Action call as hydro schemes
blamed for fish slump

Angling groups are calling for an urgent review of plans for scores of new hydro-electric power plants on major rivers around the country because of growing concerns over their impact on fish and wildlife.

The move follows new evidence suggesting a hydro plant on the River Ribble in Settle, North Yorkshire, may be blocking the path 
of migratory salmon and sea 

Under the Government subsidy schemes for renewable energy developers can claim grant aid towards the cost of new hydro-electric power plants, while electricity generated qualifies for premium subsidised rates.

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A 2010 Environment Agency study identified 26,000 energy hot spots where turbines could potentially be installed to generate electricity from water.

Not all these are thought to be environmentally viable but the latest figures show that in the past four years 225 schemes have been approved in England and Wales – including 26 in Yorkshire and the North East. A further 161 schemes – including 25 more in Yorkshire and the North East – are at the planning stage.

Now the Ribble Fisheries Consultative Association, which represents angling interests on one of England’s top game-fishing rivers is calling for a moratorium.

Chairman David Hinks said: “There has been this rush to hydro which is driven by Government subsidies and a very small number of people – developers and consultants – are making money out of it, yet the amount of electricity generated from these projects is trivial.”

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Since a hydro plant began operating on the River Ribble at Settle in 2010 there has been a disastrous fall in salmon catches upstream, as revealed by the Yorkshire Post in January.

The Environment Agency has released new evidence from automated fish counters which confirms the number of salmon and sea trout moving upstream of the hydro plant has slumped by 40 per cent. This compares with a 20 per cent reduction in numbers downstream.

The hydro plant, which generates electricity for around 50 homes, is sited next to an old mill weir fitted with a fish ladder, a series of artificial pools which allow salmon to bypass the weir and progress to spawning grounds upstream.

Mr Hinks said the suspicion was that fish were no longer being drawn to the pools at the base of the fish ladder, probably because of the turbulence of water discharged from the generating screw.

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“We’ve already seen a tremendous decline in salmon migrating upstream above Settle and this is having a huge impact on angling interests and the local economy as a whole,” he said.

He said around the country there was mounting evidence of environmental damage from hydro schemes and the Environment Agency guidelines under which new schemes were approved needed to be rewritten as a matter of urgency.

“If hydro schemes must be built at all they should be confined to situations where barriers must stay for flood defence reasons and the hydro schemes must be very well designed with proven fish passes.”

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said as yet there was no proof that the hydro plant was the cause of decline in the numbers of salmon and sea trout.

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She said further investigations were being carried out and for a trial period the plant operators had agreed to turn off the generating screw on alternate weeks.

She added: “It’s our role to ensure that hydropower schemes are developed sustainably.

“Each scheme is dealt with on a case by case basis and the risks to the environment are fully considered.”

The plant at Settle is operated by Settle Hydro Ltd, a community project which donates proceeds to local causes. Settle Hydro’s director, Ann Harding, said: “We haven’t done anything wrong – we continue to generate electricity which is for the benefit of the community and we’re very happy that everything we’re doing is working within the terms of licence.”

She said she would be happy to meet anglers at any time to discuss their concerns.