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

Memorandum by the Marine Ecology & Sailing (IW 49)


  This inquiry has occurred at a most timely moment and I am grateful to the committee for the opportunity to submit evidence on this matter. The notice of the inquiry states:

    "For the purpose if the inquiry inland waterways should be taken to mean both tidal and non-tidal rivers and canals"

  Therefore it is my intention to concentrate on those waterways, such as tidal rivers and estuaries, which are principally elements of the marine environment but which are clearly an acknowledged integral part of this inquiry.

  Tidal rivers and estuaries are important for both leisure and commercial purposes. Sheltered areas for water recreation and locations for small ports and harbours are provided by these natural features. The Thames itself is the obvious example giving access to the open sea and to the centre of London and further on to the inland waterway network. Many other tidal rivers and estuaries around the coast offer similar facility and it is on the importance of this to water recreation and leisure that I shall comment, and in addition the short sea and coastal maritime trade.

  The UK tidal rivers and estuaries are also wildlife habitat of international importance with a number identified as candidate SACs and SPAs under the EU Habitats and Wildbird Directives. Given that substantial maritime activity, both recreational and commercial, has taken place in these locations for many years it shows that the potential for sustainable use is possible. However, positive management of activity is now necessary to maintain and enhance the natural qualities of these habitats for wildlife and to ensure the orderly and environmentally sustainable expansion of the facility tidal rivers can provide. This can be done in a passive or active way.

  Passive management can be described as locating a facility in a place where its use minimises the impact on nature. A footpath is typical where its location is intended to avoid trampling plants and disturbing wildlife. Properly designed, such an approach need not create the impression of management that can compromise the "wilderness" amenity for the leisure enjoyment of natural features. Active management is the use of supervised barriers or wardening to control intrusive activity which may harm the natural qualities of an area for both wildlife and other recreational users.

  In order to give a practical application to these principles project Greensail was devised and copies of the relevant papers are included in this submission and I would ask the committee to note their contents. These have been submitted to past inquiries but have now been updated to take account of new coastal management initiatives.

  Greensail proposes an extensive inventory of public Maritime Access Points linking access to the waters of rivers and estuaries to the footpath and track network ashore. Other options are Coastal Sailing Stations and low density moorings now made possible by governments enlightened approach to coastal protection works, ie Managed realignment etc.

  An essential part of the sustainable development of tidal rivers and estuaries is full user stakeholder involvement and interest. GESAMP Report 62—Marine biodiversity: Patterns, threats and conservation needs states:-

    "Sustainable use of coastal resources (including biodiversity) will require that all stakeholders are involved in the assessment of coastal habitats and the potential for sustainable usage and the decision-making processes that follow. These include natural and social scientists, planners and policy makers and the users of coastal habitats. A framework for the integration of the type envisaged is that of Integrated Coastal Management (ICM)."

  Therefore sustainable development of tidal rivers and waterways can only take place if all the relevant user stakeholder interests are considered in ICM plans. In the UK these are Estuary Management Plans, Shoreline Management Plans, Local Environment Agency Plans, Coastal Habitat Management Plans and now MSAC Management Plans. The Environment Agencies Recreation and Navigation Branch has been designated by government to "promote recreation in and around coastal waters", which obviously includes tidal rivers and estuaries. This has been recently reinforced by the revised DETR Code of Practice on Conservation, Access and Recreation.

  However, due to a substantial shortfall in resourcing they are unable to undertake this vital duty on behalf of the leisure boating public, essential if environmentally sustainable enjoyment of tidal rivers is to be attained.

  To illustrate this problem it is useful to consider a typical case study. Copies are enclosed which detail the current issue of Abbotts Hall Farm fronting directly onto Salcott Creek, a navigable tidal waterway off the river Blackwater in Essex.

  Here the farm has been purchased by Essex Wildlife Trust and the Worldwide Fund for Nature with the intention of managing it for wildlife which includes a managed realignment scheme, funded by the Environment Agency, to create new saltmarsh, grazing marsh and grasslands. The proposal is outlined in the article from Blackwater Matters, the newsletter of the estuary management plan.

  Despite the clear direction of government no facilities, such as possible moorings for small craft, defined landing places linking to footpaths or tracks etc have been considered for use by recreational boating enthusiasts. Also the proposal to create new grassland could lead to an obstruction to navigation due to an invasive hybrid chord grass.

