Focus on river issues at meeting of individuals and organisations
Measures to be taken if there is a breach of the River Coquet near Rothbury that would lead to a ‘serious fish stranding incident’ was among the matters discussed at a meeting of influential individuals and organisations.
During the July 2009 floods, the river broke through into an adjacent working sand and gravel extraction site at Caistron.
This resulted in the impoundment of an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of water, with a relatively small return flow back into the River Coquet at the downstream end of the quarry.
The Environment Agency commissioned emergency works to safely discharge the impounded water, which involved putting the river back into its original channel, repairing the upstream breach and constructing an engineered outlet from the quarry to minimise the risk of unsafe impoundment in future.
Shortly after these works were completed, the River Coquet broke through into the quarry area once again. It has remained there ever since and now discharges via the engineered outlet.
This area refilled with gravel in a relative short time and it is now a good area for breeding waders and ideal spawning habitat for salmonids.
Recently, Northumberland Rivers Trust has raised concerns about the likely further breach of the River Coquet into the Caistron lakes – the area just upstream from where the river broke into the quarry in 2010.
An Environment Agency spokesman said that whilst there is no significant flood risk to downstream communities, if this happens it ‘would ultimately change the course of the Coquet and likely result in a depleted 1.7km stretch of the river, causing a serious fish stranding incident’.
An incident response plan to minimise environmental impacts has been developed. However, although a breach is likely, the spokesman said ‘it is impossible to predict if or when a breach may occur’.
Steven Bridgett, county councillor for the Rothbury Division, wanted to bring different parties together so they were aware of this and other River Coquet issues and could discuss potential arrangements and solutions.
In attendance at the meeting were the Duke of Northumberland, Oliver Harmar – the Environment Agency’s area director for the North East – and representatives from the Northumberland Rivers Trust, Natural England, the Coquet Riparian Owners and Occupiers Association and the Northumbrian Anglers Federation.
The Environment Agency spokesman added: “We are continuing to closely monitor the River Coquet and the likelihood of a breach into the man-made ponds that lie within the flood plain immediately adjacent to the river at Caistron. The ponds were formed through past gravel extraction.
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“The River Coquet is a naturally wandering river and erosion, switching channels or the formation of new channels is an entirely normal occurrence on a wandering gravel river like this river.
“The Coquet is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which means it is a protected conservation area, and we have made an informed decision to allow the river to move naturally in order to maintain a good habitat for wildlife and natural features.
“Should a breach occur, we have robust plans in place to minimise any negative impact on the environment, including an incident response plan developed in conjunction with a range of local partners.
“At Caistron, a breach in the river is likely to move water rapidly into the neighbouring ponds. If this happens, we will rescue any stranded fish and return them to the river.
“A previous breach of the River Coquet into the lower pond at Caistron has become a natural habitat, which supports a wonderfully wide range of plants and wildlife such as common sandpipers and oystercatchers.
“We will continue to monitor and evaluate the natural processes of the river, working closely with partners and landowners.
“The Environment Agency is fully prepared in the event of a breach and will take necessary and appropriate action to protect the environment.”
Coun Bridgett said: “I chaired a meeting at Rothbury to discuss some of the issues regarding the River Coquet and how we can address them collectively.
“Everyone who attended discussed some short, medium and longer term solutions that we intend to pursue, but nothing is going to happen overnight.
“We all agreed that the meeting was very useful and I am in the process of arranging another one for late summer.”