Archive for July, 2013

Fishing with nets in the estuary

Check this link for more on the fish netting story:-


In response to the recent spate of commercial fishing by use of nets, we have been agitating for some visible action by the responsible agencies.  Nigel Mortimer , Estuaries Officer of th AONB has sent this message:-


There has been a flurry of reports of fishing boats openly netting within the Avon estuary recently and there was been much concern that nothing appeared to be happening despite the many phone calls. I am assured that the netting was checked but at the time of the visits and within the byelaws that the officers were warranted to enforce, the vessels were netting within those byelaws.   However, as part of the ‘Water of Dartmouth’, the Avon estuary is a Several Fishery owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, meaning that there is no public right to fish or collect any bait from its tidal waters (including foreshore).   Whilst there has been no intention by the Duchy of Cornwall or the lessees of the estuary to be obstructive to fishermen involved in their pursuit for personal & non-commercial leisure purposes of responsible fishing and bait collection at present levels, they have been clear that they do not allow commercial fishing without licence.   The enforcement officers were not able to enforce this at the time of the visit(s).   The Duchy are in talks with the relevant authorities and I have received this from Neal Gray of the Marine Management Organisation,

“We encourage all members of the public to report any incidents of potential illegal fishing activity to us on 07770175479. We endeavour to act on any information provided and are actively attempting to tackle the issue of illegal fishing by enforcing the appropriate legislation available to the MMO or through partner agencies whenever possible. We are also looking at the possibility of writing to all netters administered from the Plymouth Fisheries Office and advising them of the Duchy restrictions on netting in the Avon and Kingsbridge/Salcombe areas. My colleague Will Sykes is looking into this and we hope to have something in place shortly (Will is not in the office this week).   Regards Neal”

I would like to thank you for your continued support in reporting incidents around the Avon estuary – your eyes and ears do help!

Best wishes

Nigel Nigel Mortimer Estuaries Officer – South Devon AONB Unit Follaton House, Plymouth Rd, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5NE 

01803 861465  07971 544010 (not 24/7)


Our next ACA beach clean will be on SATURDAY 13th JULY  2013– Cockleridge beach, Bigbury on Sea (opposite Bantham) at
3.00pm.    LW will be around 4.00pm.

All are welcome but no unaccompanied minors, please.  Please come equipped withstout footwear, gardening gloves, warm clothes, etc. If you have any spare collection sacks, they would be useful.

An introduction to the South Hams Rivers Improvement Project (SHRImP)

This is a report on SHRImP, its origins, organisation and progress, to date, from the personal viewpoint of one member of the project advisory panel.  None of the work would have been possible without the collaboration of numerous interest groups and, especially, without the knowledge, experience and professionalism of the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) whose project SHRImP remains.

The rivers of the South Hams include the Avon (known locally as the Aune), Erme and Yealm, all of which have their source on Dartmoor and drain into the channel off the south west corner of Devon.  Between them, they contain some of the finest nature conservation sites in the South West and host a diverse array of wildlife. From source to sea, these rivers flow through numerous protected landscapes including Sites of Special Scientific Interest, County Wildlife Sites and the Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The Salcombe and the Kingsbridge estuaries and Dartmoor National Park are Special Areas of Conservation, with the rivers of Dartmoor being renowned for their populations of Atlantic Salmon and Brown Trout.

However, problems were identified with all these rivers by the Environment Agency (EA) when they started to implement the EU’s Water Framework Directive and published their so-called Waterbody Information Packs for all UK rivers in 2011.  These problems were likely to result in our rivers falling short of the required EU standard for Good Ecological Status by 2015 for various reasons; some relatively easy to fix, others more intractable.  At the same time as publishing their assessment of the current situation, the EA called for the participation and involvement of other parties to help put things right.  In response, the Aune Conservation Association (ACA) contacted a variety of expert organisations including the Avon Fishing Association, South Devon AONB, South West Rivers Association, South West Water, WRT and Wild Trout Trust to form a task group which would collaborate with the EA in helping to understand and manage the Devon Avon’s water quality and ecological well being, and to coordinate and drive forward a programme of water improvement projects.   This cooperative interaction, currently under the chairmanship of the ACA, remains the model for the other South Hams rivers and is underpinned by formal Terms of Reference and objectives.  Of fundamental importance is the involvement of the WRT which successfully applied for government funds and provided the resources to make things happen and to produce the results which are outlined here.  The WRT christened their project for the Avon and the other South Hams rivers ‘SHRImP’.  The original Devon Avon task group remains in an advisory capacity to SHRImP and meets with the EA several times each year.

