Examination of Witnesses (Questions 108
WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000
108. Good morning. Can I ask you to identify
(Dr Bardsley) I am Dr Louise Bardsley. I am a freshwater
officer for the Wildlife Trusts UK Water Policy Team. I would
like to introduce you to Mr Robert Cunningham who is our water
policy officer for the water team. The water team is a national
team for the Wildlife Trusts, set up to look at policy and practice
on the waterway network.
(Mr Withrington) I am David Withrington. I am the
senior freshwater officer at English Nature, the government's
nature conservation agency.
109. This is to English Nature. British Waterways
inherited a lot of money on sale of assets and its non-operational
assets now are worth over £247 million. You might be interested
because the previous witnesses set up this public/private sector
partnership. They are dealing with such things as development,
regeneration and so on. Do you get any of that money at all or
do you have anything to do with British Waterways in trying to
pursue your own objectives in terms of a cash hand-out?
(Mr Withrington) As far as English Nature is concerned,
we do not receive any money as a public body from British Waterways.
We cooperate with them as equal partners and we are aware of their
brief to make money out of regeneration of the waterway network.
110. Is that to your advantage at all times
or is it sometimes to your disadvantage? Do you approve of what
is being done with the money?
(Mr Withrington) I am not entirely sure exactly what
is being done with the money. I am not trying to avoid the question.
111. That is significant in itself, is it not?
(Mr Withrington) Yes.
(Dr Bardsley) British Waterways do publish annual
accounts which we see. The Wildlife Trusts would like to see more
money put into habitat enhancement.
112. Are you consulting, apart from the statutory
stuff that the local authority might do, when there is a proposal
for major regeneration initiatives using the ceiling money? Do
you sometimes think or not that this is beneficial to wildlife
and to conservation? Do you think some of these projects have
inhibited the potential for wildlife?
(Mr Withrington) What we have suggested to British
Waterways and others who are proposing these schemes is that they
should set out environmental requirements as part of the design
of these schemes so that they can be built in. If you take the
Rochdale Canal, it has been built in but on some other schemes
such as the Huddersfield Narrow Canal it was not built in, but
was added at a later stage, which has meant that some of the measures
that have been taken have been more to mitigate the effects of
renovation of the canal than to creating a new wildlife resource.
(Dr Bardsley) Because of the way restoration has traditionally
been funded, it is approached in a piecemeal fashion which means
all the environmental impact assessments occur on just that little
stretch of the waterway, which means the overall impact on the
catchment scale on wildlife is not approached at any point. Therefore,
we strongly believe that the wildlife impacts and water resource
impacts and environmental impacts need to be assessed right at
the beginning of the whole proposed restoration. This is not occurring
at the moment.
113. Who is responsible for trying to incorporate
into regeneration proposals or maintenance of the canals biodiversity
action and habitat action plans?
(Dr Bardsley) Obviously there is a statutory duty
for conservation on three large navigation authorities, the Broads
Authority, the Environment Agency and British Waterways. They
have published a biodiversity action plan from British Waterways
this year. For the remaining navigation authorities, there are
no statutory duties for conservation. It is very unclear to the
general public. I have looked at all angles of the Association
of Inland Navigation Authorities' publications. It is just not
clear what their commitments to biodiversity are. There needs
to be a strategic overview. There need to be common standards
of minimum environmental practice that are statutory for all waterways.
114. For everyone that is a stakeholder?
(Dr Bardsley) For everyone who is a navigation authority.
It is fairer to the navigation authorities. Everybody this morning
has said that we need a strategic overview. We need strategic,
minimum, environmental standards.
115. Could you tell the Committee of any things
which you feel, because of this fact, where wildlife has been
endangered or their habitatboats that are going too quickly
or whateverhas been put in danger, because this is missing?
(Dr Bardsley) There are innumerable cases. Montgomery
was referred to earlier. Because it is very old, it had planning
permission for restoration in the 1980s but it has since become
a internationally important wildlife site. Because of the way
SSSI legislation is at the moment, it has no legal protection
because they have planning permission. For cases like this where
it is an internationally important site, we have to have some
kind of formal recognition that wildlife has a value. There are
165 million leisure visits per year on the British waterways and
canals network alone. There are only 100,000 boat licences so
most of those people are going to enjoy the amenities.
116. We are rediscovering our waterways in Northern
Ireland and we are anxious to learn from the experience here.
Our first minister spent his summer holidays along these waterways;
I am not sure whether that was for recreation or to learn about
what is happening there. In our restoration programmes obviously
we are anxious to preserve wildlife habitats. Is it worthwhile
and possible to create alternative habitats of similar character
to replace preferred navigation routes?
(Dr Bardsley) It depends very much on the timescale
and the type of habitat. Unfortunately translocation, moving animals,
has not proved very successful. The evidence to date from terrestrial
and aquatic habitats where they have tried translocation is that
the rarest species are the ones that do not succeed. You need
20 years for a habitat to establish, before it is suitable for
translocation. Unless we take a strategic overview and decide
which waterways are key and which wildlife sites are key and accept
the fact that unnavigated, maintained waterways have a very important
amenity value and they can generate an income from their amenity
value aloneDevon County Council runs the Grand Western
Canal at County Park. It is very successful and it makes moneyit
is unlikely that very rare habitats will succeed.
117. You mentioned earlier environmental impact
assessments as part of your restoration programmes. Do you think
there is a role here for the planning side of things, the planning
system, to protect waterways? For example, is there merit in having
a dedicated planning policy guidance made on this issue?
(Dr Bardsley) There is, definitely. £60 million
of public money goes into British waterways alone per year. That
makes it worthwhile to make sure that waterways are strategically
planned. There are many different user groups and planners need
to make sure that all those are given due deference. The only
way to do that is to have a planning policy guidance and to get
the waterways included more strategically in development plans.
118. You have talked about unnavigated waterways.
Presumably you would like to keep those unnavigated. Are you advocating
the closure of any existing waterways on biodiversity grounds?
(Dr Bardsley) No, and we do not want to keep all unnavigated
waterways unnavigated. We want a formal acceptance of the value
of some unnavigated waterways, where they have extremely high
wildlife value. We believe that people enjoy boating and there
is an ability to compromise. However, in some cases, no navigation
is the best answer. All we want is an independent, strategic overview
119. How would you describe the dialogue between
yourselves and the users of the waterways? We have heard from
previous witnesses that, apart from a few minor problems, on the
whole, everything is fine; there is no conflict between biodiversity.
Are you not talking to these people to tell them about the problems
that you have just outlined to us?
(Dr Bardsley) We are talking at a local and national
level. We have a very good dialogue with the Environment Agency
and the Broads Authority. Sometimes at grass roots level, we do
not necessarily have the best dialogue that we could achieve.
The fault for that does not lie anywhere. We are having a dialogue;
it could be improved. Unfortunately, I believe there is a conflict
but it can be resolved if there is more of an acceptance on behalf
of navigation authorities that some remainder waterways and some
waterways that are in existence would be more efficiently managed