A 16 tonne bulldozer has destroyed the banks of a beautiful Herefordshire river, straightening its course and reducing it to a “sterile canal”, claims the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.
The unauthorised earthworks affected 1.5km of the River Lugg, which flows from its source in Powys through Herefordshire before meeting the River Wye just outside Hereford.
The damage inflicted on the river will not only impact the stretch directly affected, but will have “far-reaching consequences” for the ecology of the river downstream, says Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.
“Removing all bankside vegetation and scraping out the riverbed and banks will cause a huge increase in the speed the water moves through the river and increases the flood risk downstream,” says Andrew Nixon, Conservation Senior Manager for the Trust.
“With no stabilising vegetation, any heavy rainfall and rise in river level and speed will mean massive erosion of the banks with a great amount of soil washed into the river along with agricultural pollutants such as phosphates and pesticides. This soil smothers the riverbed for miles, destroying fish spawn and invertebrates that inhabit it.”
The River Lugg is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which are supposed to give statutory agencies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Herefordshire Council a duty to protect the river from harm.
No work should be carried out without permission from these statutory agencies. It is understood that no consent was obtained in this case.
“The bankside trees are all grubbed out and burnt, the river gravels have been scraped away and the beautiful meanders of the river have been straightened and reprofiled,” says Helen Stace, CEO of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. “This is a crime against the environment. Swift action needs to be taken.”
This destruction of a natural beauty spot has come at a sensitive time for a Government desperate to display its green credentials amidst concerns that the end of the Brexit transition period will lead to a fall in environmental protection standards.
This perception isn’t helped by the austerity cuts to environmental statutory agency funding recently revealed in a report by Unchecked.co.uk, a network of civil society organisations. The report states that between 2009-19 the Environment Agency funding was cut by 63%, the Forestry Commission by 53% and Natural England by 72%.
Critics say that such cuts to enforcement agencies lead those inclined to feel that they can take a bulldozer to a river without fear of consequence.
Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, sees “devastating incidents” such as the one inflicted on the River Lugg as being a “vital test case” of the Government’s intention to deliver the world beating environmental protection and enforcement it has promised post-Brexit.
“Unfortunately, the Government has so far failed to live up to this standard, with poor resourcing leaving Natural England unable to properly monitor and protect our most important wild places – Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).” says Bennet.
“Furthermore, lack of funding for the Environment Agency in England has left it unable to stop illegal practices.”
Dave Throup, Area Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said:
“We are aware of reports of damage to the River Lugg, which due to its environmental importance is protected through Site of Special Scientific Interest status.
“We are treating this very seriously along with Natural England and the Forestry Commission who have taken immediate action in an attempt to prevent any further works at the site. We are mounting a wide-ranging investigation with Natural England, the Forestry Commission and other partners. We are unable to comment further at this stage.”