Sometimes the cost is too high – refusing a grant

Refusing money
Sometimes the cost is too high

I have just done something rather unusual for a charity. I have turned down the offer of a £23,766 grant.

Why would I do that? Firstly because the grant awarding body was not prepared to pay the cost of the work required. Secondly because they would not contribute to our corporate overheads (Full Cost Recovery). Thirdly because the contractual conditions were such as to expose a small charity to unacceptable risk.

For months now we have been working in partnership with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and The Wild Trout Trust to develop a bid to the Water Environment Grant (I won’t link there because you really do not want to know about it!). We have spent days, probably weeks, working out the finest detail of the scheme in order to satisfy the somewhat onerous requirements of the submission. Anyone familiar with the Rural PaymentsAgency (who ultimately ‘own’ this fund), or who has heard tales from farmers of the inefficiency, nitpicking and intransigence of RPA, may know how difficult a process it has been. Anyway, we put together our partnership project valued at ca. £170,000 and sent it off. Detailed queries were responded to and we waited, then waited, then waited some more. Indeed, we waited over three months after the decisions were expected and were delighted when we got an offer. Until we opened the letter that is, when we found that we had been offered only £100,000 between us. One partner, us, were offered only 35% of our bid with a requirement to deliver 75% of the required outputs!

To say that I am outraged, annoyed and frustrated is being polite. VERY polite!

So why am I upset?

Part, £250, of our bid was rejected because we did not have competitive quotations for refreshments for volunteers.

Part, £8,500, was intended to provide for social media and other advertising, promotion to aid volunteer recruitment and recognise the contribution of the funder. ZIP. We don’t need to do this apparently ,even though volunteers were core to our bid and they WERE prepared to pay for brand development (but where would we then use the brand?)!

Some of the contractual terms were outrageous:

  1. You will accept unlimited liability in perpetuity for your work
  2. If we run out of money we do not have to pay you
  3. You must do exactly what you said you would and any variation, even in an emergency, needs approval in advance.

Would you accept such an offer? Do these people have any understanding of the impact of their decisions on small charities? Who hold them to account for the consequences of their action?

I would like to pay tribute to the several colleagues in YWT, WTT and the EA who helped us through a challenging time. I won’t name them because this is my rant not theirs, they know who they are and they know how much I value their help.

The only upside – we now have some well developed projects in respect of which we can apply for funding elsewhere.

Is the Environment Agency fit for purpose?

According to Unearthed, possibly not.

According to the Environment Agency, yes.

According to me, well read on and see…in particular I want to comment on the Unearthed article which, while having a core of truth is guilty of misrepresentation in places.

Staff reductions

Let’s start with the gross misrepresentation of

“nearly 1,000 EA staff – all of which were in corporate services such as finance, HR and IT – have been transferred to the department since July 2016.”

In practice this doesn’t represent a loss to EA field staff (the ones who collect samples, investigate pollution incidents and inspect premises) and doesn’t really represent a loss to the EA as these people are still providing the same services to the EA. What bothers me about this particular aspect of the arrangements is that they may not have the same priorities as directly employed staff. You can bet your bottom dollar that once in Defra any flexibility of movement or interpretation or creativity will quickly get knocked out of them.

A paradox resolved?

The article makes a big play on the number of inspections being reduced. So what? Our drinking water is self-monitored by the privatised water companies and is generally (and correctly in my informed opinion) considered to be amongst the best in Europe. A good self regulation scheme, with strictly controlled sampling regimes, quality assured analysis and routine reporting of results to both the regulator and the public can lead to a massive improvement in quality at negligible cost to the regulator. Maybe, just maybe, this is what lies behind the apparent paradox of reduced inspections yet also reduced non-compliances? I would welcome a comment from the EA (or perhaps some recently departed member of staff) on this proposition.

Enforcement

A big play is made about the reduced number of prosecutions and a shift towards Enforcement Undertakings. (I will overlook, no I will not, the factual error suggesting that the EA imposes fewer fines. The EA does not impose ANY fines, they are matters for the independent court system).

