THE CONSERVATION body responsible for protecting England’s natural environment has explained the controversial plan to save a Tamar Valley herring.

The plan, by Natural England, to support the allis shad (herring type) by spending a suggested £1m at Gunnislake Weir on improving the only place it breeds, has attracted criticism.

Opponents of the project, to reduce the flow rate of the upper River Tamar say that although they do support the environment, there are better priorities for spending large budgets.They point to the large amount of sewage pumped into the Tamar from a nearby plant and say that might be more of a risk to the herring’s existence, and money should be spent on that issue.

A spokesman for Natural England (NE) (a public body sponsored by the Defra to protect and help people enjoy the natural environment) said there was no cash value on the project which will be built by South West Water (SWW).

They said: ‘South West Water’s works at Gunnislake Weir will improve fish passage for, among other species, allis shad and European smelt as part of the Water Industry Natural Environment Programme. The Tamar is the only river in England where allis shad are known to breed, however, the extent of breeding habitat available to this very rare fish is limited by the barrier the existing weir poses, which currently constrains their movement upstream.’

The importance of the Tamar for allis shad and smelt is reflected in their inclusion as features of interest in a number of nature conservation designations.

The NE spokesman added: ‘The existing fish pass, which unfortunately is impassable to allis shad and smelt, will now be complemented by a new fish pass alongside the weir, which will allow allis shad and smelt to access additional spawning habitat in the upper reaches of the river. This will also help improve the current and future resilience of their populations.’

The Environment Agency and NE are joint signatories to the agreed proposals, and there is no set monetary value attached to this programme, only the outcomes, said NE.

Environment Agency figures showed SWW discharged 19 hours of sewage a day into the River Tamar in Calstock Parish last year (although this is a reduction on 2021/2022) from sewage outfalls in Calstock, Chilsworthy and Gunnislake, which local people say is harming the environment.

Calstock Parish Council is due to consider South West Water’s plan, which will be submited for public consultation later this year. If approved, work would begin in spring next year with the new fish pass completed in 2025. SWW has a legal commitment to invest in environmental improvements, in consultation with the Environment Agency.