In Attendance – Colin Beattie MSP, Louise Cameron, Peter Finnie, Paul Butler, Nathan Critchlow-Watton, Ann Stewart-Kmicha, Anne Hyatt, Helen Blackburn, Iain Reid, Jonathan Louis, Joy Godfrey, Laura Goble, Pauline Crerar, Philip Duncan, Roger Crofts, Scott Fraser, Shona Grant, Steven Boon, Tom Mills, Vicki White, Steven Dalgleish
Apologies – Jeff Stevenson, Bill Farnsworth
Colin Beattie (CB) welcomes group and opens meeting. The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.
Presentation by Nathan Critchlow-Watton (NCW), Senior Manager, Water and Land Unit, SEPA – Fish Barriers
SEPA are in the process of removing barriers which meet the relevant conditions and would improve the quality of the Esk River for fish. This presentation seeks to highlight some of the key barriers causing issues. The removal of these barriers is often contingent on many factors, for example planning permission. SEPA aim to find these barriers and to remove them where it is appropriate to do so. So far, they have removed 30 barriers along the Esk. Many weirs will simply collapse over time. Before undertaking work on the structure, it is important the structure is properly understood. In 2021, they will undertake a structural survey of the weirs. There will be an assessment of a weir at Lothian Bridge, which is 6 meters high, and SEPA will undertake a cost benefit analysis. Removing this weir would only open up approximately 3km of river, and there are still questions about how much habitat that will open up.
Ann Stewart-Kmicha (ASK) comments that a survey was carried out a few years ago linked to weirs, and wondered what happened with this. NCW notes that this did happen but there were funding issues. Work has been done previously and they still need to decide what to do with this.
CB asked for the timescale. NCW responds that the first step is the assessment in 2021 and looking at whether there is a natural barrier under Lothian Bridge weir, and what can be done in relation to that. The next steps are contingent on this step, so the timescale is currently difficult to work out. They will have to work through a staged process. If there is a natural waterfall under Lothian bridge, removing this wouldn’t be a step which could be taken.
ASK voices concerns over the Dalkeith weir, and that any work undertaken on the weir may have an effect on the effluent coming from Junkie’s Adit. NCW reiterates that the next step is to survey and then there will be more information on what is happening upstream.
Jonathon Louise (JL) comments that lots of surveys have been done previously. He believes that SEPA had a target to complete and remove the barriers on the Esk by the end of 2021, and he had read that they were on track to achieve this target, and queries whether this is still the case. NCW responds that they set 2021 as the objective, but they can’t remove the weirs by 2021, though this was the official objective set by Scottish Government Ministers. After the survey, they will have a better understanding of the matter, then 2027 is the next phase. There is a dedicated fund of £3 million per year, and it is estimated Lothian Bridge would cost £700,000 to remove.
JL continues that previous studies carried out a full assessment of the habitat. He notes that at Lothian Bridge there were historical salmon fishing rights, which means that salmon inhabited this area previously, and perhaps a waterfall could have been modified for barrier. NCW notes that this information would be helpful to have. JL emphasises that river barriers and Junkies Adit discharge is compounding the need to get access to every part of this habitat.
CB asks when is the end date for the next phase? NCW responds that it normally takes about 5 years to remove, as it will include significant engineering projects with challenges. CB notes it would be useful for NCW to send something to highlight the stages to the group.
Steven Dalgleish (SD) asks whether there is a way we can open more salmon spawning ground in the North Esk. NCW responds that this is easier in the North Esk and there is more scope to do something about the issues there timeously, but they need to understand longevity of projects before committing money, as if it is likely to collapse then investment isn’t worthwhile. SD furthers, if the weirs collapse naturally and were to release dirty sediment downstream, would you consider removing the weirs before this happens? NCW responds that part of the process is that they undertake investigations to look for contamination. JL notes that often the build up is not of toxic chemicals or damaging sediment, as there is a natural clearing process in high spates which allow gravel to get over. SEPA studies involve chemical analysis of sediment.
CB notes that he welcomes the information from NCW on each of the next stages and proposed funding.
