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Water Quality

BLUE Print  |  Evidence & Maps  |  Law & Compliance  | Plans 

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BLUE Print is an ambitious plan designed by the Steering Group of Avon River Champions.  It brings together researchers, landowners & farmers, households, local government and businesses to deliberate their joint responsibilities for the state of our waterbodies, loss of wildlife habitat and how they could work together to make them safe for future generations.  


Our BLUE Print has been submitted to the Water Restoration Fund for funding consideration.  The programme will include work in the River Avon, River Gara & Slapton Ley and the Salcombe Kingsbridge Estuary.  

It is evidence-based, inclusive and embodies spirit of community collaboration between all sectors to achieve clean rivers and thriving wildlife 

Find out more here.
 

Evidence & Maps 

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The EA classifies the Ecological status of Rivers by monitoring aquatic lifeforms and chemical pollution in our rivers on a six-year cycle - not all parameters are measured every year. The data is used to classify water bodies within a river system, as Excellent, Good, Moderate or Poor. The Government moved our legally binding target (before Brexit) for all rivers to achieve Good Ecological status, from 2027 to 2063. Avon River Champions wants a more ambitious target of 2030 to be restored. (see Devon River Manifesto) The EA has ‘low confidence’ in the target that 37 of our water bodies in South Hams will reach Good Ecological Status by 2027. The Devon South Management Catchment summary covers 66 water bodies in South Hams. indicates that Agriculture is responsible for 52 ‘Reasons for Not Achieving Good’ (RNAG) whilst SWW is responsible for 26 RNAG (EA) . Whilst the volume of pollution is not reflected in these figures, it remains clear that agricultural pollution is of serious concern.

The Rivers Trust provides explanations and caveats to the EA data on Combined Sewer Overspills (from Event Duration Monitors), warning that the data is collected and presented in a way that may not accurately reflect the extent of the problem. They cite 'poorly placed' equipment and unmonitored 'emergency overspills' as areas where full recording needs to be achiveved. The flow (volume of spill) from each CSO is not yet required to be recorded or published. The Sewage Map can be displayed with different Layers (see menu button top right of map) - this allows viewers to see satellite views of surrounding fields, roads and urban developments.

In 2023, water companies completed the installation of spill monitors at every storm overflow in England. However, not all storm overflows had monitors installed and working in 2021 and 2022. This means it is difficult to make direct comparisons over time. (More information on long-term trends - follow the link for EDM in header) This data is the source for the Rivers Trust Sewage Map.

Surfers Against Sewage offer a free App providing real time sewage alerts to water users on a map.  This map tracks real-time sewage discharge and pollution risks around the UK using data from water companies and the Environment Agency.

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Water quality at designated bathing water sites in England is assessed by the Environment Agency. From May to September, weekly assessments measure current water quality, and at a number of sites daily pollution risk forecasts are issued. Annual ratings classify each site as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements taken over a period of up to four years.

With the exception of Mothecombe Beach (Good) all our Designated Bathing Water Sites are of Excellent status.  Water quality at Designated Bathing Water sites in England is assessed by the Environment Agency.  From May to September, weekly assessments measure current water quality, and at a number of sites daily pollution risk forecasts are issued. Annual ratings classify each site as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements taken over a period of up to four years.  Surfers Against Sewage are critical of the Environment Agency designation of water quality at Designated Bathing Water Sites.  They claim that the sampling protocol (when, what and how many samples) is inadequate.  Surfers Against Sewage proclain that “The headlines across the four nations this year are that there have been little to any improvements in water quality and in a lot of cases a drop in the number of designations in the Excellent category, and in England especially an increase in those categorised as Poor. The number of bathing waters designated as Poor in England has increased from 12 to 18, which is absolutely unacceptable. What is more, under law, those which are classified as poor have to have an action plan for improving water quality, but still several, especially those on our already sparsely monitored and designated rivers, have now been classified as poor for up to three years.

The Waterfit Live interactive map allows you to see if any of SWW storm overflows have been operating at your local beach to an extent that they may have temporarily affected bathing water.

