This is our response and objections with the permitting of Hoveton Great Broad Fish Barriers, following the “minded to” consultation issued by the agency in August. https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/east-anglia-c-e/hoveton-great-broad-minded-to/
Following last year’s successful challenge of the EA’s decision to grant Natural England a FRAP permit dated 23 July 2020 for the same three barriers the FRAP was subsequently quashed by the High Court. We continue to work with and consult with both AT, Fish Legal and the IFM in this response, with the more detailed technical references contained within the IFM’s own submission response paper.
We believe that despite our overwhelming opposition we must find a way of moving forwards and resolving this position, giving the acceptance of the applicants views and dismissing its precautionary principle normally applied to such science and risks. We also note that the projects bio-manipulation objective has significantly changed to only 75% of the stock, without defining what is the standing crop baseline and how it would be assessed.
The Agency has understood the risks to the wider catchment fish stocks by introducing permit defined conditions, but we feel the whole future management requires stronger robust conditions and governance with legal endorsement. This should also apply ongoing nutrient load and any future policy surrounding such adventurous projects and their impacts. This should include the following:
- The statutory fisheries duty of the Agency seems to have been overruled by management policy rather than science. Where does this leave its fisheries statutory duties?
- The Bure Catchment DWPP should look at long term nutrient load and secure measures to limit P to below 50 μg/L, enforceable by the HRA.
- The wider Broads waterbodies need to have a WFD classification that reflects their true nature as an interconnected set of lowland rivers and lakes.
- We cannot accept the applicants view that fish assemblage outside HGB do not form part of its project. Clearly the barriers directly impact fish, else why are the barriers needed?
- The permit needs a formal. legally binding governance structure, with clearly defined, robust measures, milestones and funding to any monitoring plan for the wider catchment.
EA’s Statutory Fishery Duty
It’s very evident from responses now available that the overwhelming Fisheries stance within the EA , at Area, National and Specialist level has been overruled by what seems unsubstantiated claims from the applicant and their associates. This is further inflamed by the world leading IFM (Institute of Fisheries Management) views also being ignored. It’s very strange that the applicant went directly to the IFM for an independent assessment of the evidence in February prior to the FRAP consultation. It’s response, which we have received a copy, again demonstrated that little new scientific material was available to prove their case. This independent evidence should have been made available to the EA let alone part of the FRAP consultations, but instead a further non fisheries specialist academic opinion was sort which supports the applicant’s views. This places the whole process into contempt and the claimed supporting science.
There also seems outstanding for what fish do have legal protection, is any form of eel passage implementation or design. The IFM provides the specific detail on this.
The EA spent much time and effort back in 2015 defining and publishing the social economic value associated with Broads Angling Tourism. This doesn’t seem to have any weight in the decision and risks.
Long Term Phosphate Load
All of the science is stating that to restore any eutrophic lake to GES requires a multiple approach in both changing fish densities and decreasing nutrient concentrations to below 50 μg/L.
BASG has been working via the Broads Catchment Partnership with both the EA and AWS on the current and future plans of Phosphate loads from upstream treatment works on the River Bure , both in the PR19 and PR24 (via the DWMP) and there appears no specific requirements currently listed to ensure nutrient load can meet 50 μg/L today and over the next 15 years planned water company investments.
Latest 2021 sampling records shows 53 μg/L in HGB and 99 μg/L in HB, with all the focus on cyprinid fish being the root cause. The River Bure DWMP does not seem to provide the necessary measures currently let alone account for the future population growth in the catchment.
No measures take account of the vast gull population roosting on HGB/HB overnight, which was found to be a significant source of high nutrient loads leading loss of macrophytes (Stonewort) in Hickling Broad in the early 2000’s.
It seems that now new academic research, Jilbert et al (2020) is challenging the whole basis of this projects ambition, in that eutrophic lake restoration using bio-manipulation is not always the answer. This is covered in more detail by the IFM.
Is it also the case that previous costly bio-manipulation attempts across the Broads, haven’t actually achieved a great set successful set of outcomes, after in some cases decades of repeated activity.
WFD What is its Classification ?
Why isn’t any reference made to UKTAG Dec 2013 which defines an area like the Northern Broads as: FCS2a connected Lakeland river?
Page 234, infers that HGB did have a mixed fish community in the past. Prof Sayer (Geography academic) is not highlighting the whole story from the 19th Century, indeed why is this singleton, non fisheries expert opinion been taken as independent evidence by the EA , when the world leading independent IFM views are ignored? This is highly irregular.
Consideration of the historical evidence of substantial Roach and Bream densities and commercial netting in the mid 19th century and formation of Bye Laws in the 1877 Norfolk and Suffolk Fisheries Act, which offered protection to such species needs to be considered. It was also a disastrous custom in those days to net the spawning fish when they congregated in the shallows on the backwaters and Broads and to such an extent was this practice carried out that in the year 1857 to the indignation of Norwich angler’s concerns were aroused.
You could call this an ancient form of bio-manipulation, which was blocked by legal statue. This was long before phosphates and records show the Broads was full of both weeds and fish, mainly Roach, Bream and Pike. So today’s attack on cyprinid fish under the name of conservation seems highly irregular to say the least. This directly links into the WFD fishery classification FCS2a and not that of an enclosed Stillwater.
