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Dredging: ecological disaster for Cardigan Bay

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Underwater desert: A scallop dredged seabed (Pic. Howard Wood)

Underwater desert: A scallop dredged seabed (Pic. Howard Wood)

IN AN ANNOUNCEMENT that shocked many people across Wales and beyond, the Welsh Government approved a return to scallop fishing in Cardigan Bay. Five years ago, Cardigan Bay was designated a special area of conservation (SAC), and commercial scallop fishing was suspended. Acting on the results of two year study, however, the Welsh Government has decided to permit dredging in some areas of the SAC, claiming it will not have a negative effect. New guidelines are intended to ‘maximise the fishery’ while protecting the site, goals which critics say are incommensurable. Scallop dredging in Cardigan Bay will be self-regulated by the fishing industry via an advisory board that will report to government, reviewing the situation annually.

Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary Lesley Griffiths stated that there was no new evidence to suggest this fishery would have an impact on the protected features within the bay. She said: “I have decided we should not stand in the way of economic activity. I want to reassure everyone this will be a carefully and proactively managed fishery, with the number of fishing boats being monitored. I am reassured the proposed new flexible approach is proportionate and will enable us to consider appropriate areas and management mechanisms for the future of this fishery.”

UNDERWATER DESERT

Commercial scallop ‘fishing’ is a misnomer as the process involves bottom dredging, which has a disastrous effect on the ecology of the seabed. Dredging involves towing a heavy scraper along the sea bottom, in this instance to collect scallops.

When ‘the dredge’ is winched up, the scallops are taken and the rest of the ‘catch’ rejected. Writing about Cardigan Bay, Hannah Lawson notes that: “Newhaven dredgers are commonly used around the UK and have a ‘rake’ that is dragged through the surface of the seabed, collecting the scallops in a chain-mail basket. The scallop dredging completely rakes clean the seabed, destroying the species and habitats that are in the way; such as soft corals, sponges, seaweed, sea anemones, and biogenic reefs. The dredging can destroy the physical structure of the seabed and community structure within the sediment.”

As previously reported in the Herald, Greenpeace skipper Mike Fincken has campaigned against dredging in the Artic. Using special hi-tech cameras and drone technology, the images recorded on his voyage reveal the seabed after dredging to be what Mike describes as ‘an underwater desert’. Following the announcement this week, Captain Mike Fincken told us: “I consider the dredging of Cardigan Bay a crime against future generations and any one implicit in the granting of licences must be held accountable.”

JEWELS IN THE CROWN

Ceredigion Green Party have responded to the Welsh Government’s decision, expressing deep disappointment. A spokesperson, Julie Makin, told The Herald: “We share the concerns of more than 30,000 people who signed Mick Green’s ‘Save Cardigan Bay’ petition. Whilst we are still members of the EU, the Special Areas of Conservation status needs to be upheld, and we believe dredging and trawling to be incompatible with that. Ceredigion Green Party will be fighting hard to keep the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) status intact after Brexit so that the marine life of Cardigan Bay will be protected for future generations to come.”

Wales Green Party leader, Alice Hooker-Stroud, said: “The Bae Ceredigion and Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau Special Areas of Conservation should be jewels in Wales’ crown as the UK’s largest breeding ground for dolphins. But the Welsh Government have given the go ahead for allowing damaging scallop dredging in these areas. The Wales Green Party would ban beam trawling and dredging, and protect these areas properly.”

Kerry Lewis, a lecturer in the Law School of Aberystwyth University, gave The Herald her opinion on the legality of the government’s move: “Cardigan Bay is a Special Area of Conservation. Any proposed changes to the fishing regime within that protected area is a ‘plan or project’ and subject to a Habitats Regulations Assessment. It is clear that dredging is a highly destructive activity and the onus will be on the Welsh Government to demonstrate that it is not likely to have a significant effect on the designated features of the site. If it is likely to have a significant effect, it should not be permitted unless it is clear that the project will not adversely affect the integrity of the site.”

DISBELIEF AND DISAPPOINTMENT

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) expressed disbelief and disappointment over the Welsh Government’s decision to open up further protected areas of Cardigan Bay to scallop dredging, which they deem ‘a highly destructive method of fishing’. WDC is ‘the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins’. The area of Cardigan Bay concerned is designated as a SAC due to its importance as a habitat for bottlenose dolphins. It is also proposed as an SAC for harbour porpoise.

A spokesperson for WDC, Mick Green, told The Herald: “The dredging destroys almost everything, smashing the seabed life forms to pieces and quickly reducing a rich ecosystem to a sandy or muddy desert. WDC believes that, whilst trials for new management measures to help develop a more sustainable scallop fishery are welcome, they should not be carried out in such a sensitive, protected area.” WDC is also very concerned that no account has been taken of the possible impact on harbour porpoise populations. The UK Government is currently being prosecuted in the European court of justice for its failure to designate sites for this species.