Registered Citizen Science Investigators contribute to local data which is accessible to those working in the catchment. Viewers can click on the dots to read the observations recorded by other CSI volunteers. Annually the data is analysed by WRT and a Score Card is created for each catchment based on water quality and biodiversity.

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Environment Agency
Sampling Points

An interactive map details the EA sampling points taken for a range of reasons (agriculture, pollution/investigations, sewage discharges water company, sewerage system discharges, sewage, sewage and trade combined, trade etc).

The Water Quality Archive (2000 to present) provides data on water quality measurements at sampling points around England (coastal or estuarine waters, rivers, lakes, ponds, canals or groundwaters). They are taken to check for compliance against discharge permits, investigation of pollution incidents or environmental monitoring. To find data relating to your catchment you will

Local Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest can be located on an online map. The environmental condition of these sites are measured by Natural England. The designations range from ‘destroyed’ to ‘favourable’.

Location of sewage works that are owned and operated by South West Water. The data is divided into 2 layers, that can be toggled on and off. Larger Waste Water Treatment Works (WwTW) and Smaller Waste Water Treatment Works (Small WwTW). You can select the check boxes to choose between layers showing Small, Medium and Large Sewage Treatment Works: Small Size - E.g. Population served under 2000 Full Sized - E.g. Population served greater than 2000 Note: If you click on each marker, you will be able to view asset ID, which is handy for looking things up. Like CSO performance.

Laws & Compliance 

Law and Complience
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The Water Framework Directive (WFD) focuses on ensuring good qualitative and quantitative health, i.e. on reducing and removing pollution and on ensuring that there is enough water to support wildlife at the same time as human needs.

The Habitats Regulations form the foundation of the UK’s nature conservation laws and the UK’s compliance with international environmental treaties. According to Wildlife & Countryside Link coalition, the Habitats Regulations are effective and fit-for-purpose regulations, and any revocation or significant reform would weaken nature protections risks significant costs and delays to the UK’s environmental obligations, commitments and reputation, nature and people, and those interacting with the current regime. They say that the Government should retain and strengthen these regulations, building on the strong foundations offered by these most important of site and species protection rules.

To protect our waterways and the health of swimmers, the Environment Agency monitors the water quality at more than 400 designated beaches and inland waters across England. The sampling programme is set out in law in the Bathing Water Regulations. During the bathing water season, our officers take around 7000 samples across designated bathing water sites and these samples are then tested in the lab. The results can be found on our Swimfo website, enabling swimmers to make an informed choice.

Water Quality standards have been set for Bathing Waters based on World Health Organisation research into the incidence of stomach upsets in people bathing in waters with different levels of bacteria. Water is tested for two types of bacteria, E. coli and intestinal enterococci. These bacteria usually get into water from sewage and animal manure. Tests are carried out regularly, usually weekly, by government environmental agencies between 15 May and 30 September in England and Wales, and 1 June and 15 September in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Bathing Waters are categorised as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’ on the basis of bacteria levels. Sites are rated annually, and on a short term basis in response to temporary pollution. By law, the local council must display information, online and on signs at Bathing Waters, about water quality and pollution sources during the bathing season. If there is a temporary pollution incident they must explain the nature of the problem and how long it’s likely to last. If a Bathing Water is classified as ‘poor’, an ‘advice against bathing’ symbol must be put up on site and online, along with information about pollution sources and what action is being taken to clean it up. This doesn’t mean you can’t swim – the sites remain open – but there might be an increased risk of getting ill.

Laws & Compliance South West Water

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SWW was one of two poorest performing companies at the start of the 2020-25 period. There is a live enforcement case against SWW (Ofwat & Environment Agency) for potential failures at sewage treatment works that may have led to sewage discharges into the environment. In 2022, South West Water reduced the number of pollution incidents by 28% but it failed to meet its own commitment level of 23 pollutionincidents per 10,000 km of sewer. The reported incidents were almost three times higher (61.93).

