There’s been an upsurge of interest nationally and locally in the quality of water in our streams and rivers. Nationally, the Environment Agency report on 17th September revealed the depressing fact that all UK watercourses are polluted in one way or another.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/17/rivers-in-england-fail-pollution-tests-due-to-sewage-and-chemicals

Locally, Ilkley Clean River Campaign have been valiantly fighting the inertia of Yorkshire Water and the authorities to reduce the shocking amount of raw sewage dumped into the river where many people swim and paddle.

https://sites.google.com/view/cleanwharfeilkley/home

So, it’s perhaps not a surprise that we have our own issues. In case you were thinking that our pristine Beck was …well, pristine, it’s perhaps time to publicise the fact that there are at least two places that we’re aware of where raw, untreated sewage also enters the Gill Beck.

Combined sewer overflow (CSO) at Tong Park: the grey slime emanating from these CSOs is made up of billions of bacteria -many of them antibiotic-resistant and potentially disease-causing. This outflow pipe runs from Baildon and actually goes under the lake before entering the Beck.

CSOs are a consequence of the design of our waste water system -often dating back to the Victorian era. Excess rainfall is channelled into the same pipes as sewage. As a safety valve in times of intense rainfall there is built-in allowance for overflow to run straight off into streams and rivers. In reality this happens at times of intense rainfall……and also at other times….or, in some cases, most of the time!

Fixing this problem is a big challenge and, in reality, requires a vast infrastructure investment programme with political backing. This is an uphill battle in the face of large, well-connected, privately-owned and profit-orientated water companies. I stand to be corrected but my impression is there’s not much the environment agency can do when you or I ring to say ‘there’s sewage flowing into our Beck’….because, to a degree, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

This summer we’ve seen an enormous number of families out enjoying the wild bits of the valley and playing in the stream.

Other potential sources of pollution include farming and industry. Fortunately, we’re lucky that, to the best of my knowledge, the farmers along the Gill Beck valley are very good in this respect.

Last week, alarmingly, the Beck looked like this…

Silt from groundworks upstream making the Beck run brown: mid-September 2020

In contrast to its usual clarity:

A more normal state of water clarity in the Beck at Otley Road

This silt stemmed from construction works upstream. The issue isn’t quite as disastrous as serious slurry pollution but it’s still not great for the Beck ecosystem. Silt at this level adversely affects invertebrate populations by smothering them. Obviously, fewer invertebrates leads to fewer fish, birds, mammals and so on.

Privately, our view is that some works and development is inevitable with the number of people living in the area but there are relatively straightforward technical ways of reducing this kind of problem when work is planned in advance. Since the success of businesses involved in leisure and tourism relies largely on the valley being a beautiful natural environment we’re surprised that those involved weren’t more careful.

On a positive note, this summer has seen work start on the final fish passes which will allow migratory fish such as Salmon and Sea Trout to get up into the Aire above Leeds for the first time in over a century.

https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/18636454.next-step-starts-get-salmon-river-aire/

Smaller streams such as the Gill Beck are potential spawning grounds for these fish when they make it through. It’s really exciting to think that we could have Salmon spawning on our doorstep. It’s important the Beck is in decent shape for them. Happily, it’s mostly pretty good in comparison to other watercourses; we’ve seen Brown Trout up as far as the caravan park this summer. We regularly have Otters, Kingfishers and Dippers. However, the situation clearly needs watching.

If you have any concerns about pollution or water quality in the Beck then please get in touch. Together we can monitor the situation and take effective action when necessary.

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