About Afonydd Cymru

What’s the role of Afonydd Cymru in the fight for our rivers?

 

  • Press Welsh Government to bring the deplorable levels of farm pollution and other land use issues within safe levels at the very earliest opportunity
  • Support the six trusts and assist with development and funding to enable restoration and maintenance of our rivers fisheries and freshwater ecosystems
  • Keep relevant information flowing
  • Develop the economic and employment benefits of successful river restoration by increasing availability and access through the “All Wales Passport”

Habitat restoration on the Clywedog and recovery after two years. An important part of Rivers Trusts’ work.

 

The rivers and lakes of Wales form an intricate part of our beautiful natural landscape and heritage. There are 23 classed as ‘main’ and 10 ‘other’ rivers plus their tributaries. Main rivers are recognised as such for the purpose of fishery identification and reporting. They should have appreciable runs of salmon and in many cases, sea trout too. As well as that, the varying geology and slope offer a range of biodiversity, habitats and species, many of which result in important UK and EU designations.

There are eight rivers classed as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), as are four lakes (Llyns) and four estuaries. Please see here for SACs and here for details of those that are also Special Protection Areas. However, none of these designations do justice to their sheer beauty. Their value as suppliers of services and benefits such as a clean and abundant supply of drinking water, hydropower, and even disposal of waste (within practical limits) is huge. Additionally, angling and associated tourism brings in visitors and much needed employment and revenue to the rural economy. This is estimated to be worth £150million each year.

Yet for all the gifts that rivers bring, history suggests we have not looked after them as we should. First, the Industrial Revolution brought pollution on a grand scale to the Valleys with coal mining and iron, steel and copper processing using rivers as a convenient means of disposing unwanted material. True, there has been considerable success in restoring rivers such as Taff and Rhymni which ran jet black with coal dust and at times red with iron oxides. Salmon now run both these rivers and many more that were also similarly affected.

 

Some of the rubbish from the Great Wye litter pick

 

However, today more of our rivers are facing even more serious threats from a range of causes which may be divided into two areas of concern:

      • The adverse effects of land use such as forestry and agriculture: poor water quality (sedimentation, raised levels of phosphate and nitrates, acid rain and toxic chemicals) plus the compounding effects of Climate Change
      • Local problems such as barriers to migration, overexploitation and predation, abstraction, habitat degradation, Invasive species and littering

1. Spraying Giant Hogweed an invasive non native species. 2. Returning a salmon: fishing brings over £150m to the welsh economy.

3. Applying limestone to combat the effects of acid rain. 4. Buying off commercial fisheries to increase numbers of spawning fish.

5. Restoring fish access to their spawning habitats. 6. Salmon returning to spawn

 

The six rivers trusts, Natural Resources Wales and their predecessors have worked together over decades to deal with many of the local problems especially barriers, habitat restoration and exploitation management. While there is still plenty to do, there is in place a methodology to deliver the necessary improvements, if not the funding at present.

The real danger comes from intensive farming and forestry. Sheep dips were the first to inflict serious damage: the discovery of Synthetic Pyrethroid, a chemical so strong that a single drop in an Olympic swimming pool (1 part per trillion) could kill all invertebrate life. A pollution case in the Wye catchment reversed the laissez faire attitude to its use.

In the upland spruce plantations, the draining of wetlands, planting on base poor soils and high rainfall ensured pulses of acidity that can kill all fish and most invertebrate life. Upper Wye, Tywi, Teifi, Conwy and Glaslyn were the worst affected. Individual trusts have undertaken successful liming schemes to correct the problem. Ideally many of these upland sites need restoration of wetlands which would stabilise flows and planting should not take place on peat or in areas with limited buffering capacity.

Will this ever happen?

Worse than that, dairy farming has expanded especially in West Wales beyond the capacity of the land to cope with amount of manure and slurry that is now spread on it. Maize production and cattle poaching ensure that phosphate laden soil enters watercourses giving rise to algal blooms and filamentous growths. There is direct poisoning of smaller streams many exhibiting sewerage fungus. With this has been a decline of migratory fish stocks in all west Wales rivers especially Tywi, Cleddau and Teifi which in 2016  suffered a serious pollution at a very critical time when an Anaerobic Digester exploded and discharged effluent into the river near Tregaron.

 

Recovery of this iconic species in the Wye where many of the rivers problems have been resolved.