The SWW Environmetal Performance rating affects the 2024 price review (PR24) which will set price controls for water and sewerage companies for 2025 to 2030. SWW business plan for 2025 to 2030 sets out how much they intend to spend providing their services over the five-year period, and the amount of revenue that they feel they should be permitted to earn as a result from customers from water and wastewater bills. Ofwat will publish its draft decisions on draft decisions on 11 July 2024. Consultation ends 28 Aug. Ofwat will hold two ‘Your water, your say’ meetings on 23 and 24 July to discuss and answer questions about Ofwat draft determinations.

Ofwat are holding a virtual meeting for English customers (Tues 23 July 2024, 2-4pm) to question the Price Review decision for SWW and the service companies provide, the impact on the environment, what will happen to water bills or any other topic that is important to customers. The meeting will have an independent chair to make sure they run smoothly and that there is time to get through as many key questions as possible in the available time. To attend this meeting, you must complete the registration form. Find the form on the link in the header.

South West water has published its Waste Water and Drainage Plans for the Kingsbridge - South Devon Area (May 2023). This covers their targets for the next 25 years. The Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) is the programme of work where water companies work collaboratively with Environmental regulators and other stakeholders to investigate, identify and agree investment needs to deliver specific environmental improvements. Water companies in England then undertake to deliver this to meet their obligations from environmental legislation and UK government policy. See Fig 11 in the above link (in header) for the WINEP investigation and implementation schemes for the Kingsbridge-South Devon catchment. There are currently 16 investigations planned in this catchment, as shown in Table 17 of the same report.

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SWW Discharge 
Permits

Ofwat and the EA are currenty investigating all water companies, including SWW, to determine if they are operating illegally and not in complaince with their Discharge Permits. This is a serious issue which could result in criminal proceedings. This evidence has come to light recently because all water comoanies are now having to provide full reports on the hours of Combined Sewer Overspills with Event Duration Monitors. The Discharge Permits are based on the populations that need to be served by the sewage treatement and waste water treatment works. It takes into account the local rainfall levels and allows storm waters to be stored in a 'storm Tank". The Discharge Permit will normally allow the extra flows to be diverted to storm tanks (where the works has them), until the storm passes. The contents of these storm tanks can then be returned to be treated by the works. If the storm is prolonged or sustained, then the environmental permit will allow the water company to release the extra incoming rainwater and diluted wastewater into the environment, normally after partial treatment by settlement by storm tanks or through storm overflows into a river or sea. New information that some water companies have shared with the Environment Agency suggests that water companies may not have been treating the amount of wastewater they should do before diverting it to storm tanks and/or discharging it to the environment. If this is the case they will have broken the conditions of their environmental permits.

Serious pollution incidents (category 1 & 2) are monitored by Environment Agency. The criteria are defined in the section 'Impact on ecology (water)'. The level of pollution and the number of events recorded - translate into fines for water companies. It is argued by campaigners that the EA mandate for prosecution is weak and that these fines are not high enough and are simply absorbed as 'business expenses'. If the EA is no longer able to take samples of water quality at treatment works in monthly, unannounced visits, and have to sign into the treatment works before taking samples - this is a significant watering down of previous sampling proceedures. In 2022 the EA recommened that the Courts should impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents – although the amount a company can be fined for environmental crimes is unlimited, the fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a Chief Executive’s salary. Prison sentences for Chief Executives and Board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents Company directors struck off so they cannot simply move on in their careers after illegal environmental damage A Defra spokesperson said: This report shows that water companies are ignoring their legal responsibilities. Water company chiefs cannot continue to make huge profits whilst polluting our waters.

WINEP provides information to water companies on the actions they need to take to meet the environmental legislative requirements that apply to water companies in England. The ‘what’ of environmental water policy that needs to be delivered through the WINEP is determined by the UK government outside of the WINEP process. It is identified through UK legislation, and includes meeting the legally binding targets around water quality, quantity, and biodiversity set out in the Environment Act 2021.