I personally support the concept of Enforcement Undertakings and want to see them used much more extensively. Believe me, from the discussions I have had with the EA they do not regard them as “less-costly and less-risky”, in fact I see the parts of the EA putting obstacles in the way of their use rather than facilitating them. The great advantage of an EU is that the money, which as to be of a similar amount to that which would have been levied as a fine, goes directly to environmental charities to spend improving the environment rather than into the ‘chancellor’s back pocket’. The recent emergence of Environmental Liability Notices is a development that we should follow with interest.

 “Things are (not) getting worse”

The article propagates the oft repeated view that

“Only 14% of the rivers in England are classed as having ‘good ecological status’, down from 27% in 2010.”

I read statements such as this with dismay. Having spent the last 42 years of my life dedicated to improving our rivers, let me tell you that they are better than ever.

When I started on the River Aire in 1974, the prospect of fishing the river in the centre of Leeds was laughable, now we have reliable records of salmon being caught there and we are starting on a major project (DNAire, a partnership project with the EA) to return salmon to the headwaters and hence stimulate a sustainable migratory fish population.

Nearly all of these reported changes are to do with standards so low as to be unachievable (e.g. Phosphate in sewage effluents) or recategorisation of water bodies using rules drawn up to report compliance in line with European Legislation, many of which are much more lax in other countries. If any of the complainers can truly convince me that matters are getting worse, then I promise to pack up tomorrow and consider my life’s work to have been a waste of time. 

Investigations and Sampling

Now let nobody get the idea that I am not critical of the EA, for I am indeed critical of certain aspects of how they go about their work (and not just in the environmental field, as a member of the RFCC I have been a persistent champion of getting more from the FCRM programme). We can quote examples of grossly inadequate incident investigations, damaging riverbank maintenance, inadequate levels of sampling and monitoring of their  own capital schemes and of baseline environmental data (the silence on the long standing Strategic Monitoring Review is worrying) etc. These are to some extent caused by staff and money shortages and need challenging. The prospect of many of these functions being handed over to an even less well resourced Civil Society is worrying. Catchment Hosts are already expected to draw up Integrated Catchment Plans using the grand sum of £15000 per year (yes, thousands of pound not millions!), the funding we might receive to do some of this other work fills me with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

Summary

Yes, by all means criticise the EA for their weaknesses, but the argument is diluted by inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

Your thoughts are welcome, I have opened Comments on this post.

Spawning Season for Trout

A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently
A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently

If you build it, they will come….

The ‘Field of Dreams’ hypothesis often used by conservationists is certainly bearing fruit on our river. According to members of Bradford City Angling Association (http://www.bradfordcityaa.co.uk/fly-fishing/), who have been doing lots of sterling work to improve habitat in both the river and along the banks of the Aire near to Gargrave, brown trout have started to spawn.

The majority of the ‘redds’, the nests where fish lay their eggs, have been created in areas where the anglers have placed woody deflectors (logs) and transplanted water weed to clean up the gravels on the river bed.  This is great news as hopefully it will mean more fish and hence more wildlife like kingfishers and otters that rely on those fish, to be enjoyed by all of us.

A grainy zoom of the picture above, and the two trout are just visible within the white ellipse
A grainy zoom of the picture above, and the two trout are just visible within the white ellipse

It also bodes well for our DNAire project as it shows that if we can get salmon and sea trout back up the river to Skipton and beyond, they too will have good places in the river to spawn.

So, please keep a look out for this amazing spectacle. The photos here demonstrate what to look for; essentially cleaned areas of gravels where the stones have been turned – these may be about 1 metre or more in length. The Wild Trout Trust (https://www.wildtrout.org/) with whom Bradford City anglers have been working closely to improve the habitat, have produced a useful document to identify redds, available on their webpage of the trout lifecycle, here (https://www.wildtrout.org/content/trout-lifecycle).

However, please try not to disturb any fish that are actively spawning – even just standing and pointing from the top of the bank can be off-putting and grayling anglers that might be wading should be especially vigilant. After all, would you like to be interrupted?

A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently
A brown trout redd in the middle of the photo, visible as a clean area of gravel where the stones have been turned recently

 

With special thanks to Prof Jon Grey of the Wild Trust Trust who wrote this piece.

