Dewilding Cumbria: Displace and Replace
Rewilding Ennerdale is a cause we can all get behind and was featured tonight on the ITV’s Countrywise programme. DEwilding is the opposite of REwilding. Incredibly there is a dewilding project going on right now in Cumbria. The rewilding and dewilding projects have one thing in common…..the insidious grip of the nuclear industry.
There is much to celebrate in Cumbria with the ‘Wild Ennerdale’ project. ‘Wild Ennerdale’ is a partnership between the three main landowners in the valley: The Forestry Commission, National Trust and United Utilities. Their stated vision is: “the evolution of Ennerdale as a wild valley for the benefit of people, relying more on natural processes to shape its landscape and ecology.”
Flowing out of the mountain wilderness of Ennerdale to the Irish Sea is the River Ehen. The Ehen and the Calder join the sea within just a few feet of each other at what was historically a farming hamlet around Sellafield Tarn, on the fertile West Cumbrian plain. Many a “Yeoman of Sellafield” is buried at St Bridget’s Church, Beckermet. At low tide the Ehen and the Calder merge and cross the beach as one. Sadly the last reaches of the Ehen’s sister river, the Calder no longer meanders brimful of salmon, freshwater pearl mussels and eels to the sea, but has been straightened and made into an industrial channel running through the Sellafield reprocessing plant.
Freshwater Pearl Mussels
Friends of the Lake District have pointed out that: “the River Ehen is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. Mussels are indicators of excellent water quality and they help to maintain suitable habitat for other species, such as salmon and trout. Poor river health and an extraordinary lifecycle, including months clamped to the gills of fish, have conspired to put it on one of the famous Red Lists of critically endangered species compiled by the World Conservation Union. http://westcumbriariverstrust.org/assets/content/projects/downloads/pages-8-9-from-friends-of-the-lake-district-magazine-cl67-final.pdf
In 2012, Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, reported that low outflow levels from Ennerdale reduced the flow in the River Ehen. Oxygen concentrations dropped to dangerous levels, and up to 90% of the freshwater pearl mussel population in the Ehen was killed. Buglife’s CEO Matt Shardlow said, “This is devastating news. The bloated corpses of animals born when Charles Darwin was alive have been floating out of their beds and being swept into the Irish Sea. The UK supports a large proportion of the world population for this species, and we have an international responsibility to protect these animals. This is probably the UK’s biggest failure to implement the Habitats Directive to date. We must understand the cause of this disaster so that it never happens again.”
Since then a lot of money and effort has quite rightly been spent on the “Pearls in Peril” project. The total project budget is £3.4 million. Nineteen of the rivers within the project are in Scotland, one in Wales and just one in England, the River Ehen. The River Ehen in Cumbria is key as it is home to the only breeding and largest population of freshwater pearl mussels left in England. The plan for the “biggest nuclear development in Europe” is slap bang on the last reaches of the river Ehen. Water flow into the River Ehen is the responsibility of United Utilites who are now phasing out the historic use of the Ehen as a freshwater reservoir. UU are in the process of building a pipeline from Thirlmere to serve West Cumbria including the Sellafield reprocessing plant. A Freedom of Information request revealed that The Environment Agency has issued several licences for Sellafield water abstraction including from the River Ehen. It is safe to say that the nuclear industry is already the single biggest user of freshwater in Cumbria even without the addition of the proposed “Moorside” plan.
Rules for One and Not the Other In Ennerdale, the modern day “yeomen” are strictly regulated as to how they can use the river Ehen and rightly so. However, this regulation is meaningless. When the river reaches its lower reaches alongside the Irish Sea it is being used as a dumping ground for the nuclear industry’s 300 “exploratory” borehole wastes on the “Moorside” site. The West Cumbria Rivers Trust who are coordinating the plan here in Cumbria to save the freshwater mussel have told us that “we are not a lobbying organisation, and in addition, we do not have any funds available ..We are aware of the Moorside development and their plans, and being such a large scale project in this area, we have been responding where we can, with our very limited resources, as a stakeholder to the various environmental assessments and shaping of the scope of the assessments as the development progresses. We feel our knowledge and resources are best placed within ensuring the development proposal as it progresses, has the best possible strategies for reducing runoff and not impeding migratory fish rather than a blanket campaign against the development in general.”
So, armed with the advice from complicit conservation groups what do NuGen say they are going to do about the “receptor” freshwater pearl mussels? “it would be necessary to mitigate any detrimental effects by relocating individual mussels.” NuGen also say they will “provide enhanced/replacement habitats for species that will be displaced.”
“Displace and Replace”
This is of course nonsense and the conservation groups ‘advising’ NuGen must know in their heart of hearts that it is nonsense. Habitats such as the River Ehen, the floodplain of the Ehen, the Irish Sea, Duddon and Morecambe Bay Estuaries are irreplaceable. Alongside the mussels, “Displacement” of badgers, otters and other diverse wildlife is being promoted. Don’t worry. There would be “replacement” of habitat elsewhere! In the case of badgers and so much else the displacement has already started with the drilling of the 300 “exploratory” boreholes on 552 hectares of varied habitat. We have heard that neighbouring farmers were non-too pleased to receive the “displaced” badgers. Farmers are also being displaced with the existing Petersburgh Farm airbrushed out of the latest NuGen consultation site maps.
No Raised Eyebrows, Just Bribery
Incredibly there are no raised eyebrows, no outcry from conservation, farming, fishing or wildlife groups. Rather strangely, Friends of the Lake District have not yet galvanised their supporters to strongly oppose the vast and universally damaging Moorside plan, only the pylons have come under fire. The deep concrete foundations, chemical/oil run off and industrialisation would irreversibly damage the Ehen and the groundwaters, even without the nuclear reactors ever being fired up.
Even though the Moorside consultation is ongoing, Cumbria Wildlife Trust have chosen to nail their colours to the nuclear mast and NuGen are of course more than happy to use CWT and the Wild Ennerdale project as greenwash: “Volunteers, including CEO Tom Samson and members of NuGen’s senior management team, joined teams from Cumbria Wildlife Trust and The Forestry Commission to construct dams and improve natural drainage in this rare landscape that provides a habitat for a number of protected species. NuGen’s Environmental Sustainability Manager, Alexandra Brennan, said: “NuGen is committed to protecting the environment close to our Moorside Project, which is home to some very special, important and increasingly rare habitats – the peatland at Gillerthwaite Mire is a really good example and that’s why we jumped at the opportunity to volunteer our time and help with this work”.
We wonder how much money has already changed hands and how many “replacement habitats” promised to CWT? We already know of tens of £thousands paid to CWT from SITA, whose parent company is one of the two NuGen partners.
This is blatent grooming of public opinion during a consultation and all parties concerned should be held to account for corruption of governance and trust.
NuGen and Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s alliance is a nasty block on dissenting voices. Ennerdale is of course one the places previously eyed up as a geological dump for heat generating nuclear wastes. Like Terminator, the plan may not be dead.
The resistance to the obscene Moorside project is growing, despite the corrupt climate of nuclear spin in which Cumbrians are gripped. Dewilding the Ehen is not an option either for the freshwater pearl mussels or for Cumbrians.
Over Ten thousand people have now signed the Stop Moorside petition. The Moorside project has the capacity to “displace” and “replace” far more than the freshwater pearl mussel.
Wild Ennerdale Stewardship Plan http://www.wildennerdale.co.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Stewardship-Plan-Text.pdf