The water industry strategic environmental requirements (WISER) sets out: issues and opportunities water companies should consider in meeting their environmental obligations how water companies should step up their level of ambition WISER describes the statutory and non-statutory expectations of water companies for price review 2024 (PR24) and expected practice. These are organised around the 3 objectives the Environment Agency and Natural England expect water companies to achieve: a thriving natural environment resilience for the environment and customers expected performance and compliance WISER, which should be read in conjunction with the WISER technical document, sets out the expected approaches water companies should follow during PR24 and beyond. The WISER technical document gives more detail on: best practice, providing an overview of emerging good practice water companies should consider in their business plans the expectations set out in the WISER the relevant legislation and duties

Laws & Compliance Agriculture

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Statuatory Code of Practice for farmers on fertiliser and slurry management to protect water bodies from pollution. Written by technical specialists from Defra and Natural England, produced in association with the Environment Agency. In the event of a pollution incidence, failure to meet the Code of Practice will be used as evidence in a prosecution.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are areas designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution. They account for approximately 55% of agricultural land in England. Defra undertakes a review of the designated NVZ areas every 4 years to account for changes in water quality. You have a legal requirement to follow the NVZ rules. If farmers are claiming under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) or certain Pillar II Schemes such as Environmental or Countryside Stewardship, failure to comply with the rules could result in a reduction in Basic Payment Scheme(BPS) payments.

Farmers must take steps to prevent manure, fertiliser and soil getting into watercourses – known as diffuse water pollution (pollution). These rules apply to farming or horticultural practices, such as: using and storing organic manure (manure) or manufactured fertiliser (fertiliser) planting and harvesting soil management – for example, ploughing or planting cover crops managing livestock on land. The Rules are very detailed about the management of livestock near watercources - for example... Farmers musy prevent livestock compacting soil by trampling it (poaching) within 5m of an inland freshwater or coastal water. Farmers must not place livestock feeders: within 10m from inland freshwaters or coastal waters within 50m of a spring, well or borehole where risk factors mean there’s a significant risk of pollution Farmers must take reasonable precautions to prevent pollution from managing livestock. Examples include: moving livestock to prevent poaching and bankside erosion; putting up fences to keep animals away from watercourseswintering livestock on well-drained, level fields. The Environment Agency is responsible for enforcing these rules. It will do this through its farm inspections work. This may include checking: the farms is meeting the distance restrictions in the rules for soil erosion affecting a single area of more than 1 hectare for poaching on a stretch of land (at least 2m wide and 20m long) next to an inland freshwater or coastal water for signs of fertiliser use in restricted areas – including excessive growth of vegetation on the margins of restricted areas fertiliser records, including records you keep on calibrating fertiliser equipment soil test results for evidence of pollution or if there’s a significant risk it could happen the types of crops being planted. How enforcement will work If the Environment Agency finds farmers breach the rules, it will help farmers by: identifying the changes farmrs need to make agreeing a timescale to make changes To check farmers have made changes, the Environment Agency may: give farmers a follow-up visit ask for evidence, such as photographic evidence of a change If there’s already pollution or a high risk of pollution, the Environment Agency may take enforcement action. This may include prosecution. This guide relates to The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018 which came into force on 2 April 2018.

The farming rules for water were introduced to reduce and prevent diffuse water pollution from agricultural sources. It covers applying and storing fertilisers and the management of soil and livestock. The Environment Agency enforces the farming rules for water in accordance with its published enforcement and sanctions policy and guidance. This guidance does not amend the regulations and its impact is limited to matters that are covered below. It tells the Environment Agency about criteria that they should consider when they assess if they should take enforcement action under the regulations. If the Environment Agency determines that land managers have followed this guidance then the Secretary of State does not normally expect them to take enforcement action. Enforcement of individual cases remains a matter for the Environment Agency to determine based on the case’s particular circumstances

