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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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Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian

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NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.

The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.

High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).

NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.

24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.

NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.

Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.

“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.

“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”

Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.

Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.

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​Major bequests for Aber research ​

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TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.

The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.

Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.

The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.

The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.

“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”

Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.

The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.

“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”

In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.

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Driving Wales to international skills success

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AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.

The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.

Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.

This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.

Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.

Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.

Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.

“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”

In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.

“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.

“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”

Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.

“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”

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