Mick Green added: “We are very disappointed that the Welsh Government have decided to ignore the robust scientific evidence we have provided, and to ignore the views of over 30,000 people who signed a petition against developing this fishery within a protected area. The SAC has been shown to be in an unfavourable state and we believe that work should focus on remedying this before any new fisheries are opened.”

‘WORTHLESS PARASITES’

In a blistering rebuke of the decision to resume dredging, naturalist and TV presenter Iolo Williams said: “I am appalled that the Welsh Government, who are supposed to have sustainability at the heart of all their work, can contemplate opening up a protected area to such a destructive fishing method.” On his Facebook page, Iolo Williams wrote: “I’m dismayed but not surprised that this bunch of worthless parasites has, once again, supported the destruction of an internationally important wildlife site. This does NOT support local, sustainable fisheries. It opens the door for ploughing the sea bed on an industrial scale.” As well as condemning those who made the decision, Iolo Williams criticised Natural Resources Wales (NRW): “This is a spineless body that continually refuses to fight for our wildlife. It’s a bleak time for nature conservation in Wales but we will keep on fighting!” The Welsh Government declined to respond to Iolo Williams’ criticisms.

CORRUPT POLITICS

Writing in The Guardian in November 2015, in the wake of the Welsh Government launching the consultation on reopening sections of the SAC to scallop dredging, environmentalist George Monbiot pointed out that the dolphins in Cardigan Bay are Britain’s largest breeding population: “People come from all over the country to watch them and experience something unavailable almost anywhere else in Britain: encounters with megafauna.” George Monbiot criticised Elin Jones, then Minister for Rural Affairs, who took the original decision to allow scallop dredgers into the SAC.

Commenting on the announcement by Lesley Griffiths on Wednesday (Nov 2), George Monbiot told The Herald: “This decision makes a mockery of the Welsh Government’s claims to be green. It damages the country’s national heritage on behalf of a tiny lobby group, largely composed of fishermen not based in Wales. This is a classic example of what I see as corrupt politics: governments placing the interests of a tiny but influential economic sector above those of the wider public.”

A report from Bangor University supports controlled scallop fishery in the SAC, suggesting that the areas of the seabed recover relatively quickly. This claim has been rubbished by a leading authority on marine conservation, Professor Callum Roberts at the University of York: “This is a dreadful piece of science. Imagine that you stop cutting the lawn for five years. Would you have a highly biodiverse oak forest at the end? No, it would be a scrappy patch of weeds. Protect a heavily dredged piece of seabed for five years and you will have the underwater equivalent of weeds. We lost the oak forests long ago – i.e. the seabed encrusted with fabulously diverse communities of invertebrates and coralline seaweeds that built up over centuries. All that is left today is muddy bottom with scattered rocks and the odd horse mussel.” Objectors to the government decision, including the WDC, will review the Welsh Government’s full statement before deciding future actions.

The ‘Save Cardigan Bay!’ petition remains open for signatures – www. change.org/p/welsh-government-save-cardigan-bay.

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New Quay RNLI in top ten for fundraising in the UK & Ireland

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Last week, as the RNLI’s Mayday Mile campaign came to an end, the New Quay RNLI team had earned the honour of being in the top ten for fundraising throughout the UK & Ireland. The team raised over £3,000 during the month of May, with local schools, individuals and the RNLI crew taking part. 

Both Ysgol Ceinewydd and Ysgol T Llew Jones pupils took on the challenge, taking to the school field to complete their Mayday Mile and then learning about water safety back in the classroom. 

Mr Lee Burrows, Deputy Headteacher of Ysgol T Llew Jones, said, “We wanted to take part in the RNLI Mayday Mile campaign as we wanted to raise awareness of the dangers in and around the water before the summer months. It’s really important for our pupils to remember water safety messages as we live by the sea. 

“We were able to use the RNLI water safety resources which are online and the children had great fun making water safety posters.”  

A local boy, Steffan Williams, aged 12, was another participant who raised over £2,200 by paddle boarding 10 miles in one day and is fourth on the individuals’ leaderboard for the whole of the UK and Ireland. 

New Quay lifeboat crew also took part, with crew members running and walking across Traeth Gwyn in full RNLI kit. It was tough going but they covered a total of 20 miles. Crew member Peter Yates took the challenge one step further, walking a total of 68 miles during the month of May.  

Pete said, “Having been on the crew for 14 years and having been taught so much and been given such great opportunities, I wanted to do my bit and give something back. I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me and the rest of the team.” 

