In attendance – Colin Beattie (MSP), Louise Cameron (Office of Colin Beattie), Jim Mcleod (Office of Colin Beattie), Anne Hyatt (Roslin and Bilston Community Council), Bill Farnsworth (Musselburgh Racecourse), Tom Mills (Coal Authority), Pauline Crerar (Fisherrow Harbour Group), Vicki White (SEPA), Peter Finnie (SEPA), Paul Butler (SEPA), Joy Godfrey (Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council), Jonathan Louis (Forth District Salmon Fishery Board), Jeff Stevenson (Danderhall and District Community Council), Iain Reid (Forth Rivers Trust), David Temple (Loanhead and District Community Council), Laura Goble (Newbattle Abbey College), Scott Fraser (Scottish Water), Steven Boon (Scottish Water), Lynn Crothers (East Lothian Council), Iain Clark (Musselburgh Area Partnership), Richard Othieno (NHS Public Health), Ann Stewart-Kmicha (Dalkeith and District Community Council).
Apologies - Shona Grant (East Lothian Council), Neil Clark (East Lothian Council), Lilianne Lauder (Midlothian Council), Helen Blackburn (Rosewell & District Community Council)
Meeting opened at 10am.
Agenda 1 – Creation of the Esk River Improvement Group (ERIG)
Colin Beattie (CB) welcomes members of the group to the inaugural meeting of the Esk River Improvement Group (ERIG) and outlines the stakeholders in attendance. CB highlights that this is not a substitute for SEPA, Scottish Water or any other organisations and that complaints should still take the official routes, where constituents should report issues directly to SEPA or Scottish Water. There have been ongoing issues with mining minerals flowing into the River, poor water quality at Fisherrow Harbour, and also sanitary towels, wet wipes and other sewage. This group will bring stakeholders together to look at the whole health of the Esk River.
Decision on Membership
CB also noted that he has not added parliamentary members as there are so many representing the area, and he believes that it would be beneficial to avoid having too many members in the meetings. The membership agreed with this decision.
CB noted that he believed any group that has contact with the river has an interest. There are obvious groups, such as Community Councils and Angling Clubs but he would be happy for others to come on board. Joy Godfrey reports that the Esk Valley Trust would like to join. Richard Othieno suggests that Marine Scotland could be an important organisation to add.
Decision on purpose and expected outcome of ERIG
The group discussed the purpose statement which is as follows:
‘To create a single forum which brings together stakeholders with an interest in the Esk River, and for whom the river is important, whether commercial or leisure or ecological or regulatory. To investigate how we can further improvements and advancements in the quality of water, in order to provide a high-quality environment for the river users and wildlife associate with the Esk.
To provide an authoritative and clear voice in respect to proposed measures to achieve the primary aim described above.
To disseminate reliable information on progress towards key goals and objectives and to provide ongoing comment for public interest.’
No comments were made to request changes to this statement. Scott Fraser commented that he believed this was a good guide to the purpose of the group.
CB noted that we are looking for a clean river and it is a question of how we get there that this group needs to investigate.
Decisions on meetings and their conduct
The group agreed to have virtual meetings for the foreseeable future due to the Covid-19 restrictions. The group discussed the frequency of meetings and agreed that every 3-4 months is reasonable, unless something dictates that an urgent meeting is necessary.
Decision on communication
Colin asked whether everyone would be happy for their details to be circulated internally within the group. No member noted that they did not want to have their contact details shared with other members.
Colin also suggested making a general newsletter to inform the public, and it was agreed that the group issue minutes, updates and newsletters to those who expressed an interest in joining a mailing list. Peter Finnie noted that pollution events should still be reported on the SEPA website (https://www2.sepa.org.uk/EnvironmentalEvents ) as soon as possible so that they may react, rather than these being reported to the group.
Social Media should also be kept up to date with the current knowledge of what the group is doing and to inform the public of accurate information around what is happening with the Esk.
