Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)



  20. Just finally and quickly, in your presentation earlier on you were talking about the Western Isles and the fact that the Directive extends a mile out into the sea, so that is going to create big blocks around the coast which are protected in a sense for the first time. What is the consequence of that going to be? What kind of change do you think we might see in the natural environment because of this?
  (Mr Murphy) The answer or the feature that needs to be highlighted is again the institutional issues because inland fisheries, for example, are governed by the local authorities on a regional basis, so the impact of fisheries on ecological quality is immense, particularly in these inshore areas, so from an institutional point of view inland fishermen have to be part of the stakeholder group for the implementation of the Directive. In terms of the impact that we might see, I think we could look forward to reducing the impact of some recreational activities and some inland fisheries, but also we will be looking at the impact of aquaculture because you have a lot of salmon-ranching, a lot of aquaculture, a lot of shellfish-rearing in that one-mile offshore area. Again the institutional arrangements, and I keep coming back to this, but I think traditionally in many Member States there would be the departments and the interest groups, so fresh water look after fresh water and then offshore it is another group or another institution. Also if you have a river mouth coming into a piece of shore, you have to define what part of the shoreline, north and south, is attached to that river and then the next river down the coast, what coverage that has, so there are many challenges associated with the inclusion of the coastal zone.

Mr Jack

  21. How will this measure impact on canals?
  (Mr Murphy) Canals are a difficult one. I think they will end up clearly being defined as heavily modified water bodies as they are not natural water bodies.

  22. But, for example, we just had in my constituency the opening for the first time in 100 years of a new canal which will link the Lancaster Canal and effectively Leeds/Liverpool via a link through the River Ribble and naturally existing water courses are being used to make that link, so what goes into the canal will come out into the river. Secondly, given that canals top up from natural sources of water, reservoirs, rivers and in other ways, there is an integration between the canal system and the more natural unheavily modified water sources, so how does the canal fit in? They are also a repository for some very good features in terms of water and its environment, fish-life, aquatic plants, flora, fauna, et cetera.
  (Mr Murphy) I think with regard to the heavily modified water bodies, the basic principle is that, as much as that is possible, they achieve their potential in terms of ecological quality and chemical quality. It has to be defined on the basis of each water body, but the point that you made about the linkage between the canal and the natural river systems, the impact of the canal, whether it is abstraction or whether it is water going from the canal into a natural river basin, has to be taken into account in the management plan for the river basin where the water is coming from or the river basin where the water is ending up. With either there is potential for pollution, but there is also potential for transfer of different water qualities and you can get the transfer of species from one river basin to another river basin, non-indigenous species, through a canal. This may not be a major problem in the UK, but certainly in relation to the Rhine/Danube Canal that is a major issue of transfer of exotic species.

  23. Can I just ask you to help me to express this to my constituents. My constituency has the River Ribble estuary that runs through it, a very important area for migrating birds, some incredibly important wetland sites on both sides of the river, and not only are we protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, but we are OSPAR, so I think that gives you a picture as to the ecological importance of that particular area. If I am going to say anything to the public, because you laid great emphasis on the need to get them involved in this and I am not now just talking about the representative bodies of the public, what should I say to them about why this is a good idea and why eventually it might cost them some money on their water bills?
  (Mr Murphy) I am not sure that it will cost them money on their water bills, but why it is a good idea is that, first of all, it will make sure that the water quality in the entire Ribble and in the Ribble estuary is, I would imagine, improved, as my memory of the Ribble is that it has not always in the past been in a pristine state, and that it will result, and again it is not a message that is very easy to project, but it is the most effective way to integrate all the uses of the river in a way which takes into account all the interest groups in the river. In relation to the Ribble estuary itself, the unique nature of the estuary from the point of view of its bird species and in terms of the nature of it, the Water Framework Directive requires that the Natura areas, the OSPAR-protected areas, the Sites of Special Scientific Interest should be a part of the whole planning process, so it is a way of ensuring the continued protection of that area. If you undermine it or if the water quality itself is not satisfactory, then you are going to impact upon the micro-invertebrates, the fish and all the sediments which in turn will impact upon the nature of the estuary. I recognise in speaking that that is not a very effective answer or sexy answer to give to your constituents. If I could come back to you on that one, perhaps: I am getting a bit tired at the moment. It is important for the Ribble Estuary but also it is about ensuring the continued protection and improvement of water quality.

  24. The reason I ask that question is that I, and I think a lot of other colleagues, have had to attend meetings, for example over the Nitrates Directive, with angry farmers. "Yet another cost," they say. "What is the benefit? Where is the science? Why should we be doing all of these things?" What you have said did not surprise me and it is extremely laudable and you put a tick in the box, but when we come to that relationship of trying to sell these things and also respond to the practical implications, the kind of issues you have just described in this question of the farmers and the other people who are going to be impacted upon needs very careful thought if there is going to be a positive response to a positive piece of legislation that is not just seen as another gigantic piece of bureaucracy for no apparent immediate gain. Because, just to conclude, if it is 2015 when we hope the objectives will be realised and here we are at 2002, 13 years in the political timescale is an incredibly long period, to sell somebody today for the benefits in 13 years time.
  (Mr Murphy) A point that has been made throughout the discussions this morning is the relationship with agriculture and I think what is happening throughout the European Union is there is a shift in policy in relation to agriculture and the role of agriculture in society. I think what we have to avoid is a situation where it becomes agriculture versus environment. I think the way to do that is to exploit the possibilities in the current CAP but also in the reform and review of the CFP so that farmers are rewarded for environmental services provided. Therefore if, for example, they have to forego nitrate application rates and that has an impact on crop yields, there has to be some compensation for that, because otherwise I see a situation which will become one of conflict and competition. I think the way to do that is to bring farmers into the debate very early on and to look at it in terms of what are the mechanisms for compensation and to make it clear that we are not trying to keep banging on the head of the farmers. In the UK they have had an incredibly difficult time over the last two or three years. They may see this as yet another burden around their necks rather than, if it is used intelligently, it can actually be to their advantage.