Roger Couch, New Quay RNLI Operations Manager added, “We would like to thank everyone for their kind donations and also those who have taken part in the fundraising activities. The Mayday Mile campaign has been a great success and it’s great to see the community pulling together to raise much needed funds for the RNLI. With more people expected to be holidaying close to home this year, the RNLI predicts a summer like no other.” 

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New Quay RNLI rescues three persons blown out to sea

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ON THURSDAY afternoon (Jun 10) at 3pm New Quay RNLI’s inshore lifeboat launched on service to rescue three persons being blown out to sea on inflatable rings off Traeth Gwyn beach. 

In a strong offshore wind, the crew at New Quay Lifeboat Station had spotted three persons on inflatable rings in difficulty.   

Pete Yates, New Quay RNLI’s helm said, “We spotted the group about a quarter mile out from the beach so we observed them for a while. Initially they abandoned one of the rings and were making good speed back to the beach. All seemed okay, but then the group of three, each in a rubber ring started to slow, with one adult beginning to attempt a swim tow with the other two.  

“At that point I could tell they were in real danger so I went to prepare the inshore lifeboat. Once kitted up we launched and quickly arrived on scene. One person had made it ashore but the adult was still towing a young person who was quite shivery and cold. We got them both aboard and took them back to the beach to their family. I’d say they were a little shaken up and it was a very good decision to observe them and then launch, so a good outcome!” 

Roger Couch, New Quay RNLI’s Lifeboat Operations Manager added, “Many of the emergencies the RNLI responds to involve inflatables and that is a key reason why the RNLI strongly advises against taking them to the beach. Inflatables are not designed for open water and it takes very little breeze for them to be swept out to sea much quicker than you can swim or paddle back to the beach.  

“Remember if you get into danger in the water, relax and float to give yourself time to recover before swimming to safety or calling for help. If you see someone else in danger, please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.” 

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Surprise interview with football superstar on Euros’ eve

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ON Thursday morning 10 June, pupils from Ysgol Gynradd Penrhyn-coch and Ysgol Gyfun Penweddig received an unexpected Zoom call all the way from Baku, capital city of Azerbaijan. The call was made from Ben Davies, Welsh professional footballer, who is currently located at a camp with the rest of the Welsh national football team in Baku, ahead of their Euro 2020 opener game against Switzerland on Saturday.

After the initial shock of seeing the live image of Ben appear on the screen in front of them, Pupils from Year 3 to Year 6 of Ysgol Penrhyn-coch and Year 7 puplis of Ysgol Penweddig were given the opportunity to interview Ben. The interview, which was organised as part of the Ceredigion Welsh Language Charter, was conducted through the medium of Welsh.

It was clear from the big grins that all the pupils enjoyed this special experience considerably and one that will be well remembered. The passion from the children was an indicator of the strong support there is for Ben and the rest of the Welsh team in Ceredigion.

Puplis wearing red from Ysgol Gynradd Penrhyn-coch, after interviewing Ben Davies.

None of the pupils knew about the interview beforehand. The only clue given by the schools that something was happening was that pupils were all told to wear red to school on Thursday.

Liwsi Curley, a pupil of Ysgol Penrhyn-coch said: “I’m in shock to see one of my heroes live on zoom! It’s been a special experience and one of the happiest experiences of my life. Thank you very much Ben Davies. Go for it Wales!” 

Ben answered many of the puplis questions. Twm Aron Williams and Caio Brychan, puplis of Ysgol Penrhyncoch, who are big fans of Ben were two of those lucky pupils. Caio asked Ben: “If you could choose a five-a-side football fantasy team who would be in it?” After answering, Ben asked the same question back to Caio, who answered immediately with: “You and then Bale, Ramsey, Moore and Henesey!”

Dr Rhodri Thomas, Headteacher of Ysgol Penweddig said: It was pleasing to see the response of year 7 pupils to the session with Ben Davies today. The pupils appreciated the opportunity to find out more about the experience of representing your country and the importance of practising, hard work and following advice from others in order to succeed. Year 7 pupils are excited now and look forward to supporting Wales in the competition over the next few weeks. Good luck to the team in Rome and Baku!”

Zoom call between Ceredigion pupils and Ben Davies.

Finley Saycell, a Year 7 pupil of Ysgol Penweddig said: “Today’s experience was a special one. I thank everyone who had given us the opportunity. It was excellent. I spoke to Ben Davies – one of Wales’s best players!”

Ben Davies has won over 50 caps for Wales and previously played in the Euros in 2016. Welsh-born Ben attended Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, Neath Port Talbot.

Following the interview, Ben Davies said: “It was lovely to speak to the children and see the support that there is for us – WOW!”

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