Laws & Compliance Local Authorities

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Local government is obliged to consider the impact of new developments on water quality during the Planning process. DEV2.3 ensures development will not result in unacceptable harm to the water environment through the deterioration of water quality, and will look to improve water quality. This is required in line with the objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) (33), and to meet requirements under The Habitat Regulations (2017). 3.39 The WFD sets out objectives to ensure the protection and improvement of the water environment, this includes achieving “good status” of all water bodies and groundwater bodies by set deadlines. Relevant information on water bodies is available via the Environment 32 http://www.scail.ceh.ac.uk/ 33 https://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-framework/ 24 Agency’s Catchment Data Explorer(34), whilst the River Basin Management Plan (35) sets out objectives for how water quality will be improved. It is expected that all developments will comply with the aforementioned documents. 3.40 All developments should consider potential impacts, direct, indirect or cumulative, to water quality during construction or operation. Any forthcoming applications that are likely to impact the water environment should clearly show how the development may affect relevant water bodies and how any negative impacts are to be mitigated, if these cannot first be avoided. Wherever possible applicants should explore opportunities to improve and/or restore water quality. The environmental sensitivity of the site should also be considered as set out at 7 'Natural environment (DEV23-DEV28)'. 3.41 All construction activities should follow Pollution Prevention Guidance 6 (PPG 6)(36) and all relevant current Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) guidance. Evidence will be required to show that impacts have been considered in relation to the environmental sensitivity of the site. The initial assessment should be proportional to the scale of the development, any significant impacts will be required to be addressed through a Water Framework Directive Assessment. (37) . 3.42 Further information can be found using the Governments guidance on Water supply, wastewater and water quality. (38) . 3.43 Further information about how to limit impacts to water quality through managing flood risk can be found at 9 'Climate change, flooding, and coastal change (DEV32-DEV36)' and 'Managing flood risk and water quality impacts (DEV35)'. 3.44 Development may not be supported if there is likely to be interruption to the quantity or quality of water available to off-site supplies. Evidence may be required if a development is identified as having an unacceptable impact on private water supplies in the vicinity of the proposed development.

The House of Lords blocked an amendment to the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill (now an Act) that the Conservative Government attempted to fast track through Pariliament that would allow developers to pollute waters draining into designated nature areas. Nutrient neutrality requires that new housing developments in certain areas (important for wildlife) should not add more ‘nutrient pollution’ to the water catchment. It applies only to new housing developments in areas with protected habitats sites that are already in ‘unfavourable condition’ (due to nutrient pollution). Shameful amendment which shocked environmental organisations.

Places a legal duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works. Key points to note are: a nutrient pollution standard of 0.25mg/l for phosphorus and 10mg/l for nitrogen an upgrade date of 1 April 2030 a requirement for the SoS to maintain and publish details of sensitive catchment areas and nitrogen/phosphorus significant wastewater treatment plants enforcement provisions for the SoS and a requirement for the EA to exercise its functions under the Environmental Damage Regulations (2015) The Government’s initial estimates indicate that, across all affected catchments, there will be around a 75% reduction in phosphorus loads and around a 55% reduction in nitrogen loads in total from wastewater treatment works, although this will vary between individual catchments. These upgrades will enable housebuilding to be unlocked by reducing the amount of mitigation developers must provide to offset nutrient pollution.

The Secretary of State commissioned Sam Richards, to undertake an independent review of statutory consultees within the planning system, with the recommendations from this to be published in March 2024. Water companies must continue to engage local planning authorities on their applications at the right time so they can input effectively and not slow down the application process. Whilst particular organisations or bodies might not be statutory consultees on planning applications, they can work proactively with local councils to identify developments where they might have an interest and can comment on proposals within the statutory public consultation period. The decision to grant or refuse a planning application ultimately rests with the local planning authority, who will take into account all relevant planning considerations and not just the advice from one consultee. Planning practice guidance encourages early engagement between local planning authorities and water/sewerage companies where water quality is likely to be a significant planning concern. Part 8 of the Development Management Procedure Order 2015 - “Miscellaneous – Local Development Orders” states that where a local planning authority has prepared a draft Local Development Order in which the interests of water/sewerage companies are likely to be affected, the authority must consult those companies. Consultation with water/sewerage companies also ensures that the companies’ investment plans align with local development needs. Water/sewerage companies should also be consulted on Local Plans in order to manage water demand locally and help deliver new development.

