Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the National Association of Fisheries & Angling Consultatives (IW 50)



  1.1  The National Association of Fisheries & Angling Consultatives is the national body of local fisheries and angling consultative organisations across the country. Local consultatives are based largely on river catchment areas, and they work with the Environment Agency, English Nature, local authorities and other organisations in maintaining and protecting fisheries quality. Altogether, local consultatives represent more than 325,000 anglers belonging to over 700 angling clubs, as well as fishery owners, occupiers and others who take an interest in the aquatic environment.

  1.2  NAFAC represents the interests of consultatives at a national level with the Environment Agency, the Government, Government bodies and other organisations. It is a member of the Moran Committee, a group of thirteen national fisheries and angling organisations set up to make an input into the Government's recent Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review and to represent the combined interests of the organisations to Government. The Moran Committee presented evidence to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Environment Agency in October 1999.

  1.3  In common with the other members of the Moran Committee, NAFAC makes a clear distinction between fishing—the act of catching, or attempting to catch, fish—and fisheries which in freshwaters are considered to be "aquatic ecosystems in which in natural circumstances the highest form of life living wholly in the water is fish".


  2.1  NAFAC responded to the Department of the Environment's consultation British Waterways and National Rivers Authority: Review of Navigation Functions in June 1995, and to the British Waterways' consultation Regeneration Strategy for Anglian Waterways in June 1998. NAFAC's position in both these consultations was that:

    —  inland navigation had developed to a level which was unsustainable and damaging to fisheries over wide areas;

    —  little work had been done to assess how the use, maintenance and restoration of canals and navigations could affect aquatic ecosystems, or what influence subsidies had on demand for, and use of, navigation facilities and the consequent environmental impact;

    —  the National Rivers Authority had inadequate powers to regulate navigations not under its direct control.

  2.2  In 1995 NAFAC called on the Government to initiate studies of the environmental impact of canals and navigations, and to establish adequate regulation of inland navigation including a requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement for all proposals for restoring canals or navigations. The Environment Agency has since produced guidelines for navigation restoration projects, but there is doubt about their effectiveness as there has been no progress in developing the environmental assessment techniques needed to support them.

  2.3  The issue was raised by the Moran Committee in February 1999 in evidence to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review. It stated: "There has been a marked reluctance by responsible authorities to tackle the environmental impacts of boating and of the use, management and development of canals and navigations. Problems caused by abstractions, impoundments and controlling structures associated with canals and navigations have been ignored. The Environment Agency as an environmental regulator should be setting standards, but in failing to exercise sufficient control over its navigation function its performance has been less than satisfactory."[27]

  2.4  NAFAC has particular concern about the protection of fisheries and angling on the British Waterway's network. Under the 1968 Transport Act British Waterways is obliged to make sure that cruising waterways are "principally available for cruising, fishing and other recreational purposes". However, from a turnover of more than £100 million in 1997-98, British Waterways spent only £300,000 on fisheries and angling, and a survey of clubs renting fishing rights from British Waterways carried out in late 1998 and early 1999[28] revealed a strongly held view that BW is biased against angling and cares little for canal fisheries.


  3.1  The freshwater ecosystem can suffer from the development, maintenance and restoration of canals and navigations through:

    —  in-stream habitat destruction and depletion caused by impoundment, channelisation, dredging, erosion and hard bank reinforcement;

    —  abstraction from rivers and poor flow management;

    —  loss of waterside habitats by building and hard surfacing;

    —  obstruction of the free movement of fish; and

    —  transfers of low quality water.

  The use of navigations for boating, particularly by powered craft, can cause:

    —  turbidity;

    —  erosion;

    —  loss of aquatic vegetation;

    —  disturbance to fish and wildlife;

    —  damage to fish spawning and wildlife breeding areas; and

    —  excessive consumption of water.

