The latest update from the Environment Agency received today, 21st July 2020, is that they have confirmed they will not be able to deploy the boom at Salisbury or Chilhampton. The guidance they have to follow has not changed and despite reviewing a number of options for deploying the boom they have not been able to identify a safe alternative method.

See also notes from the Zoom meeting held between the WFA & Environment Agency on 25th June, which gives a little more detail.

Jim Flory – Environment Agency Area Environment Manager (Avon)
Jim Wreglesworth – Environment Agency Flood & Coastal Risk Manager (Avon & Stour)
Tom Davis – WFA Chairman
Bob Wellard – WFA Hon Sec
Andreas Topintzis – WFA Hon Treasurer
Stuart McTeare – WFA Committee
Martin Browne – WFA Committee (Chairman Wiltshire Keepers)
Martijn Antheunisse – CEO Wessex River Trust
Chris Hodder – WFA Committee
Brigadier Iain Reid – WFA Committee

Meeting Summary

Our meeting focused on two main questions – 1) EA weed extraction boom operations – Salisbury and 2) Illegal weed cutting on the River Avon.

EA’s Weed extraction / boom operations – Salisbury

Q1. With regards to social distancing and working safely during Covid-19 the EA weed extraction team be able to install the booms at Salisbury ahead of the next agreed weed cutting dates, scheduled to start on 25th July?

The short answer to this question, regrettably, there’s NO CHANGE, for the reasons outlined below.
The EA has held a number of meetings with several members of their Ops teams who have many years’ experience installing booms, and many other in-channel works, where they discussed at length the issues for the team associated with working in close proximity.
Whilst most parts of the boom installation process are possible by social distancing, and through hygiene/cleaning measures, it appears they are still unable to come up with a suitable work-around for the process of actually securing the boom (usually achieved by driving long scaffold bars into the river bed), or indeed securing the boom poles themselves into position (which is necessary to keep the boom pins orientated into the correctly elevated position).
The bottom line is the EA requires four members of staff to be in the same boat to complete these tasks, and under current Gov’t & HSE guidance they are not happy they can meet the necessary Health, Safety and Wellbeing standards to manage that risk. Additionally, as part of a government department, the EA are following the same strict guidance for outdoor construction businesses.

How is it the EA can operate its boom on the River Test at Timsbury but not in Salisbury?
The EA’s boom construction and setup process at Timsbury is a relatively low-risk operation compared to the one in Salisbury. The Timsbury boom is a civil engineering construction using a modular platform design and is just 23m long. There is no comparison with the Salisbury boom, which is comprised of an inflatable deflector boom with primary and secondary catching booms, and much bigger at 159m. The Timsbury boom has seen significant investment in recent years, which allows the extraction process to be carried out with fewer people.

Why doesn’t the EA invest in a long term, Hi-Tech solution?
The EA does not have a legal duty to extract cut weed. Whilst the Salisbury boom is ‘low tech’ compared to the one in Timsbury, it did work extremely well before the C-19 pandemic. The cost of the boom operation is shared 50/50 between the EA & WFA owners/ clubs who cut weed. The EA’s contribution comes from Rod Licence fees, which has reduced significantly in recent years. Hence, there’s limited funds for further development of the site. However, it’s worth noting, the cost of the EA’s installation, operation, disposal of the weed and dismantling of the boom and is only ever charged at cost, with no additional ‘profit’ margin, as would be the case if using an outside contractor.

If the EA cannot operate its boom in Salisbury, why not extract the weed at a different location?
Alternative sites have been considered and trialled in the past, but with limited success. Having the boom located in Salisbury allows the capture of weed from the whole of the upper Avon catchment, including the Wylye and Nadder.

What should we do if the C-19 pandemic continues into 2021 and the EA’s position remains unchanged?
We will continue to review the challenges we fact with C-19, however, we have limited options at this stage so we will continue to work with the WFA to support individuals with small-scale, weed cutting and extraction operations as best we can. We will continue to look at affordable technology.

The situation therefore remains un-changed in that, members of the WFA who cut weed will need self-extract, removing all cut weed within the fishery, until further notice.
The WFA will continue to explore opportunities for small-scale extraction and to support clubs/ owners with the process.

Tom Davis expressed his thanks to the EA for joining the zoom meeting, and for being very clear about the situation with the Salisbury boom and for explaining the challenges being faced with the current Covid situation to provide proper protection for EA staff. The WFA is fully supportive of that and that the safety of the weed boom operators remains of paramount importance, whether they be staff or outside contractors.

Illegal Weed Cutting

Q2. The WFA has received reports of illegal weed cutting activity on the Upper Avon. This appears to be an ongoing problem, having been reported to the EA on several occasions. What action is being taken?
It was agreed the WFA & EA would follow up on reports of illegal weed cutting. Specific details have been withheld for legal reasons.

Message Ends

Bob Wellard MIFM – Hon Sec
T: 01747 851418
M: 07872583910