Call for investment to tackle toxic algae in the Broads

[UK] It is a problem which has long plagued the Broads. But, as Rosa McMahon reports, there are fears that a failure to tackle toxic algae could have a devastating impact on the waterways and the local economy.

“Not a thing has been spent since the outbreak earlier this year and we are just being left to see what happens.

“It’s criminal in a conservation area like the Broads. We are just letting the place die through lack of investment, and it will have a 
devastating effect.”

The Environment Agency says it has worked with the Internal Drainage Board and Natural England to assess potential areas for fish refuges and are working with John Innes scientists. The Broads Authority says it has monitored dredging conditions.

The deadly algae affects still water and brackish systems, such as the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, but because it is not visible, the first anglers know about the bloom is once the fish are dead or in distress.

Prymnesium
Prymnesium

It is most common in the Upper Thurne system, at Potter Heigham, Hickling, Horsey Mere and 
Martham.

In April, hundreds of thousands of fish at risk of being suffocated were rescued in seine nets from Hickling and Martham Broads and moved to nearby Herbert Woods boatyard in Potter Heigham. Although the cause of the problem is not fully understood, the warm weather and salinity could be playing a part.

Mr Currie, 55, said the Environment Agency needs to invest in research and find fresh water refuges for the rescued fish.

He said the area needs to be ready or risk losing some of the one million anglers visiting the Broads every year and the £100m they contribute to the economy.

“It could happen tonight, it could really happen at any time, so it is a great worry that no money has been spent on it,” he said.

“We don’t know what is next. From the last bloom we still don’t know how many we lost, and losing more could have a huge impact on the 
bed and breakfasts, pubs, holiday chalets.

“The fishing numbers will drop. We need resolution and action. Everything has been a talking shop and nothing has been done.”

Hickling, on the Upper Thurne, can be influenced by Prymnesium. Picture: James Bass
Hickling, on the Upper Thurne, can be influenced by Prymnesium. Picture: James Bass

What has been done?

Anglers have been aware of the danger of Prymnesium since a large-scale outbreak in 1969 devastated fish stocks throughout the Thurne system.

But what do organisations say they have done to stop the problem?

The Environment Agency said: “We have carried out site visits with the Internal Drainage Board and Natural England to assess potential areas for fish refuges and how to better co-ordinate water quality monitoring. We are also working with John Innes on Prymnesium research to better understand likely triggers and factors that affect its growth.”

The Broads Authority said: “While we are not responsible for fisheries in the Broads, we have taken a variety of measures and worked closely with the Environment Agency to minimise the natural spread of Prymnesium. “These include carrying out our own testing and working with international scientists on further research, closely monitoring conditions prior to and during any dredging, minimising sediments during dredging by using silt curtains and mud pumping and only carrying it out over winter.”

 

Photo: A simple test to check for toxic algae is set to make huge improvements to fish health and ecosystems benefiting fish farming and angling throughout the world. Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich are developing a cost-effective and simple dip-test,giving environmental managers more regular opportunities to establish early indication of Prymnesium. PhD student Ben Wagstaff with a sample of water containing the toxic algae grown in the John Innes Centre lab. Picture: James Bass

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