Decision on format of meetings
A discussion was had around which stakeholders should present at meetings, and it was noted that Scottish Water, SEPA, the Coal Authority, Mid and East Lothian Councils, and Forth Rivers Trust would report, and then any other members who would like to speak would be given the opportunity to. It was noted that not only should reports be given, but solutions should also be sought.
Decision on frequency of meetings
CB proposed quarterly meetings, and to get the dates out for the next year following this meeting.
Decision to circulate members contacts
Sharing contacts between ERIG members to keep everyone in touch was agreed.
Agenda 1 closed at 10.19 and Agenda 2 commenced immediately afterwards.
Agenda 2 - Official Meeting
Surveys were carried out in 2020 on invertebrate and fish with regards to increasing discharge from Junkie’s Adit. Samples were taken for 3 consecutive weeks and the organisation are also undertaking monthly monitoring and electrofishing surveys to see how much of an affect the discharge is having and how far along the river this effect is. The group have a collection of data from the North and South Esk, ranging from 2011-2020 and this allows them to see how the fish community is changing over time. There are significant differences downstream from Junkie’s Adit, proving the coal discharge is having a huge affect on the environment of the river, affecting a distance of at least 1.3km down from the Adit. Species density is much better in North Esk, and there is reduced density and species richness in South Esk below the Adit. Historically, the South Esk had high densities of salmon, and this has dropped to 0 in 2020. Salmon are still present in the North, but are now extinct from the South Esk.
It is clear that the Adit discharge is having a negative effect on fish and the invertebrate community. Where salmon were previously the dominant fish species in the South Esk, they are now absent from the 2020 survey. This could be because their spawning habitat is saturated, because the weirs are physical barrier and because of organic pollution. A short-term solution in the North could be to open up spawning sites to help mitigate losses. It is noted that the South River has a high potential for recovery.
CB asks whether their surveys have focused on other parts of the river, or just the worst parts.
IR notes that he has done South up to Temple and North to Penicuik Estate, meaning that he has surveyed nearly all of the River in Midlothian and East Lothian. Around Newbattle Abbey had highest density of trout. He notes that he is confident that there is a real effect from the Adit discharge.
CB notes that clearly this must be rectified as soon as possible.
East Lothian Council - Lynn Crothers
Lynn is responsible for Environmental Health, amongst other teams, at East Lothian Council and her team have an interest in improving the bathing water quality at Fisherrow Sands and are also informed on the mine discharge. ELC have been a key member in making decisions with the Coal Board about what actions to take and have also been involved with other stakeholders. ELC are interested from public health point of view and work with NHS Lothian Public Health. They have been working to decide what messages they should send in terms of people accessing the water, but also have an interest in the ecology of the river.
NHS Lothian Public Health - Richard Othieno
Richard is the Chair of the Incident Management Team on behalf of NHS Public Health and managed the risk assessment of the mining discharge, and he has also composed a response on the manganese.
CB asks whether it is safe for people to swim in the river and to eat the fish.
RO has noted so far that they have no indication that anyone’s health is being affected, and no toxic effects have been experienced from the water. He assesses that there is no immediate risk to people. The minerals coming from the mining discharge are natural radiation is not a concern. In the river samples there are no organisms which would present a risk. Despite this, it does not mean that they would encourage people to go into the river and signage is being considered by MLC and ELC. The two chemicals of concern are the high concentrations of iron and manganese. Iron does not have direct health effect, and even if it is in drinking water, the concentration needs to very high to have health impact. In their risk assessment it does not pose as a serious health concern. Based on information available, the manganese levels are normal, higher levels than what are present in the river samples are found in bread and bran. Manganese is also not a mineral which needs to be controlled under the EU standards for water. It is also unlikely that the levels would be high enough to affect fish in a way which would impact people’s health. RO’s assessment is that there is no impact on human health.
CB notes that he met with Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, last week, in order to keep her up to speed with the condition of the river and she is very supportive of ERIG.
NHS Lothian are also happy about the group and would like to provide contribution as appropriate.
