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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


20/11/2023 - Some Very Good News From Angling Trust




Fish Legal Update November 2023



Pickering Fishery Association and Fish Legal are celebrating a legal victory against the Government and the Environment Agency. In a damning judgement delivered today, the High Court found that the Government made a fundamental ‘error of law’ in its decision-making. As a result:

The Environment Agency’s Humber River Basin Management Plan published in December was unlawful; The Secretary of State’s decision to sign it off was also unlawful; The Environment Agency’s consultation on the draft Plan was unlawful because it didn’t contain the information that anglers needed to understand exactly what actions would be taken to bring a Yorkshire beck back to health.

Pickering Fishery Association fish the Costa Beck. At least they used to before the wild trout and grayling disappeared.

The Costa Beck is failing for fish under the Water Framework Directive and WFD Regulations. One of the reasons for that is sewage pollution. Yorkshire Water’s sewer overflow at Pickering treatment works discharged into the Costa Beck over 250 times in 2020 and over 400 times in 2019. It’s bad.

We argued that as part of the last River Basin Management planning cycle, the Environment Agency should have reviewed the permits that supposedly control these sewage spills, then updated and enforced them as necessary. The Court agreed.

But this case was always going to be bigger than the Costa Beck. The Costa Beck is one river in one catchment in one River Basin Management district. One waterbody out of 4,929. Only 16% of waterbodies – 14% of rivers – are currently at good ecological status or potential. The target is 100% by 2027. There is no chance of getting anywhere near that target unless the Government and Environment Agency get serious about protecting our waters and act now.

By shining a light on one river, we have shown what has been going on across England: that to a large extent the River Basin Management Plans have been no more than a bureaucratic ‘paper exercise’, with no real regulatory action behind them.

What happens now?

River Basin Management Plans underpin all sorts of long-term statutory plans and other strategic planning including the Government’s Plan for Water, its 25-year Environment Plan, water company business plans, water resources management plans, local nature recovery strategies, drought plans, the chalk stream restoration strategy… the list goes on.

This legal action exposes that all of those policies and plans are effectively built on foundations of sand.

We now have to go back to Court to argue over remedies. Those are the steps the Government and Environment Agency have to take to put right their mistakes. With so much at stake, they will be desperate to limit the fall-out from a legal ruling with such potentially far-reaching implications.

What do the Government and Environment Agency need to do now in order to meet legally binding Water Framework Directive targets?

It might be better all round if they ripped up the River Basin Management Plans they published in December and start all over again.

This is a chance for the new Secretary of State to show a real commitment to restoring rivers and lakes. What we need are River Basin Management Plans backed by meaningful action so that fish can thrive. Anything short of that will signal that the Government has given up on its environmental ambitions for water.

Anglers + Fish Legal = a force to be reckoned with People who haven’t heard of Fish Legal before ask, what do anglers do about pollution?

This is what we do:

This is anglers forcing the Government and the Environment Agency to do their jobs. This is anglers holding the Government and the Environment Agency to account. This is angler power at its best.

Fish Legal may not be the loudest voice, but we take effective action. That is what using the law is ultimately all about. It’s why our work matters.

This case was funded by membership subscriptions and generous donations. It is a PB for us. And we couldn’t have done it without you.

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Martin James Fishing
Email: [email protected]