Plans

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South West water has published its Waste Water and Drainage Plans for the Kingsbridge - South Devon Area (May 2023). This covers their targets for the next 25 years. The Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) is the programme of work where water companies work collaboratively with Environmental regulators and other stakeholders to investigate, identify and agree investment needs to deliver specific environmental improvements. Water companies in England then undertake to deliver this to meet their obligations from environmental legislation and UK government policy. See Fig 11 in the above link (in header) for the WINEP investigation and implementation schemes for the Kingsbridge-South Devon catchment. There are currently 16 investigations planned in this catchment, as shown in Table 17 of the same report.

In 2015, the South Devon Catchment Partnership stakeholders and technical specialists came together to undertake a review of all the natural assets we have in South Devon, the benefits they provide us with, and the opportunities to improve or maximise these benefits. See the maps and plan in the link above. We have a project pipeline spreadsheet which is reviewed and updated at meetings. Some of these projects are being developed for a specific funding stream, while others are being recorded and developed to be ‘shovel-ready’ for an appropriate funding opportunity. These meetings are open to all partners with a project they would like to develop in the South Devon area.

The Devon Nature Recovery Network Map is a strategic tool to help us achieve a Nature Recovery Network of wildlife rich habitats across Devon. The map will help to ensure that everyone is aware of existing wildlife habitats, networks and priorities across the county. Uses include: Informing Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans and Planning applications Targeting funding e.g. Biodiversity Net Gain, ELM (environmental land management payments) and funding for habitat creation linked to benefits such as carbon sequestration, flood control, water quality improvements and recreation/tourism (known as Payments for Ecosystem Services). Targeting conservation effort.

The South Devon National Landscape's Nature Recovery Plan offers guidelines on an interactive map of where low grade agricultural land could provide an opportunity for higher nature value. The map also extends beyond the AONB.

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Plan for Water aims tol transform the management of the water system, deliver cleaner water for nature and people, and secure a plentiful water supply. The actions are for government and regulators to lead on, but everyone needs to be involved to deliver this, including: water companies businesses, regulators and the public. The Plan for Water sets out measures to transform and integrate our water system, address sources of pollution and boost our water supplies through more investment, tighter regulation, and more effective enforcement.

Plan is a practical document for the implementation of work programmes to meet key NNR objectives. 1. Maintain and enhance the important habitats and species of the site to good condition whilst recognising climate change is likely to influence the status of some of these habitats. 2. Demonstrate practical conservation management for educational purposes. 3. Provide high-quality field sites for education and research in a safe and secure setting. 4. Maintain and enhance public enjoyment of the site through good public access and visitor experience. 5. Conserve the distinctive landscape character and spirit of place the site has. 6. Place Slapton Ley NNR within the wider landscape setting and seek opportunities to influence environmental opportunities outside the reserve so that its intrinsic interest is not isolated and fragmented features. 7. Provide relevant information to help inform the management plan.

Highlights the special qualities and significance of the Estuaries. Presents a vision for the future of the Estuaries. Sets out objectives and policies to secure the vision. Identifies what needs to be done, by whom, and when. States how the condition of the Estuaries and the effectiveness of its management will be monitored. Provides a framework and process for the resolution of differences and conflicts. Reflects the views and aspirations of a wide range of Estuarine ‘stakeholders’. Co-ordinates the work of different partner organisations.

Targets a 5.5% per year increase in biodiversity in the South Hams with a 20% increase in 4 years. Form a Climate & Biodiversity Experts’ Advisory Panel. Implement Project Assessment tool to consider environmental and social impacts. Continue to fund Sustainable South Hams. Launch a thermal imaging camera lending scheme. Hold a Climate & Biodiversity Assembly. Promote the action taken across the South Hams to tackle the climate emergency – tell the story. Carry out feasibility studies on viable council car parks for solar canopies. Increase tree planting in urban areas, extend and improve our woodland and protect wildlife habitats. Set up a Councillor Environmental Fund to support community action. Work with a community energy group to increase availability of community owned energy within the District. Deliver schemes to reduce the impact of our ferry and harbour operations

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