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Angling Trust chief executive, Mark Lloyd brings you this week’s blog.
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THIS week a rumour has emerged that the Government has asked the Environment Agency to look into letting farmers dredge rivers to try and stop flooding their fields. If the rumours are true, then this new policy is very worrying.
Dredging rivers can have a very severe impact on fish and other wildlife by removing gravels, woody debris and aquatic plants that are all vital parts of fish habitat. These features provide the places for fish to lay their eggs, find their food and to escape from predators. Removing them means that fish cannot breed, feed or hide, and the populations suffer as a result.
Not only that, but dredging can actually make flooding significantly worse further downstream by speeding water down the catchment. Rivers flood and they flood into floodplains. By spilling out over such a large area, the peak flows are reduced and water soaks into the ground which provides a steady baseflow in the summer months when it is most needed.
We made a lot of mistakes in the 1960s and 70s trying to stop rivers spilling into floodplains and this work did huge damage to rivers and fisheries. In fact, millions of pounds are now being spent restoring natural features to rivers after they were destroyed in the last attempt to stop rivers doing what they do naturally.
The River Yeo, where I learnt to fish when I was 3 years old, was dredged and straightened in the late 1970s to try and stop it flooding the fields in the floodplain. Me and my fishing mates spent days rescuing fish in buckets from the cut off meanders. We released them into the new channel which had neat, uniform, 45 degree banks and a flat bed. The fish couldn’t survive because there was no cover, no deep pools on bends, no food and nowhere to lay their eggs.
When the work was done, the water authority came along and stocked the river with rainbow trout, as an idiotic apology. People caught lots of rainbow trout for a few weeks and then they gradually gave up fishing on the river because it wasn’t worth going.
I was so angry about the damage that had been done I did a project to study the impact on the wildlife of the river. I then went on to study for a Masters degree in Environmental Water Management and have devoted the last 20 years of my career to protecting rivers, fish and fishing.
Widespread dredging of rivers to stop flooding could be a massive, pointless and damaging waste of public funds. We should be blocking up drainage ditches in the uplands to reduce peak flows and storing water in natural aquifers to prop up summer flows.
Of course, there might be potential for farmers to do some dredging themselves, instead of it being done by the Internal Drainage Boards or the Environment Agency, but it must be very tightly regulated and restricted to places where it can really be justified.
If we allow farmers to dredge wherever they like, we will see more flooding, not less, and the next generation of young people will have fewer and fewer places where they can go fishing in a healthy river environment. The Angling Trust is urging the government to tread very carefully.
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