Horror at destruction of nationally important river
The River Lugg, in Herefordshire, has been intentionally destroyed over a stretch of approximately 1.5 km with huge repercussions for wildlife downstream.
Herefordshire Wildlife Trust has discovered that the river and its banks have been bulldozed, straightened and reprofiled into a sterile canal, with all bankside and riverside habitats completely obliterated. The Lugg flows from its source in Powys through Herefordshire before meeting the River Wye just outside Hereford. Its riverbanks, gravels and beds of water crowfoot are home to crayfish, otters and salmon, lampreys and dragonflies and a host of rare river wildlife.
The River Wye and its surrounding banks are home to a host of wildlife (Des Blenkinsopp / geograph.org.uk).
The river is so important for wildlife that it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in its lower reaches. This should give it multiple layers of protection, with statutory agencies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Herefordshire Council all given a statutory duty to protect the river from harm.
Helen Stace, CEO of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said: "A large stretch of one of the UK's most important rivers, the Lugg, has been devastated with dire consequences for wildlife and water quality downstream – this is a tragedy. The bankside trees are all grubbed out and burnt, the river gravels have been scraped away and the beautiful meanders of the river have been straightened and reprofiled.
"As former leader of the English Nature rivers team which notified the Lugg as a SSSI, I know this river to be one of the most enchanting tree-lined reaches with immense value for wildlife. This is a crime against the environment. Swift action needs to be taken and we want to see the authorities investigate the matter swiftly. We expect this case to be dealt with in a serious and robust manner and any resulting prosecution should act as a deterrent to prevent anyone committing this type of crime ever again. We will also be calling for restoration of the river to its natural channel."
Herefordshire Wildlife Trust does not believe that the assault on the river was the work of an idle whim, requiring as it did the action of a 16-tonne bulldozer. The work would have been planned and will have had a considerable cost attached. It is understood that those owning land along this stretch of the river would be well aware of the SSSI status of the river, suggesting a deliberate flouting of laws designed to protect our most precious wildlife.
Herefordshire Wildlife Trust has fought for the protection and conservation of the Lugg and its floodplains for many years working positively alongside landowners, partner organisations and statutory bodies. Since 2015 they have administered farm grants funded by the Environment Agency and Natural England, to connect habitats and reduce diffuse pollution and river restoration works continue to be conducted throughout the lower catchment.