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This section uses the available evidence to assess the environmental conditions, policies and outlook for the South West region and its parts, organised into broad thematic headings.
Bathing water
Over 98%, 492 of the 502 coastal and inland designated bathing waters in England and Wales met the mandatory (minimum) bathing water quality standards in 2011. 80% also met the more stringent UK Guideline Standards, which is twenty times more rigorous than the European Commission (EC) Guideline Standard and is the standard set by Keep Britain Tidy as the water quality criteria for a Blue Flag award. From 2012, the UK Guidelines will be our only standard to measure bathing water quality.

Bathing water in the South West continues to improve and remains slightly higher than the national average. In 2011, of 191 of the designated bathing waters in the South West, 99% met mandatory bathing water standards, twenty years ago this figure was just 75%. Combe Martin and Ilfracombe Capstone (both in Devon) were the only two beaches to fail these standards in 2011.

Over 84% of our bathing waters also met the UK Guideline standards which are twenty times more stringent than the mandatory standards, a record number for the region. 29 bathing waters failed to meet these higher standards:

  • Cornwall: Gorran Haven (Little Perhaver), Polkerris, Port Mellon, Porth, Porthluney and Seaton
  • Devon: Budleigh Salterton, Hele, Instow, Ladram Bay, Lynmouth, Mothecombe, Paignton (Preston Sands),Teignmouth Holcombe, Torre Abbey, Watcombe and Woolacombe Village End
  • Dorset: Kimmeridge Bay and Lyme Regis Cobb and Church
  • Somerset: Weston-Super-Mare Main, Uphill Slipway, Burnham Jetty and Minehead Terminus

2012 will be the beginning of a transition period as the revised Bathing Water Directive begins to supersede the current Directive with monitoring for E.coli and intestinal enterococci replacing that for faecal coliforms and faecal streptococci respectively.

Although these results are great news, there is still more work to be done. Over £3 million has been invested by our local water companies and the Environment Agency to upgrade our sewerage systems and reduce pollution. To make the further improvements needed to meet the stricter revised Bathing Water Standard by 2015, the Environment Agency is working with farmers to reduce the amount of pollution that is washed off farmland into rivers, streams and ultimately bathing waters. They are addressing pollution from roads, homes and businesses by working with local authorities and water companies to reduce pollution from misconnections that lead to waste water entering rivers.

A partnership between the Environment Agency, Torbay Council and South West Water has been working to improve five designated bathing waters along Torbay’s 22 mile coastline that were at risk of failing the new water quality standards. The partnership has been working with 100 properties, many of them residential, to identify and fix misconnected pipes that were discharging dirty water directly into local streams and which ultimately ended up on Torbay’s beaches. Today, 90% of the misconnections have been reconnected to the sewage system, stopping around 5,000 cubic metres of dirty water from entering Torbay’s streams.

Managing and improving the water environment

The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) gives us an opportunity to plan and deliver a better water environment. The legislation takes an approach to managing water called River Basin Management Planning, which focuses on ecology and takes into account the movement of water through the water cycle. Ecological Status includes measurements of biology, fish, plants and other water life. The biology of natural waters generally takes a while to respond, sometimes by several years, to environmental improvements. You can find out more on the Environment Agency’s website.

The South West has the most ambitious improvement targets in the country, which is to get 43% of our 1,100 waterbodies into good ecological status by 2015 (Environment Agency, 2012).

The latest WFD classification results are now available, based on monitoring data taken between 2008 to 2010. These results show no statistically significant change in the numbers of waterbodies achieving ‘Good Ecological Status’ from when the Final River Basin Plans were published in 2009. In the South West River Basin, 33% of waterbodies were assessed as achieving Good Ecological Status in 2009, which increased slightly to 34% in 2010.

The region is making good progress in completing the 1,400 status investigations identified in the final River Basin Plans. These investigations are vital to ensure that we take cost effective actions to improve quality. As of December 2011, almost 600 of these investigations are complete and a further 700 are now in progress. December 2012 is the completion deadline for all status investigations.

Briefing notes on each waterbody in the South West, including details of their current status and an option to help inform the Environment Agency of your work or thoughts, can be downloaded via SWENVO's Earth Chattering pages.

Waste management

The sustainable management of waste remains a significant challenge for our region. During 2010 regulated facilities in the South West managed over 11.6 million tonnes of waste, 8% of the waste managed in England and Wales.