CB notifies the group that unfortunately the Midlothian Council representative could not be present at the meeting, and therefore a report would not be given on behalf of MLC.
Scottish Water – Scott Fraser (SF)
Scott’s role focuses on engagement and he welcomes the creation of ERIG, which will link him to new channels to share information with. SF’s role involves explaining issues to customers and the public. Scottish Water recently ran a campaign on items which get inappropriately flushed, and they create accessible information to improve water networks.
Steven Boon (SB) goes on to provide an overview of the work which Scottish Water has been undertaking in relation to the River Esk.
With the Maryburn and Lord Ancrum Wood there were significant spills from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO), which led into the Esk. Scottish Water undertook a significant number of clean ups, and also changed the levels of weirs to reduce spills into the burn. This week there was a spill as a result of heavy rainfall, and this was cleaned and then checked for blockages. River walkers are also going to investigate the CSO down to Esk to ensure there is not a wider impact. Scottish Water are looking at a bigger resolution and they have options on the table which would cost approx. ½ million, with a meeting scheduled this month to decide if they want to take anything forward.
At the Hardengreen CSO there have been several spillages, with the last on the 26th of June. When there is a spill the sewer response team will check on this. Scottish Water have also put in place intelligent alarms, which means that if the levels go above the weir then they are immediately informed and it is put on a priority, and will be urgently remedied, whether day or night. Scottish Water are also looking at what they can do differently at this CSO to minimise spills but are being careful to avoid flooding further downstream. They have a model which is almost ready to go. There is a fortnightly check of the CSO and it is also washed.
Laura Goble noted that she would like to be informed of developments with Lord Ancrum’s Wood.
An issue was reported at the Benbught Burn, with historical rags and sewage related debris. This site was attended with contractor to organise a clean-up, and this week they are back there to ensure this clean up is to the standard they expect. There were also several reports of the Esk looking white, and in this case, it seemed that paint was discharged, and samples have been taken to clarify that this is what was. When the site was visited the water was running clear. If anything is poured down road drains this can make its way to the river.
CB noted that he receives continuous complaints about pollution, and also the smell of the Esk. These complaints often relate to sanitary towels, wipes etc. SW have already made efforts through a campaign to encourage people not to flush products.
SB stated that reality is that if people are flushing products which should not be flushed then it will cause issues, and this is why CSO’s exist, as they stop these going into the network. If there are issues, then Scottish Water need to be able to find these and resolve them. Discharges from CSO’s should be an exception and not the norm, and they have considered upsizing and screening of CSO’s.
It was suggested that perhaps schools would be a good place to get this message across. SF notes that Scottish Water have provided 6 sessions in primary schools and these were well received, and that the children went home with postcards to parents. SF also clarified that there was previously a television advert campaign on this matter and following this there was a reduction in the number of blockages reported. SF expressed that he was keen to use this group to see how we can foster this message out to the community.
Joy Godfrey commented that Midlothian Youth Platform could be a good organisation to welcome a representative from. She noted that they have been running a campaign around binning plastic and they may be interested in reducing plastic pollution to the river, as well as having excellent connections to young people in Midlothian to disseminate information. CB notes we could invite them to a meeting to participate as guests.
Pauline Crerar suggests that we could link this issue with period poverty schemes. Lynn Crothers notes that this is a good point, and that there are lot of reusable products on the market which we could raise awareness of, which save money and protect the environment.
SB reiterates that Scottish water are happy for people to get in touch with them, so that they can fix and clean issues, and that they would like to encourage people to get in touch with them directly. Scottish Water are also looking at putting smart technology into the network (e.g. cameras) but note that they have many CSO’s so need to target those which cause issues most frequently.
SEPA – Vicki White
VW notes that SEPA is delighted at the proposal of this group, and she is delighted to be involved. SEPA are committed to working with this forum
The key areas for improvement on the Esk are the issues of sewage discharges and CSO’s, bathing water and the mining discharge.
