Monday, 5 December 2011

The great River Taff cleanup project

A few short decades ago, the River Taff drained some of the largest coal mines in South Wales. Tributaries ran black with coal dust, and there were plenty of other contaminants flowing into the Taff and on into Cardiff Bay and the Bristol Channel. Along with large reaches of the Ebbw, the Rhymney, the Ely, and the Rhondda, the lower waters of the Taff were too toxic to support much life. It's estimated that the river once received about 100,000 tonnes of mining waste per year.
30 years ago the Taff was considered unfishable below the industrial works around Merthyr Tydfil. It now plays host to international fly fishing championships. Salmon can be seen leaping the weirs just a mile from Cardiff city centre, and waterbirds, insects, and amphibians have all returned to the lower reaches. It made a recent Environment Agency list of the 10 most improved rivers in the UK.
While the cleanup began with the closure of the mines it would be a mistake to assume that the Taff returned to a healthy state on its own. Huge efforts have gone into restoring it, including everything from small tributaries like the Taff Bargoed, which flows past the site of Merthyr Vale Colliery, to the artificial banks put in place to protect Cardiff suburbs from flooding. Sewerage treatment works have been improved and the remaining industrial outflow points more tightly controlled. The weirs have been modified to allow salmon to pass more easily and wetlands re-established to provide vital habitat for other species.
The efforts to clean up South Wales rivers have delivered immense benefits to the local community as well as the environment. A 55 mile cycle path winds down the Taff valley now, and country parks have been built on the Taff Bargoed and the Rhondda. The rivers are now used for fishing, birdwatching, kayaking, and rowing rather than draining industrial waste.
Volunteers, angling and watersports clubs, environmental campaigners, and local and national authorities all played a part in the tremendous recovery of the Taff and other South Wales rivers, and they should all have a share of the credit. However, the work is far from over. Out the 6114 rivers in England and Wales only five are pristine. Just over a quarter are considered to be in good condition.
Under EU regulations that figure ought to be 95%. Cleaning up Britain's rivers is a formidable task, but it can be done. All it takes is a short walk by the Taff so see that it's not only possible to return heavily polluted rivers to sound condition but also get some idea of the potential benefits. The clean Taff now has a tremendous value to local people as well as flora and fauna.

Jess Spate lives less than a mile from the River Taff and has been lucky enough to see the salmon running there. She has cycled beside it, enjoyed the wading birds in the wetlands, and kayaked reaches that were toxic not so long ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment