems with water quality and consequential environmental risks, which means the perpetual necessity of having to re-oxygenate the water – particularly in warm weather, for three seasons of the year, but effectively needs to be monitored and redressed all year round: more equipment, staffing, time and money, of these perpetual environmental impacts.

To cut a long story short, the Severn estuary – like the Ribble – is a high-siltation estuary. As a result, the barrage has caused siltation problems and the new navigation areas have to be ‘dredged twice a year’ – very expensive, and also has its own environmental impacts. And all those tonnes of high-energy mud used to feed one of Britain’s best inter-tidal ecosystems when the Bay of Tigers was a natural, un-barraged estuary…

What happens upriver of the barrage is unclear… the Ribble is also a high siltation river upstream as a large proportion of its silts flow downstream to mix in with the sea-borne silts in the estuary. Barraging the Ribble would mean these silts back-up behind the barrage, reducing the riverbed volume and therefore increasing floodrisk as well as starving the estuarine mudflats of essential nutrients. As such, the Ribble would also need to be dredged on a regular basis – more expensive equipment, staff, time and money – and more environmental damage.

No fewer than 239 Groundwater monitoring locations have had to be set up, and regular rainfall, riverwater, and tidal monitoring has had to be implemented. So far 6 pumping stations have had to be constructed to try to offset the increased floodrisk to local communities. These have to be permanently operational. Groundwater has also to be analysed on a regular basis to check for deterioration in quality, which would affect the water quality – and thus the ecosystem – of the River Taff.

Migratory Fish:
The Cardiff Harbour Authority are clearly pleased with their ‘state of the art fish pass’ (p7), but the Environment Agency have yet to determine how well this is working, and are already releasing 50,000 Salmon smolts (baby salmon) into the Taff to mitigate against the impact of the Barrage on the migratory fish. According to the Report, the long term target by 2005 is ‘1,000’ fish, with the figure ‘191’ inserted in the box… it is not clear what this represents, but the question arises whether this means that only 191 fish have been known to pass through, which appears woefully short of the 1,000 target figure… Read more about problems associated with Fish pass mechanisms here .

Other issues include measures necessary to cope with pollution incidents, the build up of debris and litter in the Bay (for which they have had to purchase specialised clean-up vessels) and the report mentions incidents of high river flow bringing large quantities of debris into the Bay which then have to be cleared, above and beyond the regular clean-ups required, invasive species of plant and marine life (many brought in on the hulls of boats and then left in the lake to reproduce), pests such as rodents and midges, the habitat and bank damage caused by the wakes of boats, discharge of marine toilets and oils and fuels from boats, saline intrusion, water quality monitoring and protection…

As Sian Best makes clear, local residents’ alternative vision of a sustainable living waterfront in Cardiff, involving a natural un-barraged river, would have cost less than a tenth of the obscene sums of money literally poured in to the barrage, money which could have actually ‘saved’ many ‘struggling communities’ in Wales but instead ‘would be frittered away on a concrete dam and a stagnant lake’ (90).

And Nicholas Edwards? Well, after retiring as a Government Minister, by some odd co-incidence, he and other barrage pushers landed themselves nice positions on the Boards of the largest landowner on Cardiff Docks… Associated British Ports and its subsidiary companies Grosvenor Square Properties Group PLC, and Grosvenor Waterside…. (see Best 31). We haven’t found a connection to the £multi-billion Grosvenor Estates corporation, member of Preston Vision Board…

Sustainable development is CRUCIAL for our environmental and economic present and future – and wetlands play a vital role in this. The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment states that ‘the net benefits from the more sustainably managed ecosystem are greater than those from the converted ecosystem when measurements include both marketed and nonmarketed services, even though the private (market) benefits would be greater from the converted ecosystem’ (p11).
This means that the more obvious commercial interests, and the economic benefits accrued as a result of converting ecosystems (by barraging an intertidal river or estuary, say) will be outweighed by the economic losses in the long term.