On the issue of bathing water, VW notes that the water Fisherrow was classified as poor at the end of 2019. The water frequently met the standards, but some results were affected by samples taken following heavy rainfall and thus affected by sewage. It was de-designated of its bathing water status. She notes that in the 24-48 hours after heavy rainfall, water quality can be affected, and this can be from dog and gull fouling. There is an improvement plan in place to improve water at Fisherrow and she is optimistic that this can rectified. Seasonal bathing water monitoring is still taking place, but these results can’t be shared online as the water has been de-designated as bathing water, but she can share these with the group.
SEPA regulates over 3000 CSO’s in Scotland and work closely with Scottish Water to get improvements where needed, often undertaking co-op visits together. They have a list of the highest priority CSO’s and also work with Environmental Quality and Ecology teams to identify water quality issues.
SEPA - Paul Butler (PB) (presentation)
Old Fordell (also known as Junkie’s Adit) is a mine drainage tunnel, which was constructed to allow shallow water to flow, with the water localised until recently. When coalmining takes places ground water is pumped down and metals are exposed. When mining finishes, the pumping stops, and groundwater levels recover. In this example it has taken about 30 years for this recovery. Metals are dissolved into the water, in this case iron and manganese, and then the mine water reaches the surface at the lowest overflow point. Old Fordell is not the only place this could have happened, and it could come out in more than one location but currently it is just at Old Fordell. There is a lot of uncertainty in mine water overflow predictions – the timing, location, volume, chemistry are all hard to predict, making early intervention difficult. SEPA are working in conjunction with the Coal Authority. PB also notes that mine water in Scotland is generally not acidic, and in this case the PH is between 6 and 7. There is also a map of coal workings on Coal Authority’s interactive web viewer, which may be of interest.
The mine water from deeper sources tends to be a poorer quality. In this case there is 7 km between the mine water discharge and the former Bilston Glen colliery. A monitoring plan is in place between SEPA and the Coal Authority, and continuous data is being taken to measure water quality, ecology, flow monitoring, visual impact and sonde. They have also set trigger levels to protect the most sensitive species in the river, and to monitor the visual impact, chemical levels, and impact on ecology.
PB notes that receiving information through community reports is really important to SEPA, as it helps them to resolve issues more urgently.
They were getting 50 litres per second through the tunnel, and this is now up to 100 litres per second, which signals this is now coming from the deeper mine workings. The first recordings of an increase in dissolved iron and manganese in the river was in April 2020.
This is also affected by the fact that we have had the 3rd driest April on record, and there is a lot less dilution in river which means the impact was worse.
VW encourages people to get in touch with SEPA regarding any concerns about pollution and notes it is best to do this via their website (https://www2.sepa.org.uk/EnvironmentalEvents). It is important that issues are reported directly to SEPA and Scottish Water, so there is no delay in them receiving this information.
VW also notes that CSO’s are designed to discharge during heavy rainfall, but this should be just rainwater. It is more concerning when this happens during dry weather. VW is keen to be involved in any campaigns preventing unnecessary materials going into the river.
PB has said that they are happy to provide exact locations regarding any of the information in the presentation.
The Coal Authority – Tom Mills
The Coal Authority is funded to undertake mine water treatment work and monitoring. The organisation was formed in 1994, and they have created 74 mine water treatment schemes made in this time, but the situation at Bilston Glen is very complex. In treating mine water, they have a choice between active and passive treatment solutions. Active is more costly and not sustainable but it provides a controlled method of treatment. This is used when the chemistry of mine water is particularly poor. A passive treatment is preferred, which is usually where they pump water to treatment site and then use natural methods, such as reed beds.
At Bilston Glen they will take a two-phase approach. Initially, they will put in an active scheme, at the site immediately adjacent to Junkies Adit. They are not sure how long this will stay in place, and hopefully this will be changed to passive treatment over time. The active treatment will be in the region of £4 million, and then £300,000 -500,000 to run yearly. In the long term they hope to turn this into a passive scheme, but ideally for this there would be a large area of land around discharge point and in this location there is not. They are working to look at landowners, in order to find a suitable place. Manganese is very hard to remove through passive treatment schemes, and it will be a challenge in the future to do this through a passive scheme.
