Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000
120. Can you say a little more about where these
(Dr Bardsley) Yes. They tend to arise when the sites
are of enormously high wildlife value or have plants which are
very rare. There is very old evidence that has been used consistently
by some navigation authorities to say that biodiversity will increase
at low levels of navigation. That is not sufficient and it has
been recognised in the British Waterways current published biodiversity
action plan and by most people now that some very rare plant species
are damaged by navigation.
121. The major managers of waterways are British
Waterways and the Environment Agency. How do you fare with these
(Dr Bardsley) British Waterways has made enormous
strides recently to improve its biodiversity, including the publication
of its biodiversity framework. Its environmental code of practice
is in outline and they have become clear and consistent, as have
the Environment Agency. They both possess excellent skills for
managing, in the case of British Waterways, canals, and, in the
case of the Environment Agency, they possess the specialist skills
required for managing river navigation.
122. Would the Wildlife Trusts like to see one
national navigation authority?
(Dr Bardsley) I agree with the person this morning
who said this was a loaded question. There is a need for a strategic
overview but to call it a navigation authority limits the scope
because waterways, particularly rivers, are not just for navigation;
rivers are key parts of flood defence.
123. Are you attracted by an over-arching planning
(Dr Bardsley) An over-arching planning authority for
waterways, yes, because there are so many multifunctional values,
particularly on rivers, and I am not sure that a navigation authority
taking responsibility for our rivers is a good idea because they
need integrated management because of their flood defence role.
124. Would you like to see the responsibilities
of the Environment Agency for inland waterways transferred to
the British Waterways Board?
(Dr Bardsley) No.
125. Inland waterways are becoming an increasingly
important wildlife resource?
(Dr Bardsley) Yes.
126. Where, in your judgment, does most of the
money come from that is invested in inland waterways and their
(Dr Bardsley) From a variety of functions. The public
sector for British Waterways. There are also private sector initiatives.
127. Of the £1.6 that British Waterways,
say, have expended on leisure and other activities on the waterways,
where do you think most of that comes from?
(Dr Bardsley) Some of it comes from the navigation
use and some from public private partnership and the lottery,
128. The vast majority of it comes from boat
users, I should imagine, who are the major leisure users who spend
considerable money on the waterways. What I find alarming is that
you now want to impose a statutory framework on the waterways
in order to pursue your agenda. This has the potential to load
costs on to that part of the communitythe individuals in
their leisure and recreationwhich is serving to help your
objectives because they are preserving and restoring the existing
inland waterways network. Do you not have a concern that, if you
push your statutory agenda too far you will load costs onto the
system and people will have to go elsewhere to pursue their leisure?
(Dr Bardsley) British Waterways already have minimum
environment standards and minimum waterway standards for the provision
of different waterway facilities. The Environment Agency also
has minimum standards and so does the Broads Authority. On a quarter
of our navigation authority managed waterways they have none.
(a) costs will not be that much; (b) many of these people may
be meeting them, but there needs to be a simplification of the
problem as it stands.
129. If you have them for five-sixths of the
waterways, why do you need to establish a statutory framework
to load cost on what is the small amount left? It is all part
of the waterway network where you are likely to see the maximum
voluntary contribution and community involvement by the very nature
of its diffuse ownership.
(Dr Bardsley) One of the key objectives is biodiversity.
If you are assuming that a minimum environmental standard is going
to load costs, we think that the costs may not be as large and
they may not necessarily have to be met by the profits. I suspect
any minimum standard would already be met by the Environment Agency,
British Waterways and the Broads Authority.
130. You do not see the involvement by leisure
users, particularly boat users of the waterways, directly or indirectly,
as serving your interests as well because they help preserve the
(Dr Bardsley) Preserving the environment is serving
their interests because it is recognised in most publications
131. I am sure we all agree with that but if,
in pursuit of wildlife objectives, £1.5 billion is spent
on the waterways, £180 million of that comes to the British
Waterway Board. 80 per cent of that is coming from the private
sector people pursuing their leisure activities. If by accident
you drive those people away, that would not serve your purposes,
(Dr Bardsley) I do not believe it would drive those
people away. A strategic planning overview would ensure that you
were not loading the costs directly onto boaters. That would not
be fair. It would not serve our interests but we are not convinced
that the system as it stands is clear.
132. In any consideration of further regulation
of rules about wildlife trusts, we would have to bear in mind
that this would need sustained leisure use of the inland waterways?
(Dr Bardsley) Sustained, yes.
133. English Nature are fairly relaxed about
significant new water transfer. The Wildlife Trusts think that
it is a disaster. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
(Mr Withrington) I do not think English Nature is
relaxed. We have not seen specific proposals yet and any proposals
have to be studied in view of possible impacts from things like
spreading of alien species of plants and signal crayfish, which
carry crayfish plague. Canals are a very important refuge for
our native crayfish. As far as the impact on the canal system
is concerned, we think that an amount of clean water coming through
the system would probably be beneficial to the canals. Again,
you have to question whether this transfer of water is needed
in the first place.
134. Not at the moment, presumably.
(Mr Withrington) Certainly not this week. We do not
say that it is necessarily going to cause major environmental
impacts. It just depends how the schemes are put forward. An environmental
study has to be undertaken before any capital investment in infrastructure
is made to transfer water.
(Mr Cunningham) The Wildlife Trusts response comes
very much from the decision from the various consultations that
have been taking place on the proposed Water Bill which may or
may not be with us shortly. The idea of water transfer is fairly
old hat. It is trotted out every time there is a drought. It very
much belongs to the predict and provide model of water resources
engineering, where you look to see what you think people will
135. I can understand the philosophy of telling
people to be more careful with water but what about nature conservation?
Does it really do that much damage?
(Mr Cunningham) We do not know. The threats that we
talk about in our written response we think are real. The spread
of invasive species could not only threaten our wildlife but also
the viability of our waterways.
136. As far as anglers are concerned, do we
still need a closed season on canals?
(Mr Withrington) English Nature did oppose the removal
of the close season on canals. The Ministry of Agriculture in
its decision decided to keep it on certain Sites of Special Scientific
Interest, for which we are grateful, but we do talk to the anglers
very regularly and there seem to be quite a lot of anglers who
appreciate a close season and its effects on the relief of disturbance
on breeding birds, on wildlife generally, to have a break during
the time when birds are breeding, but nothing has been put in
its place. This has been taken away so we are concerned, but the
decision has been made and we have to live with it.
137. Have you managed to satisfy anglers about
(Mr Withrington) I do not think we will ever satisfy
some angling groups about cormorants. The research that has been
done seems to show that the impact on fish populations and fish
eating birds is not as high as some people might claim. Research
has been done by the Ministry of Agriculture but it is a bit inconclusive.
There are hot spots. We recognise that there is a need to try
and solve some problems locally.
(Mr Withrington) I am not an expert in this field
but there are ways of scaring off or protecting fish tanks with
139. I was concerned about canals. It is put
to me that some of the angling clubs can put up these fluorescent
flares and all sorts of things to protect their waters, but some
of the canals are having the fish trawled out of them by cormorants.
(Mr Withrington) All bird species are protected under
the law. The decision on whether any control is needed rests with
the Ministry of Agriculture and we would advise them on a case
by case basis.
Mr Bennett: It is not a question of case by
case, is it, for cormorants because they are protected. I can
never remember which bit of the schedule they are protected under.