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Award-winning Durham Hydro being brought into question after video shows salmon trapped in turbine


Wear - salmon being thrown into the cages by the turbine blades (2)

A salmon being thrown into the cages by the turbine blades at Framwellgate weir

Fish Legal has written to the Environment Agency highlighting local anglers’ concerns about potential over-abstraction and design flaws in a hydro-electric scheme on the River Wear resulting in fish deaths at Framwellgate weir in Durham city centre.

Enclosed with the letter are photographs and videos showing fish caught in the turbine chamber being hurled and battered, despite the hydro-electric scheme receiving the full approval of the Environment Agency at the time of construction as being in line with its own guidelines on hydro-electric scheme design. The letter in particular highlights a lack of adequate fish screens.

In addition, Fish Legal has raised concerns that the Environment Agency does not measure the adequacy of the flows in the River Wear, from which the hydro-electric scheme takes water to generate power, next to the hydro-electric scheme in Durham but instead takes measurements at Chester-le-Street some five miles or so downstream, where flow is enhanced by a number of tributaries. This casts great doubt over the accuracy of monitoring the sustainability of operation of the scheme at times of low flow. In addition, a gauge-board, designs of which were included in the licence conditions to show the public the river levels adjacent to the scheme, has not been installed.

Video footage compiled over two days showing
trapped salmon

Geoff Hardy, Solicitor for Fish Legal, said:
“We consider there are some big questions about why this hydro-electric scheme is allowed to continue operating when it is damaging salmon and sea trout and licence conditions have not been met.

"Our letter to the Environment Agency makes it clear that we expect answers and modifications to the way the hydro is monitored and operated. At the moment, as video footage that we have provided to the Environment Agency shows, salmon and sea trout are being damaged and killed as they travel upstream and downstream of the generating equipment.”

The Wear Anglers Association (WAA) represents several clubs who are Fish Legal members. One of their spokesmen explained: “Following an invitation by the Environment Agency, members of the WAA visited the hydro scheme and identified areas of concern. Unfortunately, those concerns were dismissed or not followed up.

"One of our concerns was that the gaps between the bars on the screens that should protect migratory fish from entering the Archimedes screw are too wide to prevent migratory fish accessing the turbine. This concern has now been realised with video footage showing salmon and sea trout trapped in the hydro scheme chamber, resulting in damage and mortalities. We believe this could and should have been avoided had the EA sat down with the WAA and listened more and corrected this problem.”

He continued: “The WAA are very disheartened to see the needless mortalities of salmon and sea trout by the hydro scheme at Durham. We are in principle not opposed to hydro power but we would question whether hydro should be installed in a major salmon and sea trout river such as the Wear.”

The Angling Trust is currently spearheading a ‘Save Our Salmon’ campaign, and the Environment Agency has developed a Five Point Approach in response, which includes easing barriers to fish migration.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, said: “The continued operation of this scheme under licence from the Environment Agency, which has been shown to kill and damage fish, is inexplicable considering the serious national decline of salmon stocks.”  [See note 4 below]

Notes & Links:

1. Fish Legal’s letter to the Deputy Director of Operations at the Environment Agency, dated 12 June 2017.
2. Stills from video footage showing salmon caught in the hydropower turbines at Framwellgate weir.
3. The Wear Anglers Association was formed four years ago from angling clubs and syndicates distributed about the whole length of the river Wear.  It is dedicated to protecting the habitat of all animals as well as the flora and fauna including the well being of coarse and migratory fish. As an example, last year, with the backing of various organisations in Durham city the area immediately below the hydro scheme was identified as a serious threat to migratory fish due to poaching and was declared a conservation area banning all fishing.
4. More information about the Angling Trust’s ‘Save our Salmon’ campaign

Contact: Fish Legal - Eastwood House | 6 Rainbow Street | Leominster | HR6 8DQ | Tel: 01568 620447

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