  3.2  Abstractions of water from rivers for navigation can be very large: 50 per cent of the dry weather flow, for example, of the lower River Wey in Surrey is taken by the River Wey Navigation. Abstractions of this scale can have a severe effect on the dilution of effluents discharged into the depleted watercourses, and lack of dilution has been confirmed as a factor in the incidence of endocrine disruption of fish[29]. Many of rivers in England and Wales identified by the Environment Agency as likely to have the greatest concentration of endocrine-disrupting steroids appear to be in areas where rivers are divided into several channels, including for navigation and flood defence.[30]

  3.3  In Taking Water Responsibly: Government decisions following consultation on changes to the water abstraction licensing system in England and Wales[31] the Government has made a commitment to ending the exemption of abstractions for navigation from the abstraction licensing system.

  3.4  However, NAFAC is concerned that legislation to implement the change is not imminent and efforts to prevent over-abstraction, such as operating agreements between the Environment Agency and British Waterways, rely solely on the goodwill of the navigation authority concerned and do not have force of law. Until new legislation can be enacted there is no legal redress for damage or losses resulting from over abstractions for navigation.

  3.5  Navigation authorities are not as sensitive to environmental issues as they should be. The limiting factor on fish and invertebrate populations in canals is the number of boat movements taking place over any particular reach, yet no efforts appear to have been made to reduce boat movements in canals where the ecosystem is under stress. In 1981, in its report Lead Poisoning in Swans, the Nature Conservancy Council pointed out that decreases in swan populations coincided with river modifications for land drainage and navigation. In particular "In the mid 1960s the unnavigated Upper Avon carried three times as many pairs as the Higher Avon. Now, after dredging, it supports only about half. The number of breeding pairs has also been maintained at a higher level in the unnavigated tributaries of the Thames in contrast to the declining population on the lower navigated stretches of the river (Bacon, 1980 and Birkhead, 1981)." The report added that "There is a possible correlation . . . with boating since the aquatic plants, which are the main natural food of swans, do not thrive in waters with heavy traffic—indeed they are often deliberately removed." Despite this a Working Party of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities is today recommending that a "vital enhancement" of the Inland Navigation Network should be a broad beam extension of the Upper Avon.[32] The Working Party arrived at this conclusion "without getting too constrained by possible difficulties".[33]


  4.1  Most of the inland waterways network in England and Wales is not viable without substantial injections of public funds. Government support for the Environment Agency's navigation activity amounts to £4.5 million and for British Waterways it is around £60 million. Most of the money is required to maintain the waterways in a fully navigable condition, but receipts from the chief beneficiaries—boat users—amount only to about £12 million.

  4.2  Many navigation development proposals and capital expenditure projects do not appear to be given thorough business and financial appraisals; assumptions about the availability of resources, water supplies in particular, often seem to be accepted without critical scrutiny. This gives rise to poorly conceived projects, such as the restoration of the Basingstoke Canal where costs exceeded original estimates by several times. Most of the expenditure was incurred in restoring the canal to full navigation, but because of a lack of water, predicted before restoration began, the benefits of the expenditure cannot be realised. Partial restoration to make the canal accessible throughout its length for walking, cycling, canoeing, angling, bird watching and similar activities—possibly 95 per cent of the total benefit—would have cost far less money and been much more practical.

  4.3  Similar analyses could apply to other canal or navigation restoration projects. Rebuilding of the lock at Cornard Weir on the River Stour in Suffolk, supported by Lottery grants, cost about £300,000 but the lock has had very little use. New projects which disregard water supply problems are still being promoted, including the Rochdale Canal[34] and the Wey and Arun Canal.[35]

  4.4  In its consultation draft Creating an Environmental Vision[36] published this year the Environment Agency states "We will continue to argue for a simplified system of environmental licences that more directly reflects the actual impact on the environment. We will work towards revisions in legislation that will make the widest possible use of technology and understanding; that will ensure that polluters and users of environmental resources pay their full environmental costs; and that full use is made of economic instruments and financial incentives". The level of subsidy at present granted to inland waterways runs contrary to these principles and it obscures the true costs of recreation from users. NAFAC supports the Environment Agency's approach and believes that an environmental charge element should be added to navigation tolls, and charges should be imposed on navigation abstractions corresponding to the scale of the abstraction and the sensitivity of the donor water.