Ribble Coast & Wetlands Regional Park:
Preserving the Ribble as a dynamic inter-tidal wetland ecosystem provides a truly sustainable alternative vision for the present and future of the Ribble corridor, a vision which is sustainable in environmental and economic terms – and doesn’t involve changing the appearance or nature of the Ribble ecosystem, its Green Belt and Floodplain, but instead relies on its ecological importance to provide excellent amenities for local people and tourists alike
It is estimated that by the Northwest Development Agency that new visitors to the Ribble Wetlands will generate £115 million EVERY YEAR, and bring 4,500 new jobs – and of course, will cost a lot less than a barrage to maintain!

Ribble inter-tdal mudflats at the confuence of the Douglas with the Ribble - one of the sites proposed for the barrage!

Natural, un-barraged inter-tidal wetlands on the Ribble - great for wildlife and great for people!

More details of Environment Agency involvement in the Cardiff Bay Barrage impacts can be found here, with some central points below.

All issues involve ongoing economic input, and the resolutions themselves also involve their own follow-up implications in the environmental and economic impact, such as dredging, the release of algal scums scooped from the Bay onto the Severn Estuary SPA, and so on… and it is clear that the EA have had to constantly press for the necessary measures to be addressed:

According to the Environment Agency:
‘The construction of the Cardiff Bay Barrage has meant there have been and will continue to be many issues requiring the active involvement of Environment Agency Wales. The Agency has a duty in particular to ensure that matters relating to water quality, flood defence and fisheries issues are properly addressed’.

The Environment Agency ‘has had to commit additional resources to ensure that these conditions are adequately complied with by setting up the Cardiff Bay Team that together tackle the wide-ranging environmental issues…’

Including ‘Floodrisk issues’: ‘sluice gate operation and the back-up system’; too-high water level at ‘+8mAOD’; ‘dredging’, and ‘operation of the bay maintained at a [lower] level of +4.5m AOD’; ‘a serious deficiency in the design of the electrical power distribution system’ forming ‘an unacceptable risk of failure to the operation of the sluice gates’ [which had to be remedied]; ‘Tidal flooding resulting from the leakage of lock gates at the… Graving Docks was common’; ‘Even with the Barrage’s ability to exclude high tides, defences of +8.0mAOD are necessary in the Bay area against fluvial events’…

Fish issues:
‘Any barrage is potentially an obstruction to the passage of migratory fish.
‘Up to the time of construction of the Barrage, numbers of salmon and sea trout in the Rivers Taff and Ely were steadily recovering. To facilitate the passage of such fish, the Cardiff Bay Barrage includes a fish pass…. [but] Following impoundment, there were significant operational difficulties with both the mechanical features and the operating software. These have now been addressed by Cardiff Harbour Authority (CHA), however adjustments to the operating procedures and changes to mechanical equipment continue…. The fish pass efficiency is not known, however observations indicate that fish are using the pass though exact numbers cannot be determined.
... Statistics gathered from the pre-barrage construction fisheries monitoring programme will be compared to those post-construction to determine the nature and extent of any impact of the Barrage. These data will be used to determine the appropriate number of smolts (juvenile fish) to be released as mitigation. Some interim mitigation stocking of smolts into the River Taff has already begun’ . [ - in fact, the EA are releasing 50,000 baby Salmon (smolts) every year in expected mitigation – which indicates a serious effect on the fish stocks].

Monitoring Cardiff Bay Water Quality:
‘Studies have predicted that substantial algal blooms could occur in the freshwater lake throughout the spring, summer and autumn. Of particular concern is the predicted occurrence of toxic algae that can poison fish and other wildlife within the lake and also pose a threat to public health.

Due to the excessive algal growth predicted, Cardiff Bay has been designated as a Sensitive Area (Eutrophic) under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive. ‘Eutrophic’ means that levels of nutrients can affect the natural balance of plant life, including algae. Consequently, nutrient stripping at five sewage treatment works in the Taff and Ely catchments are included in the current Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water investment programme.

It is hoped that the nutrient stripping will reduce the potential of algae forming in the Bay but the risk is not totally eliminated… algae disposal is via the Cardiff East long sea outfall into the Severn Estuary.