The applicant, Natural England are using selective assumptions that Bream and other cyprinid fish are ‘bad’ and associated with ‘polluted water’, yet the Broads has a long history associated with its eurytopic waters and are seemingly wanting to make the Broads something it’s never been.
The applicant and landowner seem to believe that by having an enclosure order on the Broad, it somehow changes it’s function and connectivity to the River Bure. It doesn’t.
Much reference is made to the Dutch model for WFD classification and comparison with HGB. Given experience in fishing in the Netherlands with its connected waterbodies and spawning Bream and Roach taking place in connected lakes, akin to that of the River Bure and Hoveton Great Broad. We are seeking to establish how the Dutch classify such water bodies, as it clearly recognised that spawning takes place in connected waterbodies within the Netherlands. At the time of writing this response we haven’t heard back from the Dutch.
Wider Project definition and fish assembles
The applicant states quite clearly, in its HWRP Monitoring Plan addendum updated 07.06.2021.
Whilst this addendum is submitted for the discharge of condition 6 of the FRAP, there are no legislative drivers obligating Natural England to deliver monitoring outside of HGB and HB related to the installation of the barriers.
We do not understand the logic here. Clearly, it’s the barriers being deployed under this permit that is causing the potential damage and must form part of any Environmental Assessment placing a clear obligation on the applicant deploying such barriers to both measure and manage their impact. Whilst its unclear in the Decision Document to which water body is any deterioration being measured against.
Epr fra decision document bespoke and variation Page 27
Nevertheless, the Environment Agency sets out below requirements to monitor, and where necessary, mitigate impacts on fisheries while the proposal is operational.
- There are inherent unknowns due to the novel nature of the proposed works and the uniqueness of the highly interconnected lowland river network. These uncertainties cannot be fully answered with the scientific evidence available. As such there are potential risks to bream spawning success.
That is why operational controls have been placed on the permit to mitigate against these potential impacts. Specifically, a condition will require a monitoring and mitigation plan to be approved and implemented. A condition that can require the barriers to be opened, if significant environmental harm to fish occurs. The permit explicitly acknowledges the function of the Hoveton Fisheries Advisory Group (Annex 3 – Table 1 – document 17), which will oversee and advise on proposed habitat mitigation measures that will deliver fishery related habitat improvement works. This will help to mitigate some of the risks due to the uncertainties.
The EA states that it believes these measures would be legal and not subject to legal challenge from the HRA. Clearly this is still an open issue and needs clarity.
We firmly believe the following needs to be actioned within a stronger defined set of permit conditions.
The Fisheries Advisory Group terms of reference needs to reflect conditions placed on the permit and as such it cannot be an advisory group if its role is to action conditions placed on the permit, rather than any alignment to the project objectives.
The representation of such group must include both sides of the scientific opinion, which is clearly stated by both the EA experts and the Applicant. The position clearly stated by the applicant in their submission on any reopening the barrier and its 10 year tenure, we feel any management group should have an independent chair, perhaps a role for the Broads Authority, as previously discussed with Simon Hawkins back in 2019 or the IFM Fish Specialist Group.
It requires fully defined clear set of robust objectives, measures and milestones that have been legally tested for the impact the barriers will have on migration, spawning and recruitment, not just within the enclosed HGB/HB, but more importantly the wider Bure Catchment. As now accepted following the 2017/20 PhD study.
Statutory Monitoring and Modelling
Any monitoring plan would require a clearly defined stock density and biomass of fish assemblages which are the principles of the BASG stock model. We would be happy to provide this model to aid and develop this process and future modelling against any annual monitoring scheme output.
Yes the 2017 PASE study gave a single year snapshot of fish communities within HGB/HB, but not on the wider catchment. This has not been followed up in subsequent years, so the confidence is low that any form of catchment community assembly and biomass is known today. This isn’t helped by the inability of the EA to provide any form of successful hydroacoustic survey for the Bure Catchment since 2016. (the 2017 & 2018 had corrupted data and the 2019 was undertaken directly after a tidal surge)
Having explored with the EA Area Management team their fisheries budget, it is very evident that any specific analysis and reporting needs for the Broads fishery isn’t achievable within the existing budget framework. Previous detailed survey reports from 2004 – 2011, recently made available are now not produced. So year class distribution and species makeup are not available.
It was previously suggested by Natural England that a further PhD could provide the scientific rigour for such monitoring and is something BASG supports as a stakeholder with its linkages to citizen science resources, as with the previous PhD. It remains unclear however in the funding available to support such activities as costly acoustic tracking given the unknown volume of previously PIT tagged fish surviving in the Bure Catchment and the radio tagged fish now expired their battery life cycle.
We therefore request that this proposed monitoring plan be reassessed with the IFM guidance and aligned to meet the FRAP conditions.
Previously Natural England had a budget of £170k for such activities, including additional mitigation measures. But we challenge the now £25k for the monitoring across the wider Bure Catchment which over 10 years is clearly not sufficient.
We believe therefore the permit must state quite clearly the governance, robust measures , thresholds and timespan of any monitoring plan, along with what constitutes significant deuteriation (something it currently fails to set out) and an agreement to fund all such measures .
Kelvin Allen BASG Chair
12th Sep 2021