Those of us who live in Snowdonia,or come to visit regularly, may have noticed the increasing presence of diggers working in our rivers. The scars they leave behind are all too noticeable on open hillsides and can be seen on both sides of the Llanberis Pass. Development is also under way in many harder to spot places; in deep ravines and hidden by woodlands the diggers are also at work. The reason for this is a rash of new micro-hydro schemes. The number of schemes being permitted by the National Park and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is staggering; last August alone 50% of all planning applications to the park were for hydro-schemes totalling 12 in one month.
Save the Conwy has always been concerned with the prevention of the RWE Conwy Falls scheme; a large hydro-scheme on a major lowland river that will have a huge impact on the environment, local community, recreational users and the river basin as a whole. However the cumulative effect of so many micro-hydro schemes being built in such a small time scale cannot be ignored; particularly when it comes to the lessons they can teach us with regards to adherence to environmental statements, pollution incidents and the breaking of abstraction licences.
The National Park seems to have no restraint when it comes to permitting hydro development. Anyone who has ever tried to build an extension or renovate a house in the National Park can see the massive disconnect between the insistence on a particular shade of roofing slate on one hand and the allowing of a JCB to rampage through a SSSI on the other. The National Park cannot claim this stance is due to being pro-renewable as it has an extremely low acceptance policy on wind energy, a far less damaging and more effective renewable technology, even objecting to wind turbines that lie outside of the boundaries of the park.
A recent pollution incident at the Afon Las Gwastadnant has highlighted that despite the scheme having a detailed environmental management plan 13235-33441, once contractors get onsite there is little care and no oversight from either the National Park or NRW.
This is only a micro-hydro using a 30cm diameter pipe. The proposed Conwy scheme would use a pipe around 2m in diameter. Below are photos of RWE laying such a pipe in Dolgarrog in November 2013.
We feel both the National Park and NRW need to put the brakes on this rush to exploit our rivers. A pause needs to be taken before any more abstraction licences or planning permissions for hydros are granted. The National Park and NRW need to work together to form a robust policy that provides protection for designated areas, allows continued recreational use of our rivers and puts in place a system of monitoring the construction and running of these schemes. This policy can only be formed by recognising the views of environmental groups such as the Snowdonia Society and Woodland Trust, recreational groups like the BMC and Canoe Wales and those of local residents.
Snowdonia Society are asking all those who care to write with their views to:
Jonathan Cawley, Head of Planning and Land Management at Snowdonia National Park firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim Jones, Director of Operations for North Region at Natural Resources Wales email@example.com
Member of Save the Conwy Dan Butler sent this message:
Dear Jonathon Cawley (Head of Planning and Land Management, Snowdonia NPA) & Tim Jones (Director of Operations for North Region, NRW).
I am writing to you as an outdoor lover, and a great believer in the power of our wild spaces to inspire, educate and enthuse. From a very young age I have been proud to be British, from a country where we have National Parks, great areas of the countryside protected for all to enjoy.
Please note the key work above is protected. By virtue of the Jobs that you have chosen to hold, you are directly responsible for ensuring that my children (when I choose to have them) have the same opportunities to enjoy wild, unspoilt places that I had in my childhood.
You are failing in this task most dramatically, and allowing both profit, and/or a ridiculous notion that by digging up the countryside to create micro HEP which will run for 1/3 of the year, and generate returns barely noticeable, without a second thought to the damage that will be caused.
You are failing to adequately monitor that the companies are following their environmental plans, but far far worse than this, you are failing to take into consideration the impact that these schemes have.
Take the Conwy Scheme as an example. It required a team of volunteers several hundred man hours to ensure that the planning permission was withheld – despite the fact that full river weirs are completely against NRW own policies – and yet your organisation failed to mention this in their report to the planning committee.
As I write you are currently planning a discharge licence into Llyn Padarn.
I urge you to do the right thing, and save our wild spaces.