  The correspondence with the responsible Environment Agency Area office is enclosed for perusal outlining the current debate. It is notable that recreational boating is defined as "a smaller interest group" even though the project will determine access to the water for a substantial length of coastline. The site is within a European Marine Site and consequently there is severe limitation on the available opportunities for the sustainable development of the facilities for leisure boating. It is only by taking advantage of the opportunities created by projects such as managed realignment and other flood protection works that the essential facilities for leisure boating can be developed symbiotically and therefore sustainably with the needs of wildlife and natural coastal processes.

  This is the essence of project Greensail but although it has the endorsement of the Environment Agencies Recreation and Navigation Branch head office this is not reflected at area level where the implementation of national policy should take place. This appears to be due to a lack of properly trained and committed staff to take forward the duty for the development of recreational boating at the coast locally. Discrepancies between the stated EA national policy and how it is implemented locally were identified in the H of C Select Committees Inquiry into the Environment Agency. Where properly trained and committed staff are in post, such as on the Thames, recreational boating is given appropriate consideration in shoreline planning and management.

  Therefore it is clear that resources need to be targeted specifically at providing adequate training to staff in area offices to carry out effectively their recreational boating duty for tidal rivers and estuaries.

  A second case study concerns the short sea and coastal maritime trade. Maldon Port, again on the river Blackwater, is being closed. This has signalled to property speculators to acquire the last available stretch of water fronting land and to build an office block. Up until recently this proposal received a favourable response from Maldon DC even though such a project is precluded by PPG20. Indeed in the planning officers report no mention at all was made of PPG20 and its direction to planning authorities that projects not needing a coastal location should be resisted. I enclose a copy of my letter to the DETR Planning Inspectorate for perusal.

  It is worth noting that the estuary management plan states:- "The continuation of commercial traffic on the river and of port related activities is essential to reinforce Maldons coastal economy and maritime heritage." Clearly this commitment was completely ignored when determining the application for the office block on the dock area. It is only through determined opposition by the town council and leisure boating enthusiasts that a public inquiry has been forced. This case is not unique.

  Governments current transport policy is to transfer a proportion of freight traffic from road to sea where practical for sound environmental reasons. An essential component of this objective is an inventory of small ports and harbours around the coast, especially those in the centre of coastal towns and cities and likely to be at the tidal limit of rivers. Maldon is such a location and although may not be used at the moment will become a key part of governments maritime strategy for the future. Maldon is not alone, Colchester port is also closing and is vulnerable to property speculators seeking a coastal location for development, which not surprisingly can attract a substantial premium.

  There is still clearly a lack of joined up thinking with strategic planning at local level to achieve environmental sustainability for all relevant user needs at the coast and tidal rivers. In the past direct access to rivers for social and commercial purposes was no different than to footpaths or roads ashore, yet none of the existing public access points to the water that remain have statutory protection. For east Anglia the flat bottomed sailing barge was the heavy lorry of the day with 3,000 in operation in the 19th century, transporting goods via local hards, jetties and other public facilities which proliferated around tidal rivers and creeks.

  We can now do well to replicate this approach as part of the UKs strategy for a resurgence in coastal maritime trade, but now using contemporary technology. Also using facilities symbiotically with other forms of maritime activity is an obvious way forward. Enclosed are some photos of a small harbour on the Island of Telos. It shows a mix of uses with fishing craft, recreational craft and small coastal freighters one delivering roadstone the other petrol.

  Marinas and yacht harbours could be designed to provide a docking facility for small coastal freighters of up to say 1,000 tonnes allowing goods to be delivered directly by sea to the point of distribution with only short travel necessary by road.

  There is no reason why this integrated approach should not be established in the UK. However, it will require strategic planning with centralised supervision. As the management of the land sea interface is already the responsibility of the Environment Agency it may well be a further duty which their recreation and navigation branch could undertake given substantial additional resources.

  The examples illustrated[26] clearly show there is still a long way to go before proper integration of the sectoral requirements for the enjoyment of tidal rivers and estuaries within a sustainable framework is achieved. The inquiry that the committee is now undertaking is crucial to identifying the further needs and improvements in administration necessary to achieve the desired objectives and if I can be of further service please let me know.

Roger Lankester

22 September 2000

26   Not printed. Back

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