  5.1  The commitment in Waterways for Tomorrow to ensuring that the principles of sustainable development underpin the actions of all navigation authorities (paragraph 3.18) is welcome. NAFAC fully agrees that the authorities "should aim to apply high standards of conservation and care for the waterway environment and heritage, seek to enhance biodiversity and make the best use of natural resources". However, the performance of navigation authorities in meeting these requirements is extremely variable. They give the impression that they are content to give attention to the environment when it offers cosmetic benefit but they are much less willing to address structural problems caused by their activities.

  5.2  The situation is exacerbated by the inability of the Environment Agency to regulate inland navigation effectively, and the system of funding for inland waterways contributes to the problem by distorting the demand for boating. It also encourages capital spending rather than promoting more environmentally sustainable uses of waterways.

  5.3  The major deficiency of Waterways for Tomorrow is that it does not address the shortcomings of navigation authorities and the Environment Agency. It also takes a skewed approach which gives undue emphasis to the boating use of inland waters despite the fact that the Transport Act 1968 gives equal prominence to fishing and other recreational uses on cruising waterways[37] and the British Waterways Act 1995 requires BW to "take into account any effect which the proposals (relating to its functions) would have on the beauty or amenity of any rural or urban area or on any such flora, fauna, features, building, sites or objects".[38]


6.1  The Role of Inland Waterways

(a)  Urban and rural regeneration

  The waterways network can make a significant contribution to urban regeneration but it offers perhaps less potential to help in rural areas as the money involved may achieve more by being spent in other ways. However, in assessing the contribution that inland waterways might make to both urban and rural regeneration much greater account needs to be taken of the environmental impacts and costs of waterways development. These may occur over considerably wider areas than just the project vicinity, and the development of adequate tools for assessing these impacts and costs and the introduction of powers for the Environment Agency to regulate navigations need to form part of any programme aimed at urban or rural regeneration through investment in waterways.

(b)  Leisure, recreation, tourism and the industrial heritage

  Navigation authorities have been slow in adopting effective techniques for managing conflicting uses of inland waterways. Often they take little notice of the effect that developing new or increased uses of waterways will have on fisheries and angling. There is a strong perception that British Waterways merely tolerates anglers on its network rather than welcoming them as key users of the system. These issues have to be addressed if a clear picture is to emerge of the role of inland waterways in respect of leisure, recreation and tourism.

(c)  Water transfer, drainage and telecommunications

  There are widespread concerns about the use of the canal system for water transfers. It can lead to diminished or altered water quality and reduced flows in donor rivers, and contribute to the spread of alien and invasive species. There is a view that the use of the canal system to transfer water has been promoted as a way of justifying investment in canals rather than as a component of a properly considered water resources strategy for any part of the country. NAFAC believes that under balanced water resources strategies large scale transfers of water using canals are unnecessary.

6.2  The potential for increasing commercial freight transport

  Proponents of increased use of inland waterways often overlook the practical and environmental costs associated with freight transport on canals. Modifying natural river courses for navigation is environmentally extremely destructive, and the availability or otherwise of adequate water supplies for canals is as important today in determining their success or failure as it was two hundred years ago. These factors limit the potential for increasing commercial freight transport on existing inland waterways or by constructing new ones. Any general need to increase freight transport in the United Kingdom can be met more economically and sustainably by rail, road or seaborne shipping.

6.3  The extent to which the uses of inland waterways are complementary

  The ecosystems contained in the inland waterways are relatively fragile. The use of the network has changed a great deal since canals and river navigations were constructed. Pressure on the system is not evenly spread throughout the year, and peak demand, which is already considerably greater than the original usage, occurs when water shortages are most likely. NAFAC believes that the principles underlying the 1968 Transport Act are that waterways supported by public funds should be able to provide continuous opportunities for quiet enjoyment by the widest spectrum of the population, and that activities which are intrusive or disruptive should be prohibited, curtailed or closely managed. There is a general need for integrated management of all uses of the waterways, so that, for example, when angling is suspended in sensitive areas during the spring breeding season similar restrictions should apply to all other users. Creating this type of management should form a major part of the Waterways for Tomorrow process.

