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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. Can you say a little more about where these conflicts arise?
  (Dr Bardsley) Yes. They tend to arise when the sites are of enormously high wildlife value or have plants which are very rare. There is very old evidence that has been used consistently by some navigation authorities to say that biodiversity will increase at low levels of navigation. That is not sufficient and it has been recognised in the British Waterways current published biodiversity action plan and by most people now that some very rare plant species are damaged by navigation.

Mr O'Brien

  121. The major managers of waterways are British Waterways and the Environment Agency. How do you fare with these people?
  (Dr Bardsley) British Waterways has made enormous strides recently to improve its biodiversity, including the publication of its biodiversity framework. Its environmental code of practice is in outline and they have become clear and consistent, as have the Environment Agency. They both possess excellent skills for managing, in the case of British Waterways, canals, and, in the case of the Environment Agency, they possess the specialist skills required for managing river navigation.

  122. Would the Wildlife Trusts like to see one national navigation authority?
  (Dr Bardsley) I agree with the person this morning who said this was a loaded question. There is a need for a strategic overview but to call it a navigation authority limits the scope because waterways, particularly rivers, are not just for navigation; rivers are key parts of flood defence.


  123. Are you attracted by an over-arching planning authority?
  (Dr Bardsley) An over-arching planning authority for waterways, yes, because there are so many multifunctional values, particularly on rivers, and I am not sure that a navigation authority taking responsibility for our rivers is a good idea because they need integrated management because of their flood defence role.

Mr O'Brien

  124. Would you like to see the responsibilities of the Environment Agency for inland waterways transferred to the British Waterways Board?
  (Dr Bardsley) No.

Mr Blunt

  125. Inland waterways are becoming an increasingly important wildlife resource?
  (Dr Bardsley) Yes.

  126. Where, in your judgment, does most of the money come from that is invested in inland waterways and their use?
  (Dr Bardsley) From a variety of functions. The public sector for British Waterways. There are also private sector initiatives.

  127. Of the £1.6 that British Waterways, say, have expended on leisure and other activities on the waterways, where do you think most of that comes from?
  (Dr Bardsley) Some of it comes from the navigation use and some from public private partnership and the lottery, £25 million.

  128. The vast majority of it comes from boat users, I should imagine, who are the major leisure users who spend considerable money on the waterways. What I find alarming is that you now want to impose a statutory framework on the waterways in order to pursue your agenda. This has the potential to load costs on to that part of the community—the individuals in their leisure and recreation—which is serving to help your objectives because they are preserving and restoring the existing inland waterways network. Do you not have a concern that, if you push your statutory agenda too far you will load costs onto the system and people will have to go elsewhere to pursue their leisure?
  (Dr Bardsley) British Waterways already have minimum environment standards and minimum waterway standards for the provision of different waterway facilities. The Environment Agency also has minimum standards and so does the Broads Authority. On a quarter of our navigation authority managed waterways they have none. (a) costs will not be that much; (b) many of these people may be meeting them, but there needs to be a simplification of the problem as it stands.

  129. If you have them for five-sixths of the waterways, why do you need to establish a statutory framework to load cost on what is the small amount left? It is all part of the waterway network where you are likely to see the maximum voluntary contribution and community involvement by the very nature of its diffuse ownership.
  (Dr Bardsley) One of the key objectives is biodiversity. If you are assuming that a minimum environmental standard is going to load costs, we think that the costs may not be as large and they may not necessarily have to be met by the profits. I suspect any minimum standard would already be met by the Environment Agency, British Waterways and the Broads Authority.

  130. You do not see the involvement by leisure users, particularly boat users of the waterways, directly or indirectly, as serving your interests as well because they help preserve the inland waterways?
  (Dr Bardsley) Preserving the environment is serving their interests because it is recognised in most publications—

  131. I am sure we all agree with that but if, in pursuit of wildlife objectives, £1.5 billion is spent on the waterways, £180 million of that comes to the British Waterway Board. 80 per cent of that is coming from the private sector people pursuing their leisure activities. If by accident you drive those people away, that would not serve your purposes, would it?
  (Dr Bardsley) I do not believe it would drive those people away. A strategic planning overview would ensure that you were not loading the costs directly onto boaters. That would not be fair. It would not serve our interests but we are not convinced that the system as it stands is clear.

  132. In any consideration of further regulation of rules about wildlife trusts, we would have to bear in mind that this would need sustained leisure use of the inland waterways?
  (Dr Bardsley) Sustained, yes.

Mr Bennett

  133. English Nature are fairly relaxed about significant new water transfer. The Wildlife Trusts think that it is a disaster. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
  (Mr Withrington) I do not think English Nature is relaxed. We have not seen specific proposals yet and any proposals have to be studied in view of possible impacts from things like spreading of alien species of plants and signal crayfish, which carry crayfish plague. Canals are a very important refuge for our native crayfish. As far as the impact on the canal system is concerned, we think that an amount of clean water coming through the system would probably be beneficial to the canals. Again, you have to question whether this transfer of water is needed in the first place.

  134. Not at the moment, presumably.
  (Mr Withrington) Certainly not this week. We do not say that it is necessarily going to cause major environmental impacts. It just depends how the schemes are put forward. An environmental study has to be undertaken before any capital investment in infrastructure is made to transfer water.
  (Mr Cunningham) The Wildlife Trusts response comes very much from the decision from the various consultations that have been taking place on the proposed Water Bill which may or may not be with us shortly. The idea of water transfer is fairly old hat. It is trotted out every time there is a drought. It very much belongs to the predict and provide model of water resources engineering, where you look to see what you think people will be using.

  135. I can understand the philosophy of telling people to be more careful with water but what about nature conservation? Does it really do that much damage?
  (Mr Cunningham) We do not know. The threats that we talk about in our written response we think are real. The spread of invasive species could not only threaten our wildlife but also the viability of our waterways.

  136. As far as anglers are concerned, do we still need a closed season on canals?
  (Mr Withrington) English Nature did oppose the removal of the close season on canals. The Ministry of Agriculture in its decision decided to keep it on certain Sites of Special Scientific Interest, for which we are grateful, but we do talk to the anglers very regularly and there seem to be quite a lot of anglers who appreciate a close season and its effects on the relief of disturbance on breeding birds, on wildlife generally, to have a break during the time when birds are breeding, but nothing has been put in its place. This has been taken away so we are concerned, but the decision has been made and we have to live with it.

  137. Have you managed to satisfy anglers about cormorants?
  (Mr Withrington) I do not think we will ever satisfy some angling groups about cormorants. The research that has been done seems to show that the impact on fish populations and fish eating birds is not as high as some people might claim. Research has been done by the Ministry of Agriculture but it is a bit inconclusive. There are hot spots. We recognise that there is a need to try and solve some problems locally.

  138. How?
  (Mr Withrington) I am not an expert in this field but there are ways of scaring off or protecting fish tanks with netting.

  139. I was concerned about canals. It is put to me that some of the angling clubs can put up these fluorescent flares and all sorts of things to protect their waters, but some of the canals are having the fish trawled out of them by cormorants.
  (Mr Withrington) All bird species are protected under the law. The decision on whether any control is needed rests with the Ministry of Agriculture and we would advise them on a case by case basis.

  Mr Bennett: It is not a question of case by case, is it, for cormorants because they are protected. I can never remember which bit of the schedule they are protected under.

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