Coniston Cold weir is no more

Coniston Cold Weir before demolition
Coniston Cold Weir – 2004

Coniston Cold Weir - gone!
Coniston Cold Weir – gone!

With support from the owners of the weir, then months in the planning, demolishing the redundant weir at Coniston took  2 days over 18/19th June 2018. The work was done by Jon Grey of the Wild Trout Trust and his contractors. The Environment Agency and ART also took part in the planning process.

The photos show the weir before and after removal. It was most encouraging to know that a shoal of minnows went through as the demolition was actually taking place.

The short time-lapse video below, courtesy of Prof Jon Grey and The Wild Trout Trust, shows the transformation of the river as the weir comes down. Enjoy!

Good News for our DNAire project as this will allow migratory and other fish to move even further upstream to spawn

2017 – An important year for River Aire fish passage

 

2017 – An important year for River Aire fish passage

Work has been going on for a number of years to improve fish passage for migratory fish in the Aire below Leeds. This work has provided fish passes at Castleford, Lemonroyd, Fleet, Rothwell Country Park and Thwaite Mills.

Fish passes are required on a further four weirs downstream of Leeds. All the four weirs are owned by the Canal and River Trust and are used for navigational purposes. Three of the four weirs are major ones and are situated at Chapel Haddlesey, Knottingley and Knostrop. The other weir, which is not quite as big a barrier to fish as the others, is at Crown Point in the centre of Leeds.

Major developments are currently taking place which will provide fish passes on all four of the weirs mentioned above. Two of the weirs will be furnished with fish passes as a result of hydro electricity schemes whereas the other two are included as part of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme (Leeds FAS) and will receive fish passes as the weirs are rebuilt. The time scale for completion and brief background notes are shown below. The result of these developments will be that migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout and eels should be able to reach the centre of Leeds with relative ease by September 2017.

Chapel Haddlesey

This weir is at the tidal limit and was first constructed in 1702. UK Hydro Ltd started work in August 2016 on two Archimedes Screws, a fish pass and a by-wash channel. The screws are already installed and work has begun on the fish pass. The fish pass is expected to be in use by fish at some point in March 2017.

Knottingley

This is the biggest weir on the River Aire being some ten feet high. The weir was reconstructed in the 1970s.

In the summer of 2016, Barn Energy commenced construction of a Kaplan Turbo and fish pass on the weir. Power generation is expected to start in the late summer of 2017 and the fish pass should be in use by the end of September 2017.

Knostrop (Leeds)

Knostrop Weir, substantially rebuilt in 1905, has already been removed and replaced by a temporary weir. The weir is being rebuilt as a moveable weir as part of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme and the new weir will include a fish pass. The work is expected to be complete by May 2017.

Crown Point (Leeds)

The weir at Crown Point has already been substantially demolished under the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme. The weir is being rebuilt as a moveable weir and will include a fish pass. Work should be complete by July 2017.

In the longer term we continue to develop and seek funds for our DNAire project to remove all barriers to passage on the main spine of the river and enable a sustainable population of migratory fish.

Thanks to Kevin Sunderland for writing this article and his undying enthusiasm and passion for getting salmon back to Skipton and beyond – his dream is beginning to look real,

 

Chapel Haddlesey update

Chapel Haddlesey at low tide, August 2003

Work on the weir at Chapel Haddlesey continues apace with some serious excavations adjacent to the weir.

At the bottom of this post is an update from UK Hydro, the company which is building the hydro and fish pass on Chapel Haddlesey (CH) Weir. The weir is the bottom weir on the River Aire and is the tidal limit. Chapel Haddlesey is a mile or so from Eggborough Power Station which can be seen from the M62.

CH Weir was originally constructed in 1702. Although boat traffic can no longer ascend or descend the weir, the weir is still in use to retain the water level for boat traffic using the Selby Canal which joins the Aire and the Ouse.

