Report: The state of the river Usk - A dying river?

Report: The state of the river Usk – A dying river?

FAO Sir David Henshaw, Chair, NRW Board Dr. Guy Mawle

By email only:

15 November 2021

Dear Sir David,
Report: The state of the river Usk – A dying river?

I attach for your attention a report that I have just completed on the state of the river Usk, one of
Wales’ principal rivers and designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Please note that this
report has not been commissioned but produced out of personal interest. I have known the river Usk
for over forty years and was once its Fisheries, Conservation and Recreation Officer. In recent years,
I have observed a progressive degradation in its ecology and wished to have more factual
information. This report is the result.
You will see from the one-page summary that many aspects of the ecology of the river are
deteriorating, including protected habitat and species. There is also a chapter at the end with
suggested lessons for the Usk and other rivers.
The Senedd recently declared a Nature Emergency in Wales and rivers and streams are a ‘priority
habitat’ under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. There are also legal duties under regulations
relating to SAC rivers. Regrettably, this report clearly shows that NRW is failing to deliver the
Sustainable Management of Natural Resources on the River Usk. Furthermore, neither NRW nor
others, such as Welsh Government and the Future Generations Commissioner, seem to be fully
aware of the degradation that has taken place. This reflects, in part, the limitations of NRW’s
monitoring and reporting. For example, the State of Natural Resources Report 2020 (SoNaRR) uses
some data that are now considerably out of date and therefore misleading.
Of particular concern, is the 2020 status of the otter. As reported in SoNaRR 2020, this was the only
SAC feature in ‘favourable status’ across Wales. It is no longer, neither in the Usk SAC nor in other
SACs. The otter relies on the general health of the river so it is not surprising that its status now
reflects those of other SAC features. The Future Generations Commissioner cited the recovery of the
otter as a ‘sign of hope’ in her 2020 report. It would seem that hope could be misplaced.
It is evident to me that the current management of our rivers, under NRW, is not up to the
challenges these now face. This is not a reflection on the commitment of staff on the ground. I
acknowledge that NRW needs more resources, and this needs urgently addressing by Government. I
also appreciate that there are couple of laudable projects about to start that, I hope, will achieve
significant improvements. But whatever they achieve will not be sustained without effective
regulation by NRW which has patently been lacking. There is much more that NRW should and could
be doing especially in relation to enforcement and monitoring.
I do not believe that the title of my report “The state of the River Usk – a dying river?” overstates the
case. Therefore, urgent action is required and I am writing to you as the Chair of the NRW Board to
provide the leadership needed to address the issues I have recorded in my report.
These thoughts and the report are offered in the spirit of positive criticism. I will be sharing both this
letter and the report with others, as indicated below. Thank you for your time.
Yours sincerely

Guy Mawle, BA, MSc, PhD, FIFM, CEnv

Cc: With report
Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd
Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner
Audit Wales
Prof. Steve Ormerod, Vice Chair
Clare Pillman, CEO
Steve Morgan, South East Wales Area
Jon Goldsworthy, South East Wales Area
Afonydd Cymru (with request to forward to Wales Environment Link members)
Wye & Usk Foundation
Gwent Wildlife Trust
Powys Wildlife Trust


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