Welsh Environment Agency lists key environmental impacts

The Welsh National Assembly has received a report outlining key pressures on Wales' environment and ten things it should do to protect the country's environment.

A Working Environment for Wales comes from the Welsh Environment Agency and was written in order to provide the Assembly with as much information as possible prior to decisions being taken regarding the level of funding the Assembly will grant the Welsh EA.

Approximately 25% of the Welsh EA’s funding comes from government sources. The remainder of the Agency’s income comes from charges to clients, usually industry. In September, the Welsh National Assembly will take over from the UK central government in setting levels of government funding.

“Our view is that it’s important for the Assembly to have as much information as possible at an early stage,” says John Rowlands of the Welsh EA told edie.

In addition to providing an overall environmental assessment for Wales, the Welsh EA report lets the Assembly know how money is currently allocated. “We would like to retain current levels of funding, if not increase it, but we are realistic,” says Rowlands, who is keen to emphasise the Agency’s understanding of the other demands being placed on the Assembly.

With the Assembly duty bound to report annually on its sustainable development progress, the Welsh EA hopes that environmental aims will be regarded as compatible with economic and social goals.

A Working Environment for Wales identifies key areas of pressure. They are:

  • Energy use & climate change

    Fossil fuel is damaging Wales at the same time as wind and wave energy resources remain untapped.

  • Development

    Housing developments on floodplains risk increasing the incidence of flooding.

  • Transport

    The number of private and light goods vehicles have increased by 20% in Wales in the period 1986-1996. During the same period, distances driven have increased by 37%.

  • Mining

    In addition to scarring the landscape, discharges from abandoned coal and metal mines are a serious source of watercourse pollution.

  • Fisheries exploitation

    Fish populations must be maintained at sustainable levels.

  • Agriculture & Forestry

    Overgrazing by sheep is causing soil erosion. (The number of sheep in Wales has doubled in 25 years) and sheep dip pesticides threaten water quality. Slurry and silage pollution is a risk in west and north east Wales.

  • Discharges to water

    The greatest impact on Welsh water quality comes from sewage treatment works’ discharges, although there has been improvement since water privatisation in 1989. Urban water pollution is often caused by premature operation of storm water overflows on antiquated sewerage systems. These will be upgraded by 2010.

  • Emissions to air

    Road transport and industry, including power stations, represent the greatest impact on air quality.

  • Synthetic chemicals

    PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hyrocarbons emitted with the fossil fuel combustion, the use of tributyl tin as an antifouling paint on large marine vessels and farm pesticides are the synthetic chemicals causing most concern.

  • Radiation

    Authorised emissions from within Wales were within limits throughout 1997. Exposure also comes from further afield, including Sellafield in Cumbria and the continued effects of Chernobyl fall-out.

  • Waste

    Approximately 80% of Welsh household waste is suitable for recycling, but only 4% is currently recycled.

  • Illegal activities & accidents

    Fly-tipping, the illegal disposal of hazardous waste, chemical spills and fish poaching are the primary concerns.

Based on its identification of pressures on the Welsh environment, the Welsh EA has called for ten protective measures. They are:

  • Development of a sustainable energy strategy
  • Investment in an integrated transport system
  • Promotion of efficient use of Wales’ natural resources.
  • Development of a land conservation plan.
  • Adoption of good farming and forestry practice.
  • Adoption of a long-term view of the environment that works with natural systems.
  • Including the public in environmental consultation and education.
  • Improvement of environmental monitoring.
  • Creation of partnerships between organisations to target funds and share expertise.
  • Provision of firm regulation and enforcement of individual and corporate activities impacting on the environment.

The Welsh EA will be publishing its Annual Report and Corporate Plan in time for the National Assembly’s funding decision and the Welsh EA’s AGM in mid-September.

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