A good question, but quite simply the answer is that our rivers are under greater threat than ever before. Those of us who have experienced the Teifi over many years appreciate that the river has been going steadily downhill as a fishery for the past thirty years and we have been able to identify many reasons for this, beginning with the salmon disease UDN in the seventies, then acid rain and subsequently many other problems which I will explore in a little more detail later. Over this period of time we have continued to exploit our river with rod and line, legal and illegal netting and other forms of poaching, perhaps without much thought regarding the consequences of our actions for future generations.
However, in recent times attitudes within angling have undergone major changes as we have had to seek ways of conserving our fisheries in order to continue the enjoyment of our sport. The old traditions of killing fish for the table or for money are dying out as we realise that we are abusing a dwindling and finite natural resource that we have been privileged to enjoy all of our lives. I think we now realise that we are not going to improve our fisheries by killing fish and so more and more of us are practicing catch and release and thereby following the path to true enlightenment. We anglers tend to be one-eyed and introspective when it comes to viewing our rivers as we only tend to see what interests us and forget that our catchments are full of wildlife and many other human interests outside angling, so while rivers trusts have largely sprung from angling interests, we may not be the best people to take a fully holistic view of our catchments.
Water is the source of life on our planet and if our natural resources are not sufficiently clean and healthy then life will no longer be sustainable within them and we may well be on the slippery slope to our own destruction. It is therefore too important a subject to be taken lightly or left to a bunch of amateurs to sort out.
If climate change scientists are to be believed, and the current wisdom states that they are, then global warming is going to be a massive threat to our rivers as a 3-4 degrees centigrade rise in temperature would result in a 70% decrease in the invertebrate life of our streams with disastrous consequences for the aquatic environment and everything that depends upon it, not to mention low summer flows, more violent flooding and the effects on our remaining wetlands.
Human exploitation in all its forms also needs to be more carefully controlled than it is at present as policing on the river is minimal and not likely to improve in the foreseeable future
Modern agriculture is having some seriously damaging impacts on the Teifi catchment particularly in our tributaries where the dilution effect is not so great as on the main river. It has to be said that we do not blame our farmers for this situation as they are trying to produce food and remain profitable within the confines of the CAP and current farming practice which is now virtually industrialised. Consequently we have overstocking, overgrazing, erosion, sedimentation, logjams, slurry and silage effluent, nitrogen fertilizer and sheep-dip to contend with. A sustainable agricultural policy would be a big help.
Fortunately there is little chance of any major industrial pollution in the valley at present but it is highly ironic that the push for green energy has resulted in a huge increase in applications for hydro-power schemes in the catchment, most of which will form serious obstructions to the upstream migration of spawning fish.
Serious agricultural pollution incidents do occur from time to time but thankfully not very often and it seems to be the continuous, persistent trickle of lower grade pollutants into our tributaries that is doing the most damage over time, although it has to be said that some tributaries are in dire straits where intensive dairy farming is prevalent.
Unfortunately biodiversity as a whole is very much in decline in the modern countryside with many native species in grave danger of extinction thanks to human activity. Obviously, something has to be done to reverse these trends before the situation deteriorates beyond the point of no return, when there is insufficient natural stock for it to be capable of regenerating itself. For many years the belief has been that rivers like the Teifi retain the ability to sustain themselves and so no effort has been made to improve them. However I am not confident that this mindset is appropriate for the future and I believe that we need to be taking active conservation measures now, while we still have something worth conserving.
This is surely the function of the Environment Agency I hear you say, and you would be quite correct, but the reality is that while the Agency does do a lot of good work, our governments are looking for significant cuts in public spending and the EA is under great pressure to achieve just this at present. It follows that the number of field operatives employed by them is likely to fall even further in future, and there aren’t very many at present. CCW and other environmental organisations also find themselves in the same situation as the environment is often the first to suffer when belts are being tightened, as it never seems to be high on the list of government priorities.
The consequence of all this is that if we want our river system improved then we are largely going to have to do it ourselves. We work in partnership with the EA and CCW so we are not entirely alone but we will find ourselves doing the lion’s share of the donkey work.
It is now five years since the launch of the Trust and we have already established a system of invertebrate monitoring throughout the catchment and successfully delivered a dozen habitat improvement schemes on important tributaries. River surveying work is also underway and we have a slowly growing number of volunteers undertaking these tasks. These hardy souls are largely drawn from our angling clubs but anyone with an interest is welcome to join in.
Despite all the threats that the Teifi has experienced over the years the Queen of welsh rivers continues to sustain a huge variety and abundance of wildlife and remains a vitally important cog in the wheel of the rural welsh economy, let’s do our best to keep it that way
What do we actually do?
The trust has two main objectives:
1.We seek to improve biodiversity and the quality of the aquatic environment within the Teifi catchment.
This basically boils down to surveying the important tributaries, looking to identify priority areas which require remedial work and then persuading the landowner to allow us to undertake the necessary action. We are usually looking to fence off the tributary a few metres back from the bank margin while ensuring a water supply for stock, access to the river bank and crossing points are defined and secure. We are also looking to remove logjams, disused weirs or any other significant obstructions to the upstream passage of fish. This allows the river bank to stabilise and naturalise leading to deeper channel flows and greatly improved habitat for all riparian wildlife. This work is evidence based and in accord with the latest environmental science and designed to improve the situation for all riparian animals , birds, insects and fish as well as encouraging our indigenous plant species to flourish. By creating these natural corridors along our rivers we will diminish the adverse effects of modern agriculture and develop environmental havens for all our flora and fauna.
We are also interested in pond creation and the promotion of still water habitats, otter holts, sand-martin banks, kingfisher monitoring and any other ideas people may have about enhancing our wonderful local environment.
We also monitor the health of our rivers through regular invertebrate sampling at a series of specified sites throughout the catchment. This is done by teams of trained volunteers, co-ordinated by the trust and shared with EA, providing a regular health check for our river.
We work hand in glove with the EA and CCWwho help ensure that our activities stand the best chance of producing the required results and we have developed excellent working relationships over the past few years.
2.The second objective of the trust is educational in as much as we seek to raise the profile of environmental issues within our local communities by involving community groups, schools and any interested individuals in our projects, and making them available and accessible when possible.
One major priority is to try and capture the imagination and creative instincts of young people by exploring with them such things as the water cycle, the life story of the salmon, the teeming invertebrate life in our streams and the other riparian wildlife that is so closely intertwined with the basic insect life. Via our angling clubs we also organise angling and rivercraft tuition ,learn-to-fish days and expeditions along with traditional crafts such as fly-tying.
Many young people have enjoyed expert teaching from Welsh International fly fishermen.
How do we do it?
We are currently supported by donations from angling clubs and individuals and have been very well subscribed by Llandysul and Tregaron anglers to date and hope to attract more club finance in future, but the bulk of our funding is obtained by bidding for European monies through our governing body Afonydd Cymru. We have secured significant contributions from:
European Fisheries fund.
European Water Framework Directive.
Countryside Council for Wales.
EA Challenge fund.
EA Wild fishing Wales fund.
We are always on the lookout for potential pots of money as and when they arise and have so far successfully bid for about £250,000 in total. This process is , of course, bureaucratic and time consuming but we just have to knuckle down and get on with it if we are to make progress.
We are a limited company and registered as a charity. Should you wish to find out more about us or even better-get involved, please contact our secretary Mr. John Morris on: Tel.01545590153 or email: williammorris456@btinternet. Com.
Dr. Ian Thomas.Posted on: 13 Feb 2011