Of this:
  • 3.9 million tonnes of waste were disposed of in landfill sites;
  • 6.5 million tonnes went to transfer and treatment facilities;
  • 1 million tonnes were handled by metal recycling sites;
  • 23 thousand tonnes were incinerated.

Overall the region has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill, by nearly 5% (204 thousand tonnes) in 2010. However, only 2 of the region’s counties (Devon and Dorset) reduced waste inputs to landfill in 2010. There are 42.6 million cubic metres of landfill capacity available in the South West. The region had nearly 6 years of landfill life for non hazardous wastes remaining at the end of 2010, based on 2010 input rates.

Permitted incineration facilities handled 23 thousand tonnes; 8 thousand tonnes less than 2009 and the lowest of all the English regions. However, the region has the lowest permitted capacity.

Wild bird populations
The latest trends in regional wild bird populations cover the period 1970 to 2010. Over this period, the population of all native birds in the South West, including farmland and woodland species, decreased by 3%. This differed to the England trend, which showed an overall 3% increase (Defra, 2010).

Between 1994 and 2008, the regional farmland bird indicator showed a decline of 12% in the South West, broadly inline with the England average of -11%. A decline of 10% or more (which is considered as a significant change) was experienced in four regions: the South West, the East of England, the East Midlands and the West Midlands.

The regional woodland bird indicator declined by 10% over this period, slightly higher than the England average of -6%. Increases of more than 10% were experienced in four regions: the North West, the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber and the East Midlands. Declines of 10% or more were found in the South West and the South East.

Further details are available via DEFRA.

Climate Change
Climate change is a cross cutting issue - the impacts of which will affect all sectors, organisations and communities. It presents both challenges and opportunities in relation to flooding, the quality of our air and soils, the availability and quality of water. It will also affect our landscapes, heritage, habitats and species.

We are already vulnerable to extreme weather in the South West and climate change will make this worse. Even if we were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases now, further climate change is inevitable and unavoidable. We need to plan for both current and future vulnerability.

Our climate is getting warmer. Provisional figures show that 2011 was the second warmest year on record, with an average temperature of 9.62°C. All the UK’s top seven warmest years happened in the last decade, with 2006 leading the list with 9.73°C (Met Office, 2011).

The UKCIP published projections of the likely UK climate for the rest of this century. These new forecasts, known as the UKCP09 Projections, are based on complex modelling of the global atmosphere and oceans.

The Government indicates that we are currently on the medium emissions path in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Based on the data from UKCP09, the data in Figure 7.1 provides an overview of the key findings for the South West of England for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s under the central estimate of the medium emissions scenarios.

Figure 7.1: South West Climate Change Projections for 2020, 2050 and 2080

  Amount of change from 1961 – 1990 (1) 
Potential change     In the 2020s  In the 2050s  In the 2080s 
Hotter summers Increase in summer mean temperature +1.6 o C (0.5 o C to 2.7 o C)  2.7 o C (1.3 o C to 4.6 o C)  3.1 o C (1.4 o C to 5.1 o C) 
Increase in mean daily maximum temperature 2.1 o C (0.5 o C to 4 o C)  3.8 o C (1.4 o C to 6.8 o C)  4.3 o C (1.7 o C to 7.6 o C) 
Increase in mean daily minimum temperature 1.6 o C (0.5 o C to 2.9 o C)  2.9 o C (1.2 o C to 5 o C)  3.3 o C (1.5 o C to 5.5 o C) 
Warmer winters Increase in mean temperature +1.3 o C (0.6 o C to 2 o 2.1 o C (1.1 o C to 3.2 o C)  2.3 o C (1.3 o C to 3.5 o C) 
Change in precipitation Change in annual mean precipitation 0% (-5% to 6%) 0% (-5% to 6%) 0% (-6% to 6%)
Wetter winters Change in winter mean precipitation 7% (-2% to 20%) 17% (4% to 38%) 18% (3% to 41%)
Drier summers Change in summer mean precipitation -8% (-27% to 14%) -20% (-42% to 7%) -20% (-45% to 8%)

Source: UKCP09

Projections of UK coastal absolute sea level rise (not including land movement) for 2095 are in the range from approximately 12–76 cm. A high sea level range has been defined to assess vulnerability to an extreme, low probability increase in sea level rise. For the UK this absolute sea level rise estimate is 93 cm to 1.9 m by 2100.