The Coal Authority is working closely with SEPA and Midlothian Council in relation to planning aspects to ensure no unknown requirements. The proposed site for the active treatment is close to potential properties, and minimising noise and visual impact are going to be taken into consideration. They have engaged with residents to make them aware but have not a great deal of response. It was noted that they would normally have public events, but Covid-19 has restricted this. They will keep residents informed and take concerns into consideration.
The next steps are clearing the land purchase and progressing with the design. They need to undertake ground investigations, ecological surveys, arrange power supply for site, and investigate waste disposal. They are in ongoing planning discussions with Midlothian.
They hope to have something in place by the end of the financial year, and for this to be active by next Summer. River flow has a major effect in terms of dilution, and this will improve over the Winter when there is a better flow.
This temporary solution will treat manganese, and then 3-5 years down the line they will look into a passive treatment. The Coal Authority are looking at how to balance out the carbon usage of active plant with the improvement of the water quality. With the passive site there will be less carbon usage, but this will not produce such good water quality. An active plant may have to become a permanent solution in order to get the necessary water quality.
Pauline Crerar asked how large the passive area needs to be. TM responded that this should be around 10 acres but in this case, it could be bigger as a result of the manganese treatment.
Iain Reid asks, given that delivery will take until next year, are there any short-term plans to mitigate loss of fish spawning habitat in the short term? TM responds to say that there is nothing they can put in place as a quick fix. The water quality will improve when we get higher level of flows, but he doesn’t know if that would be enough to protect fish spawning.
Paul Butler noted that SEPA has looked at the potential for extra releases of water from reservoirs and are considering that with Scottish Water, and they will report back to group when this assessment has been finalised.
Laura Goble introduced herself as a Ranger at Newbattle Abbey College who has been undertaking sampling. Newbattle Abbey College spoke of the desire to undertake the Salmon and Trout Conservation Trust ‘Smart Rivers’ programme, the need to source funding for this and the fact that there are volunteers waiting to undertake riverfly monitoring training and citizen science. She has been working with the community to survey river fly and has been working to educate locals on the species in river. She is looking to expand scheme and get more of the community involved. She notes that people feel a bit helpless but educating them on river fly and pollution events has been useful. The group currently have 3 survey sites and are looking to expand this, and they hope to work with Forth Rivers Trust to enable this. LG confirmed that SEPA had indicated it would provide riverfly trigger levels soon.
Joy Godfrey noted that in the Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council area community members have been running a river fly monitoring project for seven months, supported by Newbattle Abbey College, and the group, ‘Riverfly on the Esk’, would like to expand to monitor further sites on the Esk. Louise Cameron has sent list of possible funders on behalf of Colin Beattie’s office. They have 10 people waiting to get trained and she thinks it is special that people in the community are keen to be involved. She would also be keen to organise a ‘CSO Safari’, where people can walk down river to check the CSOs against those that had been mapped and check they are all working. She believes it is important that we develop community education materials. It is difficult during social distancing, but she would be happy to write up a previous community event teaching people what not to flush so it could be replicated at low cost in future.
Jonathon Louis noted that the number of barriers to fish migration on the Esk and decline of salmon populations are due to a lack of habitat. It would be good to look at how these barriers will be eased as part of this group and the timescales associated with this.
Louise Cameron raised the point of Facebook Groups, noting that she is in the process of setting up a private one but that we should consider how we share information with the public. In the meantime, she will continue sharing information through the mailing list and will continue to do this, as some members are not on Facebook.
CB ends the meeting by noting that Louise Cameron will circulate the dates of future meetings. He thanks the members for a good first meeting and states that he appreciates the contributions from all the members.
[Meeting closed at 12.12]