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An Eye on our Environment A challenging year

Guest author
Lee Rawlinson

The Environment Agency's Area Director for Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire.

Friday 4th January 2019 @ 15:46
Comment Community News Tameside

Lee Rawlinson, Area Director for the Environment Agency’s Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire region, reviews the environmental scene over the last 12 months…

Reflecting on how our environment across Greater Manchester has fared over the last 12 months, it is clear 2018 has been a challenging year for our environment.

Complete with a seemingly unending summer, which parched our rivers and reservoirs, and a record number of fires, both waste and as a result of dry weather, it’s safe to say that the year has not been without obstacle.

In fact, over the course of 2018 in Greater Manchester alone, we responded to nine reports of waste fires and 6,014 incidents overall! These included reports of pollution in our watercourses, fish kills, issues with odour and instances of illegal waste.

From an environmental perspective, many of these 2018 events are alarming. But, I’ve taken away some hopeful and inspiring things from the year as well.

Back in March, I was proud to be part of something pretty incredible, which affects the whole of the region. I am of course referring back to our Green Summit, or to put it another way, Greater Manchester’s ambition to become one of the greenest areas in the UK and Europe by 2040.

At our Green Summit, we took a big step closer to making that ambition a reality. I joined hundreds of people who are dedicated to turning Greater Manchester green, and some monumental pledges were made. Perhaps the most important was the commitment to be plastic free by 2020.

STOCKING UP: Replenishing rivers and watercourses.

This year we all discovered the dangers plastic, the essentially modern material designed to make all of our lives easier, is having on our planet. More than 40 percent of it is only used once and as a result, it is killing our oceans, rivers and watercourses.

When it comes to the issue of plastics, we can all make an impact against it by simply making small changes in our day-to-day lives. Together, we are where change takes root and as consumers, we can demand sustainable environmental policies. To put it simply, if we don’t buy those single use, damaging, plastics, businesses will stop making them and our planet can start to survive and thrive.

Speaking of thriving, over the last few weeks, our fisheries team have been filling some stockings of a different sort as they commenced their annual Christmas restocking programme. The team has been hard at work delivering fish to rivers, ponds and lakes across Greater Manchester including waters around The River Irwell.

In the first four weeks of the main stocking season (November 14 to December 14) 5,000 Dace, 2,500 Chub and 500 Barbel were released into the River Irwell to enhance and restore fish populations within the catchment.

These fish play an important role in the work of the Environment Agency and restocking is vital to restore and improve sustainable populations.

It isn’t just a task for the festive season though, it is a year round responsibility as the fisheries team will tell you. This was evident over the summer when the team also introduced 3,000 Grayling into The River Irwell at two sites with 1,500 released into Irwell Vale and 1,500 introduced at Stubbins in Bury.

Of course, no end of year round-up would be complete without a nod to a subject that has plagued the residents of Tameside for far too long; Gartside Farm.

CLEAN UP: Waste removal at Gartside Farm.

A few months ago I used this column to share the fantastic news that waste on Gartside Farm in Droylsden had started to be removed after a long fight to do so. Now, just a few weeks later, and I am delighted to say that the waste has gone!

Those of you who appreciate statistics may be interested to know that in excess of 500 tonnes of waste (at considerable cost to the landowner) was removed from Gartside Farm by December.

This victory is worth noting on its own, but when combined with the consistent efforts of our Enforcement Team on the ground and the unswerving voices of residents, it clearly demonstrates the power of a community-wide movement developing to stand up against waste crime, which in itself is one of our biggest environmental injustices.

But, with every success comes another challenge and we still have plenty of work to do.

Right now, we have at least 26 illegal waste sites across Greater Manchester and if our work at Gartside sends any message to those running them, I hope it clearly is this one: we, as the Environment Agency, will not give up on our fight against waste crime.

We will continue to up the ante and pursue all avenues until those who believe they can damage our Environment are held to account for their actions.

Challenge is very often a key word in these columns as those of you who regularly read them will know.

For the Environment Agency and indeed for my teams across the whole of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, threats to our Environment are a part of our day-to-day life.

Even now, as I write this column, my Operations team in Greater Manchester are preparing to face their biggest challenge as they do all that they can to protect our communities from the risk of the yearly wet winter weather and the potential floods that come with it.

I have said many times that, either in a fire or flood scenario, there is no break from being prepared but there are always the victories such as the ones I have shared with you today.

Those success stories are what shine a light on our path ahead and I have to say, right now it looks bright.

A very Happy New Year to you all.