Excellent work by the Salmon and Trout Association (SATA), working together with local fishery interests, has led to the withdrawal of a planning application by Eastleigh Borough Council to develop a 'run-of-river' or 'low-head' micro-hydro scheme on the River Itchen in Hampshire. It seems that the winning thrust of SATA's objections, led by leading environmental solicitor Guy Linley-Adams, was focussed around the scheme's incompatibility with the EU Habitat Directive. The River Itchen, a chalkstream, is designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) due to its Atlantic Salmon populations which use the river as a spawning ground, and in which juvenile fish develop before they embark upon their incredible journey into our oceans. The Itchen is also one of the most prestigious pleasure-fisheries in the UK, attracting fly-fishers from across the globe, and, consequently, it holds significant economic value to the county.
SATA CEO, Paul Knight, highlighted the impact the intended scheme would have on the hydrology of the river by 'slowing and deepening the water' above the proposed micro-hydro site. Locally, in Sheffield, this point has real synergy with the proposed development at Kelham Island and its an argument clearly illustrated by Dr Paul Gaskell in 'Kelham Island Hydro' when he discusses the ecological impacts of the perpetuation of the Kelham Island weir. As viewers will know, the channel upstream of any weir is 'impounded', which is bad news for the bio-diversity of hundreds of metres of river habitat. By and large run-of-river micro-hydro schemes need to preserve, or, even worse, resurrect, similar impoundments in order to generate power.
Sheffield's River Don, and rivers like it across the UK, do not have SAC status, despite the fact that Atlantic Salmon historically spawned at their headwaters and the fact that, year upon year, these remarkable fish continue their attempts to repopulate. These efforts have been devastated over centuries by man-made obstacles and pollution. As Chris Firth says in 'Kelham Island Hydro', 'those structures still impede the free movement of fish'. In Sheffield, the river's ecosystems are recovering after centuries of industrial degradation, and voluntary organisations like SPRITE and the Don Catchment Rivers Trust have been instrumental in cleaning up the waterway and improving its habitats, giving a significant helping hand to the re-establishment of natural wildlife orders; Sheffield is not alone in its incredible efforts - see, for example, the work of The Wandle Trust, a group who have, against inconceivable odds, revived the London River Wandle from its official classification as 'an open sewer' to the vibrant inner-city watercourse it is today.
But we cannot hope to attract the talents of a Guy Linley-Adams or to access fully any other resource of a major pressure group such as SATA to examine, campaign against, or object to every local proposal because groups such as SATA have finite resources which are spread over many other serious issues affecting their cause, and they prioritise duly. Instead our objections are local and voluntary and we must hope that the decision-makers, especially those within local authorities across Britain, will truly understand the basic tenets of a sound environmental argument and that they will acknowledge the example set by SATA in the case of the River Itchen and consider the evidence of the negative ecological impacts that are beginning to emerge from that flagship of micro-hydro tinkering on the River Ribble, Settle Hydro.
David Browse, Secretary of the Hampshire Salmon Trust said of the Itchen proposal, 'This hydropower scheme would have provided minimal energy generation compared to the potential impact on salmon and other aquatic species, and we felt we were being let down by the very people who should have been responsible for their protection.' Sound familiar?
The full SATA article is here.
Watch the film, 'Kelham Island Hydro', and ask whether what boils down to be a few kettles' worth of hydro-generated electricity is proportionate to the decimation of our little-understood and very fragile river ecosystems.
If you have problems viewing the film from here, please view on Vimeo or watch on Google where you can also download to your pc.