The Severn Estuary Forum 2015 was held on Tuesday 29th September, at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol. Kindly sponsored by The Bristol Port Company, British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA) and Cardiff University, the day featured 3 sessions, with a total of 14 speakers and 3 Chairs. Over 120 delegates attended the forum and 10 different organisations presented displays. The day started with an introduction from John Harrison, Chair of the Severn Estuary Partnership and a welcome address by Sarah Toy, Strategic Resilience Officer for Bristol City Council.
Welcome address by Sarah Toy, Strategic Resilience Officer for Bristol City Council. Sarah explained that Bristol is part of the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities network; a five-year $100 million programme helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are growing in the 21st century. Sarah explained how the city of Bristol was tackling resilience at a regional scale. Through extensive research, the programme has identified a set of qualities that describes the behaviour or performance of resilient systems that enable them to withstand, respond, and adapt more readily to shocks and stresses. She noted that these qualities are reflectiveness, resourcefulness, robustness, redundancy, flexibility, inclusiveness and integration. She went on to describe the range of stresses our cities face on a day-to-day basis, highlighting the need for a framework for our population to emerge stronger in response to these shocks across city systems.
The first session was Chaired by John Harrison, Chair of the Severn Estuary Partnership. The session featured three presentations, which focussed on the opportunities and challenges of estuarine and coastal management, from a European to local scale. The first talk was given by Rhona Fairgrieve, Scottish Coastal Forum, who offered a European Perspective: Challenges, Opportunities and the Future of Coastal & Estuary Management. She began by outlining the challenges faced by coastal regions today including the increasing competition and conflict claims for space, which inflict pressure on and cause degradation of coastal and marine resources. She explained the evolution of Marine Spatial Planning, highlighting the associated positives and disappointments of the European Directive and also the role of ICZM moving forward. Rhona then described the opportunities and future for coasts and estuaries, noting that we need to be conscious of stakeholder fatigue, a decline in resources and stakeholder interest and the mismatch between the timescales of human activities, policies and strategies as they develop.
The second talk was presented by Paul Parker from the Environment Agency, who spoke on River Basin Management Planning and the Catchment Based Approach in Estuarine and Coastal Waters. Paul outlined the progress and timescale for the approval and adoption of the 2015-2021 River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs). He explained that river basin planning is a catalyst for more shared decision making and delivery through partnership working. He outlined the proposed long term overall water body status objectives in England, comparing these to results from 2013. Paul also noted that the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales are working closely to develop RBMPs for cross-border sites, including the Severn River Basin District.
Lucy Taylor, the Severn Estuary Partnership Officer, presented the third talk of the session, Severn Estuary Partnership: Celebrating 10 Years & Looking to the Future. Lucy celebrated the successes and achievements of SEP over the past 10 years, including a range of projects from a European to local scale and stakeholder communications. She touched on the 10 years of Severn Estuary Forums, noting that these events provide a fantastic “meet your neighbours” opportunity, allowing individuals and organisations to network and integrate both across the border and across sectors. The current work of the Partnership involves projects such as the Wales Coastal Directory and a project for WWF to evaluate terrestrial planning documents that are relevant to the Welsh National Marine Plan. Lucy noted that key work of the Partnership over the next 12 months will be focussed on the revision and relaunch of the Severn Estuary Strategy. The streamlined 2015/16 Strategy will provide a strategic framework to inform more coordinated policy development, practices and strategies for the estuary. She encouraged all delegates to get in touch with the Partnership if they wish to be involved in this development process.
The second session, Our Estuary Resources, was Chaired by Natasha Barker from the Celtic Seas Partnership. The session featured four presentations. In her introduction, Natasha reflected on the last 10 years, highlighting the developments in various energy proposals in the estuary and the significant change in the marine and coastal policy landscape. Graham Hillier, from Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP), presented on the various Tidal Lagoon Proposals in the Severn Estuary. He explained that TLP had reviewed 15 potential sites in the UK but that this has now been reduced to 6 sites- Swansea, Cardiff, Newport, Bridgwater Bay, Colwyn Bay and West Cumbria. He suggested that a national fleet of 6 tidal lagoons could deliver around 8% of the UK’s electricity within a decade. Graham referred to the UK’s energy challenge, with ambitious climate change targets requiring an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Noting that Swansea Bay has recently received a Development Consent Order (DCO), he explained that TLP still require a marine license from Natural Resources Wales. Tidal Lagoon Cardiff is the next proposal to be developed further, which is intended to have a design life of 120 years, cover an area of 70km2 and have between 60 to 90 turbines. Graham noted that they are currently in the pre-application stages and are in discussions with consultees to inform the Environmental Impact Assessment process. He also noted that they are still in the early stages discussing various design options regarding the proposals at Newport and Bridgwater Bay.
Bill Cooper, from ABP Marine Environmental Research, provided a talk on Coastal Processes. Bill explained the definition of coastal process, noting that these physical activities are driven by tidal and solar cycles and trends in climate change. He discussed the winter 2013/14 storms, which he described as an exceptional sequence of severe conditions, resulting from an unusually strong North Atlantic Jet Stream and storm tracks passing at relatively low latitudes. Bill noted that the succession of large storms led to dramatic coastal change, which occurred at a rate previously thought impossible. An example of this significant change was the dune system at Berrow, which receded by over 20 feet. As well as these significant losses of sediment, there were also areas which experienced considerable gains and ABPmer are currently developing their knowledge on this.
