An Environmental Vision for the Severn Estuary – Gwyn Williams

Published on April 27, 2017 in 2017 Forum Reports, Environment, Presentation

Sustainable Severn Forum 2017Co-Chair for the conference, Jane Davidson, Pro-Vice Chancellor for External Engagement and Sustainability at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David opened the afternoon session on Environmental Vision for the Estuary.

Gwyn Williams, Head of Conservation Investment with the RSPB delivered a presentation entitled Desperately Seeking Sustainability? or An Environmental Vision for the Severn Estuary.

During his talk, Gwyn shared that nature is in trouble and asked a key question: can low carbon energy be generated without harming nature? He shared the the magnificent Severn was a natural phenomenon and some of the key points below:

  • The Severn is an important staging post on the spring and autumn migrations
  • The estuary also needs to be seen in the context of it’s importance as a staging post on the spring and autumn migrations – lying as it does on the East Atlantic Flyway route.
  • The UK has a ‘vitally important position’ on the East Atlantic flyway, one of the world’s biggest migration routes, which brings birds down from the Arctic circle along the western European seaboard. More than a million and a half waders winter on our coasts – about 40 per cent of the migratory total in north-west Europe.
  • The location of the Severn Estuary on the north Atlantic flyway for migratory birds means that its mudflats and saltmarshes provide feeding grounds for very high numbers of wildfowl and waders throughout the winter period, making the estuary a key refuelling station for migratory waterfowl. The birds are all adapted to feed in different ways. In winter shelduck sift though the surface mud to extract tiny snails, tens of thousands of which can be found in a square metre. Of the waders, the curlew has the longest bill and can reach lugworms buried deep in the mud. The ringed plover, in contrast, runs quickly to catch surface prey usng its short bill.
  • The turbulent waters of the estuary carry a heavy load of sediment resulting in a very murky appearance. This dynamic, high energy environment makes the Severn a unique wildlife habitat as these extreme conditions can only be tolerated by specialised invertebrates, vast numbers of which provide food for the thousands of migrating wildfowl and waders when exposed by the tides.
  • At the time that the site was designated an SPA nearly 70’000 birds were using the estuary this was comprised of over 17000 ducks and geese and 50000 waders. Currently, a total of nearly 69,000 waterbirds form the Assemblage on the site.
  • It is a Special Protection Area (SPA), a Ramsar site, a possible Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest; many areas behind the seawall are also SSSIs. Five species of birds are of international importance and nine or ten are of national importance on the site.
  • There were 41,683 Dunlin when the SPA was designated (88-93 avg) and there are now 21,430 (02/03-06/07 avg ).
  • It is important also to remember that we are not simply dealing with the Severn. The Usk and Wye are also designated sites and one of the most important Natural Features of these rivers is their fish communities.
  • In particular the estuary is important for a number of rare species including Twaite shad, River lamprey and Sea lamprey.
  • There is also a run of Atlantic salmon and the estuary has the largest eel run in the country.
  • The Severn itself contains a very diverse fish community and over 110 species have been identified with new ones turning up regularly.

Gwyn also introduced the Severn Vision, and that we need:

  • A rapid transition to a low carbon economy to combat climate change….
  • ….delivered in a way that is sustainable and does not further deplete nature….
  • ….and is supported by the society as a whole, if it is to have political and moral legitimacy

At the end of his talk Gwyn concluded that:

  • Can meet targets with high levels of renewables in harmony with nature
  • Major strides in demand reduction and energy efficiency
  • Onshore wind and solar are key; well-sited projects should be supported;
  • R&D on energy storage and smart grid networks critical to long-term security of supply;
  • New technologies e.g floating offshore wind turbines, to unlock substantial renewable energy capacity, potentially with low ecological risk,
  • Research needed on ecological impacts of technologies, especially at sea;