Groundwater: ‘As a consequence of Barrage construction, it was believed that groundwater levels would rise in certain areas of Cardiff. To counter this problem the groundwater is being pumped from a number of drains and wells. … The Agency has required that the quality of groundwater is monitored… Should the water be found to contain substances which could contaminate receiving waters, then the Agency would require that the water be appropriately treated and would determine formal discharge consents’.

Oxygenation: an ‘aeration system … was completed on the 11th May 2001. However… contingency measures [are needed] to support the existing aeration system in the event of a serious dissolved oxygen failure. CHA explored the application of hydrogen peroxide as a contingency measure to increase dissolved oxygen levels but following trials it was agreed that it would be discounted as a mitigation measure. After exploring a number of methods CHA found that the most effective way to support the existing aeration system would be a "bubbler" barge which they purchased in April 2004.’

Saline Intrusion into the Cardiff Bay Impoundment: ‘The intrusion of saltwater through the locking system from the estuary into the bay needs to be controlled, as it is a threat to the water quality of the freshwater lake… potentially creating a stratified layer below which water may stagnate’.

Other Issues: Invasions of Midges… ‘Cardiff Harbour Authority's trial use of a larval insecticide to reduce the problem... The toxicology of Bti [the larval insecticide] has been approved… Studies to determine the effectiveness of the larvicide trials are ongoing. There is no one method that will control midges effectively. The most effective control is likely to be the establishment of a stable and balanced ecosystem where competition and predation should prevent populations reaching the high densities so far observed.’

Dredging: ‘major dredging programme to improve boat access’; ‘ensure that adequate precautions were in place to protect water quality during the removal of the 600,000 m³ of fine silt... In addition to the main dredging works, several much smaller operations have since been completed in the inner harbour and within the graving docks’.

Waste Regulation; ‘algae’; ‘aquatic weeds, litter and debris washed down by the rivers... CHA are using a “water witch” vessel to collect the waterborne litter as well as arranging manual clearance along the bay edge. The Agency has ensured that all material is collected and disposed of safely in the most appropriate manner with waste management licences being determined as necessary’.

Find out about how the Cardiff Bay regeneration project planned to “re-unite the City of Cardiff with its waterfront” but succeeded in ruining an awe-inspiring wildlife habitat and tying itself and the Environment Agency into a perpetual economic drain.

Since this article was posted, one local resident, Mike, emailed us to point out the obvious floodrisk problem that the Ribble waters would present to a barrage given the enormous flows of water capable of coming down the Ribble (not to mention the Darwen and Douglas), coupled with the lack of a holding Bay/lake (see comments link below)...
...and to tell us about the disastrous situation that the Tees Barrage is causing to Salmon and other migratory fish, including another threatened species, Sea Trout. The Tees barrage is preventing fish from passing easily other than through the bottle-necks of the fish passes, and therefore the fish are presenting themselves as easy pickings to predators - including seals who have moved in for a permanent table at the Tees Barrage fast-food outlet:

Anglers Conservation Association solicitor Guy Lilley Allen, said: "The problem with the barrage is the salmon and sea trout are trying to run up the river, coming up to the barrage and are being delayed because they cannot find the very small opening of the fish pass and consequently seals are having an absolute feast."
See the BBC coverage of this here.

The gravity of the failure of the fish passes to perform adequately is discussed by a fisherman on his blog:

‘As early as October 2003, Environment Agency fisheries experts are on record as stating that "if further monitoring is carried out this is likely to show that the fish pass is totally inefficient." In December 2003, DEFRA stated that "neither British Waterways nor the Environment Agency appears to have been taking the problem on the Tees very seriously".

Two years ago, in 2004, DEFRA stated to the Environment Agency that "British Waterways appear to be continuing to avoid the key issue; that the fish barrage [sic] represents an unacceptable barrier to fish movements and the fish pass is not working effectively … it is disappointing that we appear to be no further forward in any assessment of whether the fish pass works effectively or not. Potentially yet another survey will only confirm anglers’ claims … that the fish pass is not effective. As a result we will then need to agree a new fish pass with yet another monitoring programme."’
See Martin James Fishing for more on this situation.

You can read more about this disastrous problem the Tees Barrage is causing for migratory salmon here.

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