Libby Ross from the Devon & Severn IFCA presented the third talk of the session. Her presentation was titled Mud – Fish, Fisheries and Fisheries Management. She explained the reasons why Severn Estuary fisheries are so different, which included the extreme seasonality of the adult fish assemblage, the various fishing restrictions imposed due to the EU-protected sensitive species and habitats and the dynamic nature of the Estuary with its large tidal range. Libby went on to highlight “seven characteristics of Severn Estuary fisheries”, explaining the fantastic heritage value of fisheries in the Estuary and the many unique fishing techniques that have subsequently evolved. Severn Estuary fisheries are typically small scale, are highly temporally variable and are particularly difficult to detect. There are high levels of recreational fishing activity in the Estuary; 5% of the South West population are sea anglers. Libby noted that fisheries are linked into a much wider system and reinforced the requirement to take an ecosystem-based approach to the management of fish stocks and fisheries, which should extend much further than the administrative Severn Estuary “boundaries”.
The final presentation in the Our Estuary Resources session was given by Mark Robins and Debbie Pain from the Severn Vision project. Mark discussed the challenges associated with Closing the Leadership Gap for a Sustainable Severn. He presented the scenario of being 10 years into the future and looking back, questioning whether the Severn Estuary had “good leadership”. He suggested that the leadership solution is made up of four parts – thinking about the Estuary in terms of solutions, creating movement for change, including all sectors and working to eliminate the knowledge gap. Debbie then went on to explain the Severn Vision project, which is a partnership between WWT, RSPB, National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Salmon and Trout Association and the Severn Rivers Trust. The partnership has an ambitious Vision for nature in the Estuary by 2040 and has developed a new toolkit to support decision making. Debbie explained that a core element of developing the Vision has been to collate environmental data as evidence is essential in making informed decisions. She noted that the evidence base consists of biodiversity data, designated site data, ecosystem services data, water quality, coastal change and flood risk data, all of which has now been mapped on GIS to create a ‘spatial decision support tool’.
Tom Parker from MetroBus provided an interesting presentation on the Challenges of Working Alongside the Severn. He explained that MetroBus will provide a direct public transport route to key destinations around Bristol, which will allow thousands more people to access key employment, education and leisure destinations. He noted that the £200 million project will fund 3 schemes, with completion of the first route (Ashton Vale to Temple Meads) by 2016. The Flood Risk Assessment of the route has now been completed and over 9000m3 of flood storage compensation has been created in response. He explained that some of the environmental challenges the project has faced have included relocating reptiles and identifying water vole habitats. He went on to explain the work ongoing on the Ashton Avenue Swing Bridge, which includes a new pedestrian and cycle track, repair of corrosion damage and development of a separate lane for MetroBus vehicles. In conclusion, Tom reiterated that major transport infrastructure schemes must take account of the surrounding environment, identify opportunities to minimise or mitigate any negative impacts and also improve the performance of existing systems, increasing its overall resilience.
Rebecca Bennett gave an update on the progress of the Heritage Lottery Funded A Forgotten Landscape - Restoring the Heritage of the Lower Severn Vale Levels project. Rebecca explained that it is one of 77 projects funded through this scheme in the UK – the most significant grant scheme for landscape-scale projects in the UK. The project brings organisations together with communities, encouraging the local people and visitors to connect with the landscape. Rebecca noted that the scheme will run more than 50 projects over 3 years, including local events, festivals and art, education, conservation and restoration activities. There are 4 themes to the scheme: conserve and restore, participation in heritage, access and learning and training opportunities. Rebecca explained that the scheme area is one of the most significant archaeological landscapes in Britain, with 1600 known archaeological sites and 200 listed buildings. Rebecca then gave several examples of the projects that the scheme is running, from a site-based scale like the Oldbury Camp Archaeological Project to an area-wide historic landscape study examining new data from lidar and aerial photographs. Rebecca finished by explaining the “Tales of the Vale” project which is a research programme that is looking at the documentary, cartographic and photographic archives alongside artistic depictions of the scheme area, which will eventually culminate in a book and exhibition.
Peter Henderson from Pisces Conservation presented on the Fish and Crustacean Dynamics in the Severn Estuary & Bristol Channel. He began by reporting that 35 years of monthly fish and crustacean sampling at Hinkley Point has now been completed, with data available for around 80 species of fish, 17 macro-crustaceans and around 50 species of plankton. Peter explained that the species richness has generally been stable but has recently fallen. He noted that, in part, the changes in species numbers can be attributed to temperature, salinity and the North Atlantic Oscillation, with fish and crustaceans responding to recent cooling of the water temperature. Peter finished by explaining that the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel is a highly complex system which, although is generally stable through time, specific, individual components can be highly variable.
Katie Clark from Natural England provided a talk on the Identification of Wintering Waterbird High Tide Roosts on the Severn Estuary (Brean Down to Clevedon). Katie began by explaining the multitude of designations held by the Severn Estuary; Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area (SPA), Ramsar and Special Site of Scientific Interest. Natural England uses the BTO’s WeBS data for site management and for Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) to determine whether a proposed development plan or project could impact on the SPA features. She noted that one of the main limitations of the WeBS data relates to its level of spatial resolution, which only permits count data to be assigned to sectors as a whole, and not to the individual roost site – an increasingly critical issue as Natural England is undertaking increasing numbers of waterbird-related HRAs. As a result, Natural England have commissioned an independent ecological consultant (James Latham) to carry out a study to identify the locations of any waterbird high tide roost sites between Brean Down and Clevedon and to also characterise the habitat(s), waterbird composition and any existing sources of human disturbance associated with each roost site. She explained that the report has improved their evidence base for the SPA features in this area, enabling them to give more tailored advice on proposals in this area. She finished by explaining that Natural England have just commissioned the next two phases of the study; Clevedon to Oldbury and Bridgwater Bay.
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