Gravel ban behind flood misery

Published: 20 Jan 2014 09:400 comments

FLOOD prevention is being sacrificed to accommodate salmon fishing, it has been claimed.

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According to Robert Balfour, Managing Director of Dawyck Estate, a build-up of gravel in the River Tweed has caused the worst flooding in the area since 1955.

But the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has banned the removal of gravel to protect fish, causing water levels to rise to dangerous levels, the local landowner claimed.

And he fears that the crushed rock which he says is being swept towards Peebles, will cause ‘huge’ floods in the town in years to come.

Now the local landowner is calling for a forum to be set up to discuss solutions to the problem.

Robert, who has lived in Dawyck for 40 years, told the Peeblesshire News: “In the 1950s people would take the gravel out of the river, but now that’s not allowed - to protect the salmon, I believe.

“But it is building up and it’s everywhere. Over the last four decades the river levels have gone up about two feet.

“The gravel is being washed down from the Upper Tweed towards Peebles and unless something is done, Peebles will have huge flood problems in 30 years or so.

“Salmon fishing is very important to the local economy, but it is not the only thing that matters - people’s houses are equally important.”

He continued: “Not enough is being done and I would like to see a discussion forum of people with different interests having their say, because at the moment everything is tilted towards salmon fishing.

“There are gravel banks at the edge of the river, and those can be removed without doing any harm to the fish as you could access them without touching the water.”

According to Robert, Dawyck is normally flooded once or twice a year - but he says between December 30 and January 5 there have been four floods, with the B217 road closed off each time.

He has contacted Tweeddale West Councillor Catriona Bhatia in the hope that something can be done to prevent this in future.

Councillor Bhatia said: “This is a difficult one. We have experts saying not to take the gravel out, with the River Tweed Commission not being keen on it.

“We’ll have to see what can be done and get some answers from flooding experts.

“It is important that we listen to what landowners are saying, as they have been farming the land for years and they see what’s going on day in, day out.

“For example, people living near Broughton have licences to remove gravel from the river.”

But SEPA have argued that such measures don’t always work - and can actually increase the risk of flooding further along the river.

A spokesperson said: “The dredging or removal of gravel banks is not always an effective measure for reducing flood water levels in watercourses.

“In addition to the risk that removal of gravel banks can have on the local ecology, dredging that reduces the flood risk in one location has the potential to allow water to move downstream faster, resulting in a possible increased risk of flooding elsewhere.

“While SEPA have prohibited the removal of gravel banks in watercourses at certain times of the year, this is usually with a view to the protection of certain species, such as natural freshwater fish, particularly during times of spawning and emergence of juvenile fish.

“Having said that, we would consider every application on a case by case basis and dependent on the flood risk to local residents and property, can approve emergency river engineering works if required.

“At the very least SEPA aims to work with communities and the local authority to identify the best solution to alleviate any potential impact from flooding in their area.”

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