  Many navigations were established by statute more than two centuries ago, and the relevant legislation cannot take account of modern demand for recreation or the types of craft using waterways. The right to take any size of boat anywhere on a public navigation up to its physical limits regardless of the consequences is anachronistic, and there is a need for a thorough review of all existing legislation relating to inland waterways to bring it into line with modern thinking about the use of resources and the protection of the environment.

6.4  Adequacies of policies and mechanisms outlined in Waterways for Tomorrow

  Little effort has been made by responsible authorities to develop techniques for assessing the environmental impact and costs of the uses, management and development of inland navigation. This is reflected in the lack of detail in Waterways for Tomorrow about environmental issues and the absence of guidance in Chapter 8 Summary of policy measures as to how they might be addressed.

  A reliable system for assessing the environmental impact of navigation is crucial to establishing the potential success of policies or mechanisms outlined in Waterways for Tomorrow. Sustainable use of navigations cannot be achieved without the Environment Agency having the powers and technical ability to regulate the management and use of navigations, and making these powers available to the Agency should be the first priority for Government.

  The present level of Grant-in-Aid funding for inland waterways creates pressures on the aquatic environment because it generates false expectations about the cost of boating and the availability of boating facilities. Future funding should be based to a much greater extent on "impactor pays" and "beneficiary pays" principles. Support from public funds should be confined to schemes and developments that are environmentally sustainable, have effective project management and cost-control, and which can demonstrate a realistic evaluation of the likely level of public benefit. Similar scrutiny needs to be given to applications for funding from Lottery grants.

6.5  The structure of ownership of waterways and the roles and responsibilities of those agencies involved in their protection and maintenance, and conflicts of interests

  There is no particular model for the best arrangements for the provision and management of inland navigation. It works as well in private ownership as it does in the public sector. The problem is that at the moment different navigation authorities take different views as to the priorities they should adopt and what concern they should have for the environment.

  In view of the impact that navigation can have on the environment regulation is essential, but at present there is no overall regulatory body which is completely independent of any navigation interest. NAFAC believes that with its responsibilities for the water environment as a whole the Environment Agency is best placed to exercise overall regulation of navigation in England and Wales but its position is greatly compromised by having operational navigation duties of its own. If it is to act as a disinterested regulator it must be divested of these duties.

  There can be no intrinsic objection to privatising the Agency's navigations or transferring them to British Waterways or any other competent body. The essential criterion is that whatever arrangement is adopted the transfer must be accompanied by the introduction of effective regulation of all navigation authorities.

29 September 2000

27   Fisheries and Recreation, Moran Committee paper for the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review, February 1999. Back

28   Anglers as Customers of British Waterways, NAFAC February and June 2000. Back

29   The identification of oestrogenic effects in fish, Environment Agency R&D Technical Report W119, 1998. Back

30   Figure 1, Endocrine-disrupting substances in the environment: The Environment Agency's Strategy, Environment Agency, March 2000. Back

31   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Welsh Office, April 1999. Back

32   Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) Working Party: Strategic Enhancement of the Inland Navigation Network, September 2000. Back

33   Ibid. Back

34   Rochdale Canal restoration gets green light, Press Release, The Waterways Trust, August 2000. Back

35   AINA Working Party: Strategic Enhancement of the Inland Navigation Network, September 2000. Back

36   Creating an Environmental Vision: Progressing the Environment Agency's contribution to sustainable development in England and Wales, consultation draft, Environment Agency, June 2000. Back

37   Transport Act 1968, Section 104(1)(b); Section 50(6). Back

38   British Waterways Act 1995, Section 22(1)(c). Back

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