News

Fish in the River Exe can swim easier upstream, now that a fish pass has temporarily been extended.

Except during times of heavy flow, salmon and trout have been unable to get beyond Trews Weir in Exeter, after the water level dropped more than a metre when part of nearby St James' Weir washed away.

The large presence of salmon makes the River Exe one of the most valuable rivers in Devon and Cornwall. Salmon use the river to travel to and from their breeding ground in the heart of Exmoor.

Ben Johnstone of the Environment Agency said, "finding an answer to this problem has been difficult and time consuming. Extending a fish pass is not as simple as it sounds".

"You have to account for water levels possibly changing again, how long the extension will be in place and the time needed to design and manufacture the final article".

The Environment Agency has allocated £470,000 to the scheme. The extension was part assembled on dry land by contractor Kier with baffles, sheets of metal shaped into waves, attached to the structure before a crane lowered it into the river.

The fish pass will be temporarily extended 7.3 miles so that it reconnects with the water and will remain fit for purpose for at least two years while a permanent solution is designed. As salmon are attracted to strong currents, 48 bags or rocks, each weighing four tons, have been put into the river to channel salmon along the weir to the pass.

Cameras at the top of the fish pass will collect data before and after the extension is built, to let us know if the temporary extension is helping the fish. The next step is to design an extension for the eel pass, as elvers cannot ascend the weir.

Dacorum Borough Council has been fined for exposing seven grounds maintenance workers to Hand Arm Vibration (HAVS), caused by excessive use of power tools.

Luton Magistrates' Court heard how the council reported seven cases of HAVS between May 2015 and June 2016. The affected employees were all part of its grounds maintenance and street care team, looking after the public spaces in Hertfordshire.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the council had not:

  • adequately planned its working methods;
  • trained or informed employees on the risks to their health;
  • limited the duration or magnitude of exposure to vibration;
  • put in place suitable health surveillance to identify problems at any early stage.

Dacorum Borough Council pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations SI 2005/1093, fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £28,672.62.

HSE inspector, Rubeena Surnam said, "this was a case of the council failing to identify the risk from hand arm vibration which is a recognised health risk with potentially disabling consequences".

"Unless vibration is identified and properly assessed, an employer won't know the level of risk and whether action is needed to protect workers".

On 3 September 2019, the Scottish Government published a new Programme which demonstrates its commitment to tackling climate change.

The new document includes a number of important policies which aim to reduce, and eventually lead to net-zero carbon emissions in Scotland by 2045 - five years before the rest of the UK.

Scottish Green New Deal

This is one of the most important elements to the 2019/2020 programme introduced by the Scottish Government, and among a net-zero target, includes policies for the environment, energy, agriculture, transport, construction as well as town and country planning:

  • mobilisation of £11 billion of annual public procurement to support Scotland's climate emergency response, including consulting on legislation to require public bodies to set out how they will meet climate change and circular economy obligations;
  • investment of over £500 million in improved bus priority infrastructure to tackle the impacts of congestion on bus services and improve bus usage;
  • work towards decarbonising flights within Scotland by 2040;
  • put the highlands and Islands on a path to becoming the world's first net-zero aviation region by 2040, including a commitment to zero emissions from Highland and Islands Airports Limited's operations, where trials aim to begin in 2021;
  • reduce railway emissions in Scotland to zero by 2035 through the continued electrification of the network, use of battery-powered trains and exploration of the potential of hydrogen-powered trains across Scotland;
  • provide an additional £17 million to support the demand for ultra-low emission vehicles through a Low Carbon Transport Loan scheme, while expanding the scheme to include used electric vehicles;
  • targeting a minimum of £30 million of support for renewable heat projects;
  • ensure that from 2024 all new homes must use a renewable or low-carbon heat, which will be achieved through changes to Building Regulations;
  • put the transition to net-zero at the heart of the Scottish National Investment Bank's work;
  • unlock additional resource for emissions-reducing investment through a Green Growth Accelerator, which aims to combine public and private investment to transform cities and regions;
  • bring to market a £3 billion portfolio of projects, including renewables, waste and construction, ready for green finance investment;
  • Scottish Water to become a zero-carbon user of electricity by 2040;
  • create a new Agricultural Transformation Programme which is focused on sustainability, simplicity, profitability, innovation, inclusion and productivity; and
  • support Scotland's people to gain the skills they need to share the rewards of these new approaches to investment through a Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan.

Environmental activists welcomed the publication, with Chairman of the Committee on Climate change (CCC), Lord Deben saying: "Scotland has led the UK in reducing its emissions and has ambitions to lead the world in tackling climate change: this Programme for Government suggests that vision is alive and well.

"We strongly welcome the bold package of measures set out today. Transport is the most polluting sector of the Scottish economy, so it’s good to see plans to clean up Scotland’s rail network by 2035 and investment in buses and an ultra-low emission public fleet, as well as last week’s announcement of further funding to improve charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Scotland’s buildings are some of the least energy efficient in Europe: we commend plans to consult on new building standards, steps to heat buildings using low-carbon sources of energy, and a commitment to make new public buildings carbon-neutral.

"There's more to do. Scotland needs to build on the record rate of tree planting seen in 2018 and deliver a credible plan to tackle emissions from agriculture, amongst other things. That said, this Programme for Government shows Scotland is serious about its commitment to tackle climate change and aware of the associated benefits for the planet, the Scottish people, and the economy."