Figure 7.2: Vertical land movement in the South West region (approximately -0.5 mm per year)

Table Projected sea level rise in the south West 2040s and 2080s * 
   2040   2080 
Weston-super-Mare  18 cm 37 cm
Newlyn  20 cm 40 cm
Poole  18cm 37 cm

*Under a medium emissions scenario, central estimate (including land movement). Source:  UKCP09

Carbon dioxide emissions
In 2009, a total of 371,951 kt of end-user carbon dioxide (CO2) was emitted in England. Around 10%, or 36,029 kt, of this came from the South West.

Since 2005, when local authority level CO2 emissions became available, total emissions have reduced by 14% in England, a trend that was mirrored in the South West (Department for Energy and Climate Change, 2011). Since 2008, emissions have decreased in all local authorities in the region. Nationally, increases were only found in 4 out of the 406 local authority areas.

Overall in 2009, 35% of all enduser CO2 emissions assigned to local authority areas were attributed to the industry and commercial sector in the South West, compared to 43% nationally. A further 32% came from the domestic sectors, compared to 30% nationally, and 31% to road transport, higher than the English average of 27%. There are wide local variations on this mainly because of the economy and geography of different local areas.

All local authorities in the region experienced a decrease in emissions from the industry and commercial sector, domestic sector and road transport, with the exception in the latter of the Isles of Scilly which remained the same. Again, this broadly followed the national trend. Per capita end-user emissions in the region also continue to decline, from 8.3 tonnes per person in 2005 to 6.9 tonnes in 2009. This remains slightly below the English average of 7.2 tonnes. Whilst all local authority areas have seen year on year declines, there remains significant variations across the region, from the lowest in Weymouth (4.3 tonnes) to the highest in Tewkesbury (10.8 tonnes).

Full local authority data can be downloaded via DECC.

Climate change adaptation

From 1 October 2011, the Environment Agency has taken on a new role as the Government’s delivery body in England for climate change adaptation, helping organisations adapt to climate change. The programme will replace and build upon the previous agreement between Defra and UKCIP, and will be led by the Environment Agency in partnership with Climate UK until March 2015.

The programme will broadly consist of two parts:

  1. A web based UK wide climate information service
  2. Tailored support to key sectors in England, such as business, infrastructure, planning, health, forestry, farming and local government. Defra’s vision is that by 2015, these priority sectors will be embedding climate change adaptation into their businesses and organisations.

The Environment Agency is in a good position to take on this new enhanced adaptation role, as it already works to manage the impacts of climate change and this new role will build on their work to tackle flooding and coastal erosion, manage water resources, water quality, wildlife and habitats.

Climate SouthWest will continue to play a key role in helping to deliver the programme in the region. The new programme is still developing and will be in place by April 2012.

You can find out more about this new climate change adaptation programme on the Environment Agency’s website.

Environment White Paper 2011

As part of this chapter’s analysis on the State of the Environment and what will come next, it’s important lastly to pay attention to the recent Environment White Paper, published in June 2011. ‘The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature’ is the first White Paper on the natural environment to be published in 20 years. It comes after a period of public consultation during 2010 and strongly links the value of the natural environment in delivering economic growth.

It sets the Government’s policy towards sustainability and sustainable growth.

Key issues outlined in the White Paper include:

  • A healthy natural environment that functions well is a key ingredient in delivering  sustainable economic growth, communities that prosper, and personal wellbeing.
  • The Government wishes to ensure that nature is valued. It will do this by: 
  • Helping communities take action locally to protect and improve nature ;
  • Creating a green economy where economic growth and healthy natural resources sustain each other and value the role of nature;
  • Connect people and nature more strongly;
  • Show leadership in the European Union and internationally to protect and enhance nature across the world.

At the same time as publishing the White Paper, the Government also released its response to the Lawton Review - ‘Making Space for Nature’, which stated that nature in England is highly fragmented and unlikely to respond well to new challenges such as climate change or population growth.

Reaction to the White Paper has been largely supportive, especially over how it links the natural environment to wellbeing and economic development. Others have argued that the White Paper needs to go further in protecting and enhancing the natural environment.

There are some key issues for researchers and policy-makers: especially the new or enhanced links between different government and non-government organisations, and a clearly stated requirement for additional research, new performance indicators and evidence-based decision-making.

You can find out more about the specifically policies outlined within the White Paper, via the South West Observatory briefing paper.

DEFRA also provide details on what the paper means for a range of stakeholders (including Local authorities) as well as updates on the progress towards implementation, via their website.

For an overview of statistical and data headlines for all district authorities in the South West, see the Local Environmental Profiles on the SWO website.