Anglers have warned that huge price increases for permits to improve river habitats will jeopardise the future of citizen-led environment projects across the country.
The Environment Agency is consulting on a new charging regime for a wide range of its services and it is intended to take effect from the start of April.
Under the proposals, angling groups say that even small-scale projects involving commonly-used habitat improvement methods will need a permit costing £1,500 or more. Yet just 12 months ago, the same permits cost £50 before an initial price hike last January which took the cost to £170 plus a £70 compliance charge.
The Wild Trout Trust, one of a number of groups whose work includes habitat improvement projects on rivers, is critical of the proposals.
Responding to the Environment Agency’s public consultation on the new charges, which ends on Friday, the Trust said: “We believe that these proposals jeopardise the work that tens of thousands of people are doing to make our natural environment better, very often in partnership with EA and in support of the Agency’s statutory obligations.”
In the last year alone, the Trust has worked with more than 1,100 volunteers to make improvements for wildlife. One such project involved removing obstructions in the small becks in the River Aire catchment area in North Yorkshire. Small weirs were removed or notched to allow fish to move more freely and woody debris was introduced to create more fish-friendly habitat.
Professor Jonathan Grey, research and conservation officer for the Trust in the North, said: “I can see where the Environment Agency has come from to develop a model for full costs recovery, and most organisations are in the same boat, but there is no distinction in their proposed new charges between organisations working for environmental gain as opposed to those exploiting the environment.”
The Trust’s response to the consultation adds: “The charge proposals completely fail to recognise EA partners who are vital to improving our natural environment, particularly in the face of ever-reducing resources within the Agency to carry out such work.”
The Trust further asserts that the proposals are completely at odds with government commitments to empower communities and promote a “shared society”.
Stephen Cheetham, chairman of the West Yorkshire branch of Salmon and Trout Conservation UK, is also critical of the potential price hike.
Mr Cheetham said: “We have spent an awful of time and effort in raising money to finance local projects in river restoration. If the Environment Agency continues with this price increase it puts our citizen science efforts in enhancing our environment backwards.”
The Environment Agency said it is changing how it charges for permits so that its regulatory work, which is funded by taxpayers, is financially sustainable.
Permitting requires technical assessments, monitoring and enforcement, and is resource intensive involving a high degree of expertise, the Agency said, and its charging structure previously took into account public subsidy which is no longer sustainable.
An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We have been engaging with trade associations and environmental organisations over the last year while developing these proposals. Their input into this process has been really valuable and we urge them to take part in the public consultation.”