Fish Legal has secured more than £8,500 in compensation for its member Ripon Angling Club (RAC). This was due to damage caused by poorly-managed flood protection works by the Environment Agency (EA) on the River Skell near Ripon in North Yorkshire.
The EA is supposed to notify in advance anyone who may be affected by this kind of scheme, but neither RAC nor its landlord was notified. What then followed was a saga of delay and apparent incompetence.
Work began in March 2010 and was supposed to finish by October 2010. The completion deadline was extended several times and the project significantly overran, blocking off access to key parts of their fishery, and disturbing spawning over two seasons. Work did not finish until October 2012, meaning it took over four times longer than planned, by which time serious problems (in some cases permanent) had been caused for the fishery.
Parts of the river were run dry and diverted through pipes during the lengthy work which was an eyesore, as well as being intrusive to the club's fishing. Despite time extensions and delays, the EA has recently indicated that parts of the original scheme will require further remedial work, including correcting a design flaw. RAC conservatively estimates that it may take 6 years for the river to get back to something like its 'pre flood work' condition.
A clean-up to remove debris left in the river by EA contractors during work is still not finished despite being part of the settlement agreement reached with Fish Legal. The workers left what the club described as a "building site" in the river.
RAC leases fishing on the Skell mainly for trout and grayling but also some coarse fishing. It is a wild fishery operating a catch and release policy.
Wild salmon returned to the Skell in 2009 and were seen spawning and leaping the Alma Weir, close to the Water Rat pub in Ripon. The weir and its weir pool have both disappeared as a result of the scheme. Key bank side habitat was also lost.
RAC is pleased that Fish Legal has settled the claim for a little over £8,500 plus clean-up work, plus costs in an amount to be determined.
Roger Trees, Ripon Angling Club Secretary, said: "I have fished the Skell since the age of 5 and caught my first fish in the river. The works caused great disruption with no access to two lengths of river and silt and dirty water making fishing impossible downstream. The work took much longer than necessary and scant regard appeared to be paid to environmental impact. Part of the work appeared to have no flood alleviation purpose and was just landscaping! Without the help of Fish Legal, we would definitely have made no progress with our claim."
Cameron Hogg, Fish Legal solicitor, said: "This was a hugely intrusive scheme which took 2 years and 7 months from its scheduled start date to complete, rather than the 7 months which the EA said it would take. Some disruption was inevitable, but it should not have been nearly as bad as it was and the EA still has more work to do. Fish Legal is pleased to have secured compensation, but our member would rather have gone without the interference and delays. Other Fish Legal member clubs should note that if they experience similar problems, they should be entitled to statutory compensation. We can help them to make a claim which will hopefully make good at least some of the damage suffered."
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: "We hope that our legal action has taught the Environment Agency a lesson that they must consult angling clubs before work starts and that work must be carried out with greater care to avoid damage to the environment. The whole organisation is under a statutory duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries; in this case it has ignored, damaged and destroyed fisheries."