For more information, see:

An employee has been fined after an apprentice sustained serious injuries when he fell from a potato box lifted by a forklift truck.

Peterborough Magistrates' Court heard how in July 2018, an employee used a forklift truck with an attached potato box to lift an apprentice electrician to a height of four metres to carry out electrical repairs at a potato storage warehouse. This was unstable and the apprentice fell to the floor, was admitted to hospital and sustained a punctured lung and broken ribs.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the apprentice's employer had carried out a risk assessment and purchased suitable equipment for work at height, but that this was not used by the employee in charge of work at the site.

The employee pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £560.40.

HSE inspector Graeme Warden said "unfortunately, forklift trucks are frequently used with potato boxes or pallets attached to lift people to work at height. This incident serves as a reminder of the potentially disastrous consequences".

For more information on this subject, see:

Britain's biggest environmental groups have warned the government that funding to tackle the climate emergency must be more than double next year to avoid an even greater cost from catastrophic ecological breakdown in the future.

Writing to chancellor Sajid Javid, as he prepares to announce on Wednesday his spending priorities for the year ahead, more than a dozen leading environment charities and other leading organisations said urgent action was required to raise spending, including:

  • Greenpeace;
  • Friends of the Earth;
  • Oxfam;
  • Christian Aid;
  • Woodland Trust;
  • WWF;
  • Islamic Relief.

Laying out their demands for meeting the climate emergency, the groups said that government spending needed to increase from roughly £17 billion a year at present to at least £42 billion over the next three years. Further increases would be required in the future should the government wish to meet its promise of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The groups said failure to deliver the bold rise in expenditure, equivalent to about 2% of economic output each year and around 5% of total state spending, would mean passing on an unsuitable economy with a "planet-sized debt" caused by a climate breakdown.

Despite welcoming the 2050 target promised by Theresa May, the charities said the date needed to be brought forward by several years and that policy and funding arrangements were not yet in place.

In the letter, the organisations urged the chancellor to demonstrate that he understood the gravity of the challenge by holding a climate and nature emergency budget to unleash a clean industrial revolution in Britain. It said higher state investment would encourage more private spending to bring about a low-carbon economy, stating "your department holds the key to ending the UK's contribution to climate change and reversing nature's retreat, while also setting off a positive economic transformation".

Boris Johnson had said there would be greater funding for big infrastructure projects but without giving specific details for low-carbon schemes. Polling carried out for the charities by Opinium found a majority of people want ministers to spend more on the climate emergency and nature more broadly.

Among the priorities put forward by the groups are:

  • an £11.6 billion expansion in transport spending, including a UK-wide car scrappage scheme to remove heavily-polluting vehicles from the roads;
  • money put into buildings and industry to boost environmental sustainability, while more funding should be given to help communities disrupted by the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Economist and executive director of Greenpeace UK said: "no one in government is still trying to argue that this is not an emergency, and yet no one in government is acting as though it is".

“We are still constantly pumping carbon into the atmosphere, and trying to ignore the problem will leave our children with a damaged world and a planet-sized debt. There’s a strong economic case and an overwhelming moral imperative for the chancellor to act.”

For more information on this subject, see:

Pretoria Energy Company (Arable) Limited, a company that produces feedstock for a sister company’s anaerobic digestion plants, admitted causing pollution to watercourses in Emneth Hungate, Norfolk and Aldreth in Cambridgeshire.

Both incidents were caused by silage liquor leaking from ag-bags and making its way into the watercourses. These large ag-bags are often stored on fields, filled with agricultural feeds and sealed airtight. The ag-bags used by this company contained approximately 318 tonnes of silage.

As the ag-bags are airtight and exposed to direct sunlight, a large amount of gas and silage liquor is produced in them. This means the owner must maintain them by releasing the gas to avoid the bag bursting and removing any liquor build-up to prevent leaks and consequential pollution.

On 7 February 2017 the Environment Agency were notified of watercourse pollution in Emneth. The attending officer found pollution caused by silage liquor escaping from eight ag-bags on the site, some of which has holes in the side allowing the liquor to escape. They discovered sewage fungus growing 300m downstream of the ag-bags.

A representative from Pretoria Energy Company (Arable) Limited attended the incident with the Environment Agency officer and said they would arrange to remove the ag-bags. However when the officer returned to the site on 29 March 2017, they discovered all eight ag-bags were still present and samples showed continued pollution on the nearby watercourse.

There was a further complaint at the same site in relation to odour, and on 19 July 2017 when the local council investigated, there were still 5 ag-bags present.

On 26 May and 30 May 2017 the Environment Agency received complaints for a separate site in Aldreth, Cambridgeshire. They found 14 ag-bags at the site, eight of which had completely failed but it was believed the liquor had been contained and not entered the watercourse.

However on a second visit on 1 June 2017, officers inspected the watercourse and discovered black, stagnant smelling water. They also found sewage fungus growing up to 535 metres downstream. Tests confirmed the water was clearly harmful to the biodiversity of the watercourse. The pollution was traced back to the ag-bags.

The company admitted causing pollution in both incidents. At the Emneth incident, they tried to identify drains on the site and checked the ag-bags, but failed to pump out any of the silage liquor which ended up in the watercourse. They blamed extreme weather as a factor for the second incident at Aldreth, saying it caused the ag-bags to burst and the ground had been too hard to absorb some of the liquid.

Magistrates said the company had been reckless in respect of both incidents and ordered them to pay a total of £45,648.50 in fines, costs and compensation.


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