The Environment Agency is ‘the leading public body for protecting and improving the environment in England and Wales’, with responsiblity for air quality, conservation and ecology, especially along rivers and in wetlands, water quality, resources and fishing, and waste disposal. It is a non-departmental public body sponsored largely by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the National Assembly for Wales (NAW).
In Wharfedale the Agency is involved with conservation and ecology and sees its role as helping to create an environment where wildlife can thrive, especially along rivers and in wetlands. It has carried out surveys, including the Otter Survey and the River Habitat Survey of England and Wales, whose results are presented on ‘Riverside Explorer’, an educational CD-Rom. It has also managed a conference on ‘Management and Conservation of Crayfish’, a species of local and national concern. The Agency has also carried out a survey to assess the current status of fish stocks throughout North Yorkshire.
The River Wharfe is extensively used for public water supply, both from reservoirs and by river abstraction.At the same time, the Wharfe and its tributaries are highly valued for nature conservation, ecology, landscape and recreational opportunities, including high class game and coarse fisheries. Changing climate patterns may increase the pressure for water abstraction, with its effects on riverine wildlife. Managing these, sometimes conflicting, requirements involves the Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy, which affects part of the Wharfedale Naturalists Society area.
The Upper Wharfedale Best Practice Project was an integrated approach to land and water management in the river Wharfe catchment area. Primarily implemented in 1998 – 2002 this scheme has involved a partnership of organisations, including the Environment Agency, to meet 10 main project aims including a grip-blocking programme, tackling river banks to prevent erosion and benefit wildlife, managing woodlands besides streams and others to enhance the environment.