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Salmon and trout could once again thrive in the river Afan if moves to restore the “failing” river to its former glory are successful.
The river – along with other streams in the Afan Valley – was identified as a “failing waterbody” because it fell short of chemical and biological standards set by the European Union.
Now, a survey funded by Neath Port Talbot Council and Forestry Commission Wales aims to establish why the rivers and streams are not complying with the Water Framework Directive.
The two bodies, along with the Environment Agency Wales, have just completed a survey of the Afan and its tributaries in the upper Afan Valley, covering both Welsh Government land and private land.
The survey is an extension of a major three-year examination by Forestry Commission Wales of almost 700 kilometres of rivers and streams in Welsh Government woodlands throughout south Wales in a bid to get a better understanding of their extent and condition.
The Commission engaged contractors, AECOM, to look at the land either side of the rivers – known as riparian zones – and measure features such as invasive species, plants, native and non-native trees and veteran trees.
AECOM were assisted by Hyder Consultancy to carry out the additional work in the Afan Valley.
Forestry Commission Wales Conservation Manager Rosalind Codd said, “This data will help us to establish the current condition and threats to these rivers and streams and guide our management of these areas.
“We decided to include the larger Afan area – which is the only area outside Welsh Government woodland boundaries that we surveyed – because the Environment Agency Wales identified the Afan as a failing waterbody.
“We hope that by extending the survey area we will improve our understanding of why the Afan is failing and what action might be required to improve the condition of this watercourse and its tributaries.”
The Water Framework Directive says each water body must achieve “good ecological status” by 2027.
In the Afan Valley, several rivers and streams are failing due to a lack or limited presence of fish species such as salmon, trout, bullheads and eels, which would be expected to be present.
John Wheadon of the Environment Agency Wales, said, “Fish are a really good indicator of a high quality river and small changes in the water can make a big difference.
“The lack of fish in the Afan could be because of barriers to their migration like weirs, or smaller amounts of pollution in the water. These can come from many different sources so we walked the entire length of the river to find them and do something about it.
“Many of Wales’s rivers are cleaner than they have been since the Industrial Revolution, but there is much more work to be done. We can achieve this by bringing together different organisations, landowners and interested parties and working together.”
Some 117 kilometres of water bodies were surveyed in the Afan Valley alone, bringing the total length of rivers and streams surveyed in south Wales to over 800 kilometres.
Neath Port Talbot Council's Leader, Ali Thomas, said, “The findings of this survey in the Afan Valley will be invaluable in helping us to better understand the current condition of the river and why it is failing.
“Actions can then be targeted to improve the water quality and condition of the surrounding habitat and ensure that these water courses reach good ecological status.”
Elen Richards, of the Neath Port Talbot Biodiversity Forum, said, "This is a great example of an effective partnership working for the benefit of the Welsh countryside and the animals and fish which call it their home."
Caption: The river Afan could see the return of fish such as salmon, trout and eels following a survey by Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Forestry Commission Wales. Picture: NPTCBC.
NOTES TO EDITORS
A total of 14.3 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
For more information on the survey of rivers and streams in south Wales, or in the Afan Valley in particular, contact Rosalind Codd on 0300 068 0246, mobile 07827 954465, email Rosalind.email@example.com.
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales
Visit News at FC Wales for news, images, press office contact details and links to case studies.
Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email firstname.lastname@example.org