Usk Catchment Partnership
Strategy And Policy Manager Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park
The River Usk is the longest protected river system in Wales, it is designated both as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as a Special Area for Conservation.
Research published by Natural Resources Wales found that 87% of the waterbodies within the Usk catchment are failing target levels for the nutrient phosphorus. Phosphorus is widely considered to be the nutrient most harmful to aquatic ecosystems, and is most at risk of future increase due to climate change. Research undertaken in the catchment identifies that a range of factors are contributing to the nutrient levels within the Usk and that resolving the issues could only be possible through a Partnership approach to action.
Phosphates are not the only issue the Usk catchment is facing. Over the last few years the extent and frequency of flooding events has increased, causing significant social and economic harm. The catchment has been identified as an area threatened by a range of harmful invasive non-native species. There are other potential contaminants which as of yet data has not been made available, e.g., Nitrates and Ammonia, and their implications such as water pH changes and raised biological oxygen demand. Extraction levels in the Usk are very high, in part to service the Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal, but also for drinking water and agricultural use. Recreational pressure on the Usk is high, with many utilising the waters for fishing and water sports.
All these factors, in combination, have taken the Usk past a tipping point of ecological integrity.
A Co-Design Approach
We have been lucky to secure funding from the Welsh Government to help address the phosphate issues the Usk is facing. However, through the partnership we believe that it cannot be addressed in isolation. That is why the partnership for the Usk is focusing on re-establishing and protecting the protected features of the Usk for the benefit of future generations.
To date, the partnership has been focused on developing a robust structure representative of the range and diversity of interests and issues that need to be addressed. Significant resource has been dedicated to co-designing this structure to ensure that it has the capacity to develop a deliverable action plan for the Usk. By focusing on co-designing the partnership’s structure, we have aimed to bake in consensus from the beginning. Partners involved in the co-design have included Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales, Monmouthshire County Council, Powys Council Newport City Council, Canal and Rivers Trust, Wye and Usk Foundation, Farmers’ Union of Wales, National Farmers Union, Beacons Water Group (local farming group), environmental Non-Government Organisations. Our work continues to be supported by the Welsh Government and their Phosphate Action Plan.
The partnership is now looking to commission further evidence in order to collaboratively identify actions needed to build back the ecological resilience of the catchment. The partnership is supported in this work by a technical advisory group, and a wider catchment forum which includes representatives of user and recreation groups. The aim is to produce an Action Plan which will be co- implemented by all members of the partnership.