Presentation by Iain Reid (IR), Forth Rivers Trust, on Electrofishing Data
In the last meeting Forth Rivers presented their survey work which focused on Junkie’s Adit. They carried out surveys, took data and plotted this on maps and to allow them to examine the effects. IR notes that in this presentation we will look at standardised fish data per unit area. They have surveyed 20 sites from Musselburgh – in the North Esk they have surveyed up to Carlops and in the South Esk Gorebridge and Temple.
There are lots of Bullhead (an invasive fish species) which contributes to high total fish densities. There is generally higher total fish density in the South Esk, but a reduction in the lower section of the river possibly due to the Adit discharge. When bullhead are removed from the picture, and only ‘sensitive’ species (such as trout, eels, lamprey and salmon) are left, the Esk system is dominated by brown trout, with highest densities found in upper catchment on both rivers. The presence of migratory fish such as salmon and eel is confined to the lower catchment, being limited by the presence of impassable or sparingly passable weirs. The Inveresk Weir is partially passable as it has ladder, but occasional blockages. Salmon is missing entirely from South Esk because of fouling. Eels can migrate over wetted land, so there is some fish passage as some structures are in a state of decay.
The slide shows the salmon and trout densities of the Esk and then projects to the same densities as found in the river Teith - a healthy river - to show what the fish density should look like. There is brown trout throughout the catchment. The Montague Weir is impassable to salmon, and almost impassable to eels. The Dalkeith Weir is impassable to salmon, but partly passable to eels. There is a dramatic decrease (6 to 10 fold vs. the rest of the catchment) in the fish density in the three sites South of Junkie’s Adit (SEsk7, SEsk6 and SEsk1) – it is clear the discharge is having a huge impact on the fish community, as well as the impact of pollution. There is a loss of habitat for lamprey, and though fish density is clinging on this is poor in comparison to other rivers.
CB states that IR mentions road run off in his presentation, and asks whether there is a lot of pollution coming from motor vehicles? IR responds that this can come from CSOs or drains from roads. He notes drainage systems could be considered, such as magic sponges or reeds. Where there is human population on the Esk, then fish population suffers. CB further asks how significant is the road run off in comparison with the pollution and minewater. IR says although this can’t be quantified, the main threats are the minewater and the pollution, rather than road run off. NWC adds it is very difficult to quantify road run off, but the best solutions are sustainable urban systems, like gullies.
Roger Crofts (RC) notes in removing weirs a major issue is how we slow the river down at peak flow and asks what is being thought through to slow the river down by bodies like SEPA. JL notes that weirs don’t slow water down, and that to slow it down you need a reservoir. He comments that weirs increase the flood risk upstream. NCW states that some of the complexity with removing structures is a flood risk, and they consider aspects such as the stability of banks. IR notes that flood modelling has been done in the past, and there is no extra flood risk associated with weir removal, which is outlined in the document he sent to the group. There are ways of doing natural flood management, such as leaky dams and weedy debris, to create flood defences and simultaneously create habitat. RC comments that a flood management plan from SEPA would be useful to see, to look at natural flood management options, and to consider areas of floor plains. CB notes that East Lothian Council will likely be looking at mitigating flooding of the Esk within the flood protection scheme. RC states it would be useful for Musselburgh residents to have more information on projects happening in relation to flood prevention. CB comments he would also like clarification and update on this matter from East Lothian Council.
JL comments that the Musselburgh District Flood Protection Scheme were looking at reservoirs in the upper part of the river for use further downstream. During low water, if there is a pollution incident the water could be released. JL invites Scottish Water to collaborate on this with them.
Report from the Coal Authority – Tom Mills (TM), Head of the Environment Department
TM notes the Coal Authority continue to monitor the water quality and flows of the Esk. Over last few weeks there has been an increase in mine materials. When this stabilises, they need to assess what the long-term future discharge will be and what iron levels they will be treating.
The Coal Authority have secured the possession and purchase of the land adjacent to Junkies Adit. They will be undertaking surveys and ground investigation after Christmas and also creating a small-scale treatment trial on site, so that they can design the best solution for treatment.
The Coal Authority have been doing further work which shows that the area for long term passive scheme would be larger than previously thought, due to the complexities of the manganese removal. It seems that the size requirement means that a passive scheme will not be feasible and that it is likely the scheme will need to be active. The Coal Authority will hold further discussions with SEPA about treatment targets.
TM notes that any solution is looking more expensive than originally budgeted for – it was anticipated the temporary scheme would be £1-1.5 million but the cost is approximately 4/5 times higher, which means the two-stage approach is not feasible. The focus is now on accelerating putting the permanent solution in place. Early indications estimate the cost to be £20-25 million over 25 years for the clean-up, which would be 10% of all their operational costs across the UK. They are now not in a position to have a temporary scheme by next Summer as intended, but it’s likely a long-term solution will be in place by the following Summer (2022). An active scheme will be cheaper over the 25 years, and active scheme is likely to be easier and quicker to develop.
ASK notes that iron ore has always been present in the River, but the manganese is causing more concern. Are there quantitative figures on the levels of manganese present? TM responds the iron is around 40mg/per litre. Minewater flows vary due to seasons and rainfall, but typically sit at 85 litres/second coming out the Adit. The Manganese concentration is steady at 4mg/litre. With an active treatment there is more control and you can hit a definite treatment quality – this is more difficult with passive, especially with manganese. We need to consider whether there will be a bigger benefit on the river when the cost is so high and think about whether this will improve the fish migration too.
Paul Butler (PB) in relation to reservoir releases, SEPA have been working with Scottish Water and there are difficulties, but are considering whether this is a possibility, particularly if there are dry periods next year. River flows are much higher now and the discoloration has greatly reduced. The Coal Authority and SEPA are meeting next week to discuss minewater treatment options, and SEPA are glad to see the Coal Authority pushing to get the permanent solution in place.
Report from Scottish Water – Scott Fraser (SF) / Steven Boon (SB)
SB notes the in relation to the Lord Ancrum Wood they now have an event monitor tied to an intelligent system – this alarms them of spills and allows them to undertake a clean-up urgently when they occur, but they also do regular checks. At the Ben Bught Burn there was a historical incident with sanitary products and wipes – a thorough clean-up was undertaken, and soil was investigated. This work is now complete and no fresh items have been found, though they will continue to monitor. At the Hardengreen / Bonnyrigg CSO opposite the Sun Inn there are continued regular checks and cleaning, but no prolonged issues. This was checked this morning, following heavy rain over weekend and it shows that the water did raise to weir level but only for a few minutes, so operating as it should be. Modelling shows that no changes could be made which wouldn’t have an impact on flooding, so they will continue to regularly monitor and clean up. The East Field Water Pumping Station has had some historical issues but over last 6 months intelligent alarms have been installed so the situation can be well managed.
SB notes a continued commitment to the 3P’s campaign, which informs the public what they should not flush. CB asks whether there is a measurable impact of these campaigns. SB states that there have been no spills at the Lord Ancrum Wood since their work in this area. The fact we haven’t seen spills points that the raised weir level has helped, but also that people aren’t flushing same things that they used to. SF notes that the next steps will be to focus on the Bonnyrigg area. They look at the number of sewer chokes to understand if it has been making a difference. There was a reduction of 10% when they ran the campaign a few years ago but this has plateaued, and now they are considering how to make a significant impact again, as many materials are still passing through which shouldn’t be.
JG asks when the last river walk of the Mary Burn was, and what assistance could be given by the community in terms of educating others what not to flush? SB couldn’t confirm the last date, but there was one happening that week, and notes these walks happen regularly. In terms of help from the community, continue spreading the message of what not to flush, and make people aware that these can get into the water systems. The community can also help by identifying pollution incidents which Scottish Water have not yet noticed, so that they can undertake an urgent clean up.
JL commented it sounded as if Scottish Water are aiming to get sensor on each culvert, is that the case and is there a plan for when that will be in place by?
JG notes that Owen Thompson is asking question in Westminster today about sewage, and about the labelling of products as flushable.
SB replies that Scottish Water are not funded for monitors on all CSOs, but have built Smart Networks within their business plan. This is not just to monitor discharge but to monitor where flows are starting to creep up so that they can act more proactively. This is currently being trialled in places across Scotland, and they are trying to put funding in place between 2021-27.
