Bad Weather + Bad Policies = Flooding

  • Date: 13/02/14
  • Daniel Martin, Daily Mail

It has emerged that the Environment Agency rejected calls to dredge the flood-hit lower reaches of the Thames because of the presence of the endangered mollusc.

The Army has been called in, hundreds of families have been forced to evacuate their homes, and small businesses are wondering if they’ll ever be able to reopen.

But it’s not bad news for all the inhabitants of the Thames Valley. The river’s population of Depressed River Mussels is safe.

As residents faced an uncertain future, it emerged the Environment Agency rejected calls to dredge the flood-hit lower reaches of the Thames because of the presence of the endangered mollusc.

 

River view: Pharoah's island can be seen in the middle of the Thames as it passes between Shepperton and Weybridge

River view: Pharoah’s island can be seen in the middle of the Thames as it passes between Shepperton and Weybridge

Submerged: now the island is indistinguishable from its surroundings after the river burst its banks
Submerged: now the island is indistinguishable from its surroundings after the river burst its banks

In a 2010 report, seen by the Mail, they ruled out dredging between Datchet and Staines because the river bed was home to the vulnerable creatures.

And even though a public consultation indicated support for de-silting work, the quango said it would be ‘environmentally unacceptable’ due to the ‘high impact on aquatic species’.

But last night a spokesman at the Environment Agency said the report on mussels was ‘badly worded’ and the presence of the mussels would not have been the only argument against dredging.

‘If protected species are living in a river and dredging would reduce the risk of flooding then we would ensure that dredging occurs without having a serious impact on wildlife,’ he said. ‘This is case not just for the Thames but all rivers.’

Saved, but at what cost: The endangered Depressed River Mussel
Saved, but at what cost: The endangered Depressed River Mussel

But he added; ‘An independent study carried out by engineering firm Halcrow has shown that the natural activity of the Thames removes significantly more silt than mechanical dredging would do.’

The revelation came as it emerged that EU waste regulations have made regular dredging on Britain’s rivers uneconomic.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the disposal of silt became so complex and expensive that it was more attractive to take advantage of financial incentives given by Brussels to conservation schemes.

This Despite the Agency describing that stretch of the river as one of the ‘largest and most at-risk developed and undefended flood plains in England’.

Hundreds of houses on the Thames are presently under water and there are fears the situation could get worse. [...]

A ‘strategy appraisal report’, compiled by the agency into the prospect of defence works on the Lower Thames in August 2010, said dredging was one of the ‘options rejected at preliminary stage’. 

However, the previous year the Agency held a public consultation with residents along the banks of the Thames, and the official report shows that they thought ‘dredging of pinch points of the River Thames is essential to provide interim relief from flooding’.

Tory MPs said they were appalled that the Environment Agency appeared to be more interested in promoting the welfare of molluscs than householders.

Douglas Carswell said: ‘Ever since we have given responsibility for flood defences to this central quango, they’ve elevated the interests of the natural over and above the human.

‘We can see the consequences today. There is nothing nice about letting our rivers and coastline revert to nature. London used to be a swamp, and if we leave these clowns in charge it will return to that.’

Alok Sharma, Tory MP for the flood-affected Thames-side constituency of Reading West, said: ‘The priority has to be protecting people and property not mussels.

Ultimately, any decision on dredging any river has to take into account the impact on communities living further downstream.’

Regular dredging was undertaken for 50 years on the stretch of river from Datchet to Staines following the 1947 floods, but was stopped in 1996 when the agency took over responsibility.

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