 

6.8.2016 CH House and channelFor over 300 years CH Weir has acted as a barrier to migratory fish on the Aire. Under certain conditions salmon do ascend the weir and head upstream to the next barrier at Knottingley. It is hoped and expected that the fish pass will enable migratory fish to ascend the weir. “Salmon to Skipton” edges closer to reality.

(Thanks to Kevin Sunderland and UK Hydro for the update.)

 

UK Hydro updates – September 2016

 

 

Improving Eastburn Beck

EB_ARTnews
The first stages of the project work to improve the river and riparian habitats along Eastburn Beck at Lyndhurst Wood, Glusburn (reported here in February) began on Wednesday 10th August. The Wild Trout Trust and the Environment Agency will be notching six of the low weirs by cutting narrow sections out of each weir crest.

The environmental benefits are numerous. These man-made obstructions are a barrier to free fish movement in both directions, and to the free transport of bed materials downstream. They also alter and constrain the physical shape of the channel, so by removing parts of these barriers, the river can once again run a more natural course. Flood risk will be reduced.

Fish such as the brown trout, which was recently voted the nation’s favourite fish (announced on BBC Springwatch), and especially the smaller individuals, will find it much easier for example to return upstream if they are displaced downstream during floods. As more and more weirs along the whole of the River Aire system are removed or made passable for fish, it is a real possibility that migratory species like salmon and sea trout may return to spawn in tributaries like Eastburn Beck.

But it is not all about fish. By restoring the river to a more natural series of pools and riffles, the insects will also flourish which in turn feed many of the characteristic bird species such as dipper and grey wagtails that walkers in Lyndhurst Wood like to see.

Jonathan Grey, Research & Conservation Officer with the Wild Trout Trust wrote an article with further details, here.

DNAire bid submitted

DNAire - Developing the Natural AireLast week, the Environment Agency submitted our DNAire bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is a very important step in our desire to restore salmon to the river and re-engage the community through a £4 million river-wide project. The bid summary states:

‘Developing the Natural Aire’ is for 570,000 people in the project area. It will engage communities with the engineering and natural heritage of the River Aire and Leeds-Liverpool Canal through restoration of the iconic Atlantic salmon.
At a series of ‘Kissing Points’, where the river, canal and heritage come together, we will work with communities using digital technologies to:
1) increase heritage learning and improve access
2) empower and enable communities and people to develop their own stories and informally ‘adopt’ local heritage
3) create a digital trail from Leeds to the Yorkshire Dales.
Building fish passes will reconnect the natural river system for salmon and other fish and animal species.
Through training placements and apprenticeships, we will use the design and delivery of the fish passes to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and the engineering principles used to build the canal, weirs and fish passes.

Note that this is a bid for development funds to work up the detail of the proposal and we hope to hear whether we have been successful by November 2016.

Eastburn Beck improvements

Wild Trout TrustEastburn Beck is to be made better for fish and wildlife in general as a result of a joint project between The Aire Rivers Trust, The Wild Trout Trust, The Environment Agency and ABP Green Port Hull.

This project will make it easier for fish to get past two key weirs along Eastburn Beck at Lumb Mill weir and Allotment weir as well as at the Environment Agency (EA) gauging weir; river & riparian habitat improvements, including low weir notching by the Wild Trout Trust & EA; and livestock exclusion from the true right bank. This combined work affects arguably the most adversely impacted section of Eastburn Beck as it runs adjacent to historic mills at Glusburn and the housing developments in CrossHills and Sutton-in-Craven.

The predominant species that will benefit immediately are trout, grayling, brook lamprey, and eel. There are populations of other coarse fish such as chub and pike which may take advantage. Stone loach, bullhead and minnow are present.

As fish passage improvements continue throughout the lower R Aire, then salmon and sea trout will also benefit in the future.

The combined works will not only improve fish passage but also improve instream and riparian habitats to the benefit all aquatic (and arguably many terrestrial) fauna and flora, including riverfly life, and especially the piscivore populations: kingfisher, heron, otter are all present.Green Port Hull

Once this work is complete, there will be around 20km of tributary network with excellent potential for migratory and resident salmonid spawning and juvenile habitat.

Full details of the project are available here –  Eastburn Beck_Project submission to GPH