Mr Todd

  25. I want to explore exactly that relationship between the costs and the benefits and how the stakeholders perceive that. What estimate has been made of the cost of implementation of the Directive?
  (Mr Murphy) I have not seen the specific cost estimate, because on the individual measures, for example on the specific hazardous substances, until we come forward with the daughter directives, until we know what the water quality objective is or an emissions standard, we cannot give a cost to those proposals.

  26. You have signed up to a mission, the cost of which no one has worked out.
  (Mr Murphy) No, I would put it another way.

  27. I hope so, I am sure.
  (Mr Murphy) The objective is the achievement of good ecological quality which I think it is very difficult to argue against as being an objective.

  28. It is a bit like motherhood and apple pie: we all say that is a good thing.
  (Mr Murphy) Yes. But the concept of the Directive is that it is achieved in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. That is your ecological objective.

  29. Let me try this a different way round. How do we arrive at a picture of the cost?
  (Mr Murphy) Again, the best way to do this would be during the pilot river basins.

  30. Does that imply that when we have done some of the pilot work—which I think is completed at the end of next year.
  (Mr Murphy) Yes.

  31.—we then reappraise this and say, "Now we have a clearer picture of the costs, let's think about what that means"? Is that part of the purpose of this exercise? Is the pilotage actually going to lead us back to rethink whether some elements of this are in the correct order or that we have approached this through a sensible methodology? Or is there a broader issue of: Is this precisely the path that we ought to be following?
  (Mr Murphy) The Directive is not going to be changed as a result of the pilot river basins.

  32. So the definition of what is good status, for example, will not be altered by someone saying, "To achieve what you have described as good status will cost us all billions of pounds." No one is going to raise that issue; they are going to say, "Well, we did sign up for that whatever the cost." Am I right?
  (Mr Murphy) The Directive says that the requirement is to achieve good ecological status. Good ecological status is not defined as being the pristine state; it is being a small deviation from what would be the natural situation. So there is quite a lot of flexibility in that definition.

  33. We actually had some scientific advice earlier that said that is a fairly precise definition that has been set down.
  (Mr Murphy) Getting into the details, if you go to a particular body of water and you say, "We need so many different species of fish, we would expect to have these types of algae, these types of microphytes, and in terms of the insect populations we would expect to see that many species in this genera and this many species in that genera," it is very difficult. I would challenge any scientist to go to an body of water and say, "It is absolutely essential that we find this species here" or "this full list of 58 species for this body of water to be classified as good ecological status." There will have to be some flexibility.

  34. What you are implying is that the definition of good status may alter or be refined to some extent when we know better how this pilot process has worked.
  (Mr Murphy) What I am saying is that my expectation is that those considerations will enter into that debate.

  35. I think we have arrived at the fact that there is not a definition of costs at the moment. How do we define cost-effective?
  (Mr Murphy) Cost-effective has to be if you are—

  36. If we do not know what the costs are and, I have to say, we are not too sure how to quantify the benefits, the words "cost-effective" are a new one to me in that context.
  (Mr Murphy) First of all, if you define the objective as being the achievement of good ecological status and good chemical status—

  37. Which you have just said is a slightly moveable feast.
  (Mr Murphy) Slightly, but in a particular local situation you will be able to define it. For example, if you have, say in the north-west of the UK, one river basin next to another river basin, the fact that there may be one species present in one river and not in another, to me does not automatically result in the conclusion that one is good status and the other is not and you have to take into account the context. The definition will be based on a case by case basis. But, allowing for the fact that you can define what your status has to be, you then, in each river basin, should define the least cost path to achieving that objective.

  38. What is disproportionate cost, then?
  (Mr Murphy) What I would suggest would be disproportionate costs would again be based on a case by case basis. One example would be in the city of Brussels. There is the river, which is in fact basically a covered sewer, the River Senne. To pretend that you could restore that to something like what should be a pristine or near pristine condition would require inappropriate costs or disproportionate costs.

  39. You can see that there is quite a big definition problem here—particularly, I have to say, for our experience of UK authorities, who tend to like to have things pretty hard-nailed down. Definitions of how you decide what a disproportionate cost might be can vary quite dramatically between different Member States and in different situations, one would imagine.
  (Mr Murphy) Yes. At the moment, in the Common Implementation Strategy the definition or better clarification of what the term disproportionate costs is has not been part of the mandate of any other working group. In Copenhagen we are re-defining those mandates and I think it is perfectly probable or possible that that will be one of the issues we will ask the working group to look at in the future.


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