A water quality citizen science project looking at the effects of nutrient pollution from land run-off on the marine environment has won a national award.  SWEPT (Surveying the Waterway Environment for Pollution Threats) has seen over 100 volunteers conducting repeat surveys of stretches of the shore within the Milford Haven Waterway, from tidal limits at Haverfordwest and Canaston Bridge all the way down to Dale, and testing water samples for levels of nitrates and phosphates.

The Park Protector Award, run by Campaign for National Parks, the charity for England and Wales’ 13 National Parks, celebrates and supports projects that make a difference to protecting some of the most famous countryside in the world.  Six projects from across the UK were shortlisted for the Park Protector Award in a year that saw the most applicants apply in the competition history, and also the year of the National Parks’ 70th anniversary.  SWEPT was the only project from Wales to be shortlisted and highlights the connection between what we do on the land and the state of our coastal waters.

SWEPT volunteers at the project feedback event.

 

Project coordinator, Sue Burton, Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation Officer, and Anne Bunker and Simon Shorten from Natural Resources Wales received the award (a grant of £2000 sponsored by the Ramblers Holiday’s Charitable Trust) at a parliamentary reception on July 10th at the House of Commons.  Sue commented “I’m delighted with SWEPT’s success. My thanks go in particular to the incredible project volunteers who have produced a detailed picture of nitrate pollution that will help to target land management improvements. The quality and amount of data generated has far exceeded our expectations.”  During the four months of surveying, 2105 photos and close to 900 nitrate and phosphate tests were taken by volunteers.  In addition, four canoe trips collected data from hard to reach areas and university students have been involved in data collection and analysis.  The data will supplement that already gathered by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and will help NRW to prioritise land conservation actions and lead to environmental improvements.

Anne Bunker Senior Marine Advisor for Natural Resources Wales said:

“I am delighted that the work with the SWEPT project has been recognised. Solving issues that affect the marine environment can be challenging, and it’s been a privilege to work with our partners and fund this project.

The Milford Haven waterway is a rich and important habitat and protecting Wales’ waterways and the wildlife that relies on them is one of the most important jobs that we do. The high levels of nutrients that can be found in marine environment have an adverse effect on sensitive habitats like seagrass and maerl that are found in  the Milford Haven Waterway

Projects like these demonstrate how much people care about their local environment, and I’d like to say a huge thanks to the incredible volunteers that have dedicated their time so far and made this possible.”

SWEPT volunteer testing freshwater inputs to the Milford Haven waterway for levels of nitrate and phosphate.

 

In addition to the water quality results, volunteers also collected information on marine litter, non-natives and any other pollution threats such as oil or fly tipping.  All immediate pollution concerns logged during the fieldwork were followed up and resolved by NRW.  A Big River Clean-up, led by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Ranger Dan Wynn, continues to remove marine litter from ‘hot spots’ highlighted by survey volunteers.

Marine features of the Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) (which extends around the Pembrokeshire coast and includes the Milford Haven waterway to tidal limits) are in unfavourable condition due in part to nutrient pollution from agricultural run-off carrying fertilizers and sewage.  The waterway has also failed to meet ‘Good’ status which is required for Water Framework Directive compliance by 2027.

Evidence of high nutrient levels in the marine environment (green algal mats)

 

The data gathered by SWEPT will be presented in a full project report in the autumn, along with transferable methodologies and guidance in order to easily replicate SWEPT in other areas.  SWEPT has proved popular with participants and undoubtedly raised awareness of the issue of land run-off affecting the marine environment.  Sue added that “including local people in local environmental issues aids awareness and understanding of human impacts and this provides real impetus for environmental protection. We should all be more aware of our close connection to the sea and take actions to look after it and its wildlife, whether that is being careful of how we dispose of our waste, mindful of what we flush down drains, or how we use the sea and interact with wildlife.   ”

SWEPT is being led by the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC Officer and co-delivered with the West Wales Rivers Trust, Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum and the Darwin Centre.  Funding for the project comes from NRW.