Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000
140. You had not thought of consulting with
the Chinese, who seem to have cormorants under control?
(Mr Withrington) No.
141. Can I ask you about SSSIs? You mentioned
them but they are fairly marginal, are they not?
(Mr Withrington) In one sense, yes. I was very heartened
by what Mr Edwards said to you in the earlier session. We have
had a lot of opposition from some of his members to the only two
recent SSSI designations I think since the 1970s. The most recent
one is the proposal on Rochdale Canal to make it a Special Area
of Conservation. We feel that in most cases we can work with British
Waterways and the other navigation authorities to protect these
areas but in some cases there will be proposals for increased
development, intensive boat use, which is not compatible with
protecting this interest. As SSSIs are only one per cent of the
network and normally at the ends of the network, we do not feel
this is a great imposition.
142. Mr Edwards is right. His organisation has
a lot of fascinating extremists?
(Mr Withrington) We do have very heated dialogues
with some waterway enthusiasts.
143. This morning has been a revelation to me.
I never realised what passion was hidden in these groups. Could
I ask this of the Wildlife Trusts: your memorandum was largely
about canals. Are there any points you wish to make about river
navigations and their management?
(Dr Bardsley) River navigations are definitely distinct
to canals. We believe the expertise for river navigation management
lies within the Environment Agency. We would strenuously oppose
moving the management of river navigations into British Waterways
because of the points I made earlier about the integrated management
of our rivers, integrating flood defence and wildlife concerns.
144. I am a bit confused. Are we saying that
we want one over-arching planning authority but we do not want
it to control the bits that we do not want it to control?
(Dr Bardsley) No. We would like standards set for
145. We are quite happy for it to remain in
its present, fragmented form as long as they all maintain a common
basis of standards?
(Dr Bardsley) Yes. I think that sums it up very well.
146. What about habitat enhancement?
(Dr Bardsley) There is insufficient money at the moment
for habitat enhancement. Most of the work that is doneindeed,
the work mentioned this morning on the Oxford Canalwas
done as part of a legal mitigation because the water vole is legally
protected, as is its habitat. We feel that they could produce
much more benefit for not much additional cost by looking at their
policies and practices and increasing use of alternative bank
(Mr Withrington) British Waterways has a conservation
award scheme in which English Nature is one of the judges. They
encourage their canal engineers to undertake enhancement schemes
throughout the network. There was quite a good entry in the last
two years, so we can see what can be done. A lot of it is not
147. You would say that people now are aware,
that there has been a culture change; people are conscious of
the things they have to do even if they do not always have the
money to do them. Is that what you are telling us?
(Mr Withrington) There is some way to go in some areas
of navigation responsibility. The senior officers in navigation
authorities are fully aware of all this.
148. I am not very clever and I want it clear
in my own mind. On the one hand, you are saying you want an integrated
authority which will have a much greater role in bringing together
all these disparate authorities?
(Mr Withrington) Yes....
149. On the other hand, you are saying that,
although some senior members of the establishment may be aware
of the need for a culture change in terms of conservation and
even enhancement, that is a measure that is not received at the
lower ends of the scale. Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Withrington) That particular thing can be done
by bodies like the Environment Agency which are trying to champion
the environment more now and get these messages through in best
practice to all their staff. It might not depend on having a single
authority. English Nature is prepared to work with whatever authority
150. It is not that any of these bodies lack
either power or goodwill or even encouragement. They know exactly
what they want to do. They are capable of transmitting that information
to the people working for them and overall they are working for
a good standard. Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Withrington) The policies are now being put into
place but, as with many things, it seems to take longer than the
conservation side would like to actually get it on the ground.
151. What are the real barriers?
(Dr Bardsley) The initial barrier is funding, as always.
The policies have only just come into place. There has been very
little delivery on the ground. Part of the reason British Waterways
have these conservation awards is to sell their own environmental
code of practice. I was also a judge and they were excellent.
All the examples I saw are very much at the vanguard. There is
very little of it occurring on our waterways and they have a long
way to go for delivery on the ground. It is only the three large
navigation authorities that have these policies clearly available.
All the other authorities need in some ways bringing into line.
Whether you do that through the existing Association of Inland
Navigation Authorities or you set up a new planning authority
is for the DETR to decide.
152. Do you have a policy on that? Do you have
a view on that? Which is the preferable response?
(Dr Bardsley) The preferable response is that you
set up an industry regulator or perhaps change the remit of IWAAC,
the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, so that it includes
environmental representation so that all users of the waterways
can be represented.
153. And that would do it?
(Dr Bardsley) The devil would be in the detail.
154. So it would not do it? We are talking about
something serious and I want to know your view.
(Dr Bardsley) My view is that if the representation
and the terms of reference were sufficient and they were given
sufficient power and funding, then it could do, yes.
Chairman: We got there in the end. Thank you
very much indeed. I am very grateful to you all. You have been