The original problems identified on the Avon mostly involve the higher reaches where the water is highly acidic (possibly due to an historic ‘acid rain’ effect, to the naturally acidic geology, or to both) and fish species such as the Bullhead (Cottus gobio) and Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) – expected in a pristine, natural river – are either missing or are not abundant.  The influence of the Avon dam on the natural flows of water (needed for normal fish migration) and gravel (needed for fish spawning) is very important and is being addressed but other obstacles to fish migration have been identified as likely contributors to the failure to meet EU standards. In particular, there is limited access to spawning habitat for migratory salmonids within the upper section of the Avon.  The task group agreed that a comprehensive new assessment of potential obstructions to salmonid and eel migration would be required, as a first step, to supplement the EA’s information pack which outlined 13 obstructions to migration, including artificial weir structures and natural falls.  This new survey was carried out by the WRT between December 2012 and February 2013 to provide greater certainty in determining the extent to which obstructions may be contributing to fish failures and in targeting funds available to improve fish passage and easements where appropriate.   ‘Walkover’ surveys were carried out to identify each potential obstruction to fish passage on the River Avon, the Bala brook and the Glazebrook.  Man-made structures and natural features that were highlighted during the fisheries walkover surveys were revisited and more detailed assessments of ‘passability’ by fish were conducted with respect to the different swimming and leaping abilities of each species, according to standard procedures.

The assessment identified in-stream structures including weirs (in varying states of repair), large woody debris, and natural waterfall and chute features. Of these, a total of 10 (8 man-made structures and two natural falls – Lydia Falls and Shipley Falls – were assessed in more detail due to their potential to present obstacles to fish migration.  Brown Trout was the only species recorded upstream of Shipley Falls.  (Trout are also found above the dam but the relationship of this stock to the population below the dam remains something of a mystery and an auxiliary study of trout population genetics has been proposed but not yet funded).  The steep, high gradient nature of the river upstream of South Brent presents a number of natural features that are greater obstacles to fish migration than the artificial barriers assessed within the current investigation.  Despite Lydia Falls incorporating two vertical features with an estimated hydraulic head of greater than 1.4m, juvenile migratory salmonids have been recorded upstream of this structure. Therefore, salmonid progeny within the Upper Avon may have become locally adapted to negotiating such features.

The survey results confirm a number of artificial obstacles on the Avon that present a partial or complete barrier to fish species migrations. Artificial barriers contribute cumulative effects upon salmonid progress upstream which may include additional delay to migration and potential disorientation due to sudden changes in flow and velocity.

The results suggest that upstream movement of juvenile salmon is likely to be highly restricted by obstacles.  Venn Weir, Loddiswell Boulder Weir and Brent Island Weir were assessed as complete barriers to this lifestage.

Suitable conditions for elver (i.e. climbing substrate) were recorded at obstacles with the exception of two upstream weirs. This is supported by the fisheries data which confirms the presence of eel at all sites below Shipley Falls. However, eel numbers were lower than expected at the majority of sites.  Therefore, despite the potential for elver passage at the majority of sites, it is considered that improvement to elver passage would be beneficial at Brent Island Weir and Crackhill Weir. Shipley falls is likely to present a complete barrier to elver. The results suggest that most obstacles present no barrier to downstream eel migration although Crackhill Weir and the Old Avon Intake Weir may present partial barriers under some low flow conditions. Overall, impact of obstacles upon adult eel migration was considered negligible.

Future work will involve more detailed study of barriers to fish migration, prior to their repair or removal, in the following priority order:- Venn Weir, Loddiswell Boulder Weir, Curtisknowle Weir, Brent Island Weir and Crackhill Weir.  Importantly, the work to improve fish stocks is not being carried out in isolation. Other aspects of WRT’s SHRImP include the provision of farm plans and advice, habitat management, river flow investigations, and educational work.    Separately, efforts continue to limit the extent of the regular illegal netting of salmonid fish around the Avon and other South Hams estuaries because these activities obviously deplete the numbers of fish swimming upriver to spawn and maintain the populations. These other topics will be covered in future reports.