Rivers at risk from gravel removal and channel alteration

Illegal work taking place on watercourses continues to have a negative impact on the animals, fish and plants that make their home in and around Welsh rivers and streams.

Natural Resources Wales is calling on landowners not to undertake unconsented work to streams and rivers following an increase in the number of reports of damage caused by gravel removal, reprofiling of banks and straightening channels across Wales.

These activities can destabilise rivers, causing changes to erosion and deposition processes and potentially increasing flood risk.

Healthy watercourses are a vital component of the Welsh landscape and are home to many species, some of which are very rare, so any disturbance can have serious consequences.

Altering river channels can destroy fish habitat and bird nesting sites, disturb protected species and cause the spread of invasive non-native species such as Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam.

Hilary Foster, specialist advisor for freshwater habitats and species for NRW said:

“Protecting our rivers and the wildlife that depend on them is a priority for us.
“We are continuing to receive reports of damage to rivers caused by gravel removal, reprofiling of banks and straightening channels and are progressing enforcement action on those cases.
“Any work that is carried out on a river or stream will affect the characteristics of the channel both upstream and downstream, and river channel alterations carried out by one landowner can potentially cause problems over considerable distances for their neighbours.
“Alterations to watercourses should be limited to situations where there is a clear justification such as alleviating flood risk to nearby buildings. You will also require a permit or consent from NRW or the Local Authority in most cases.”

Wales has lost more than 50% of its vitally important river gravel shoals over the last century.

Gravel shoals support more than 500 species of invertebrates, half of which are only found in these shoal habitats. River gravels are also essential for fish and are a key feature of a healthy river ecosystem.

Hilary added:

“If you are considering undertaking any work on a watercourse you should contact NRW for advice. We will provide information on any necessary permissions and measures to avoid environmental harm.
“If you do not consult NRW prior to undertaking works on a river or stream, you are at risk of committing an offence. Enforcement measures may include the requirement to restore the damaged habitat”.

For more information please call NRW on 0300 065 3000 or email enquiries@naturalresourceswales.gov.ukIf you see or suspect that someone is working in a river illegally, please call NRW’s incident hotline on 0300 065 3000.