The “It’s not my fault” culture killing our river

An extraordinary exchange of emails which has recently emerged, reveal a serious pollution incident on the Gaywood River and makes it clear that it could very well happen again. This wasn’t the doing of some unscrupulous fly-tipper or chicken farm but of two key agencies entrusted to look after our river.

A couple of years back, the Environment Agency decided to downgrade our chalk streams to “ordinary watercourses” and to hand over maintenance to the King’s Lynn Internal Drainage Board (IDB). Consequently, the Environment Agency and the IDB conveniently have responsibility for different aspects of the river and, rather more seriously, have different priorities. Their failure to act together brought about a serious pollution incident last September with neither side apparently accepting responsibility.

According to a KLIDB report, “The EA contacted KLIDB in early October to inform us that they had been contacted by a member of the public, regarding concern over recent maintenance on the Gaywood River and the potential for IDB maintenance to stir up phosphates from the sediments. The member of the public alleged that this IDB activity had caused the death of two fish.”

[In fact it was one of out team that reported to the EA that there were “dozens of dead fish” (not two) along one stretch of the river.]

Although inspection showed that river margins and banks had been cut very short the IDB insist that the work was still technically within the remit of their Standard Maintenance Operations “for Fenland watercourses”. And there’s the rub, The Gaywood River is not a Fenland watercourse, it is a rare chalk stream but is not being treated as such.

The IDB go on to say that they have no control over the stirring up of dangerous levels of phosphates, even though their work does exactly that. They point out that “water quality of the river remains the remit of the Environment Agency as Regulator”. In other words, they know they are stirring up the phosphate laden silt which kills almost all fish in the river but once they have done so, it’s not their problem since it affects water quality for which EA is responsible.

You really couldn’t make it up.

Gaywood River Revival recent carried out tests on the river which showed that even down as far as The Walks phosphate levels were three times higher than they should be.

The question remains as to whether “as Regulator” the Environment Agency will be taking action against the IDB over this incident. It seems unlikely.
Meanwhile you’ll not be surprised to hear that plans have been published to mechanically clear the river of plant-life again this summer.


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