SF notes that regarding reservoirs, Scottish Water are doing upgrades at Gladhouse Reservoir at the start of the South Esk, and I would be happy to discuss flows into the Esk with the Reservoir team.
Report from SEPA – Vicki White (VW)
VW notes that regarding the Bonnyrigg CSO, it is designed to be an intermittent discharge. There will be a focus in 2021 on looking at ecological conditions, and there is sampling planned to evaluate this. VW will be happy to present the results to the group. VW reiterates that any concerns about pollution should be reported to SEPA at earliest opportunity to allow them to identify and resolve issues. Regarding the bathing water at Fisherrow, there is information coming out soon and when this becomes available VW will share this with the group.
JG asks whether SEPA do the same studies along the Esk that they do to assess bathing water? VW notes this is only done at bathing water sites. They do a range of monitoring, but she is unaware if this is microbial. They are likely to be able to give more insights next year.
JG asks if SEPA are going to set a trigger level for riverfly monitoring, and how soon will the group get this information. Will it be at the baseline of what the river is capable of? VW responds that the river-based management planning process identifies the levels of impact and input into the river, and she will need to look at this in more detail and get back to the group.
Pauline Crerar (PC) notes that at the bathing water quality meetings, it is clear that Seafield has more impact on the bathing water than Esk. VW confirms that there is insufficient evidence that upstream inputs of the Esk are having an impact on bathing water, and they are working to identify the sites of pollution.
SD asks can SEPA investigate the source of discolouration of the Esk. VW responds that some of the work on ecology and river sampling next year will approach this. ERIG is the first step in being able to identify the problems and investigate these. VW will also look at the gaps in monitoring and come back to ERIG on this. IR reiterates that monitoring is complicated, and you have to look from the source to the sea, but Forth Rivers Trust are doing thorough monitoring.
Report from East Lothian Council - Shona Grant (SG)
SG agrees with Pauline Crerar that in bathing water meetings there is no indication that the Esk is having impact in Fisherrow bathing water. Fisherrow is now classed as a former bathing water, and the council are working with the Scottish Government and SEPA to clarify the wording of the signage related to bathing water
PC notes there are many trees in Esk in Musselburgh, and asks do council deal with that? SG responds she is unsure, but she can ask her colleagues if they would deal with this.
There was a general discussion about that many in the group were disappointed that there is not enough signage to indicate that people should not use the water for bathing, and that the SEPA electronic sign is blank in the winter months.
ASK is disappointed that Midlothian Council have not been involved. Louise Cameron (LC) notes that they have been invited, but she will add this to Colin’s agenda to discuss with the CEO.
Laura Goble (LG) provides an update on riverfly surveying, as she believes they are the only group doing monthly monitoring on invertebrate on the Esk. She has been in touch with IR about setting up new riverfly survey sites. There is lots of interest from local groups about being involved in survey scheme. Need to have the community on board and that will help with the 3P’s campaign. The new volunteers are waiting for training, but this is delayed by Covid-19. They are still waiting on trigger levels from SEPA. There are talks of expanding the scheme and setting it up as a constituted group and this will help with insuring members. LC passed on funding information to support the group. If anyone has any further funding advice on becoming a constituted group that would be useful.
CB states that the community efforts need to fit into the picture and not to be done in isolation. The community need to be involved in creating arguments to move projects forward. We should think about how SEPA and SW can link up with local groups.
JG states that ENCC have put in an expression of interest for a grant funder about a river related project. It would be possible to design this in relation with other local community groups and could help to fund training and equipment. IR also notes that the riverfly group should have further discussion with Forth Rivers Trust as there are areas overlapping with their work. PC states it would be good to have sites at Musselburgh and to get samples further down the river. SD notes he would be happy to get volunteers from MDAA to help with this project.
CB states the different bodies represented in ERIG need to consider how they can link up with the other bodies and we would welcome feedback on how practical that is. Significant first steps have been made in these first meetings to make progress on the matter of cleaning the river.
CB thanks the members for attending and closes meeting at 12.24