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Manx Rivers Survey Confirms High Quality Habitats Regardless of Human Land Use 23 November 2007

A report following a major survey of Manx river habitats carried out in 2006 has confirmed that local rivers provide high-quality habitats for fish and riverbank wildlife such as birds and the insects that they feed on. The last survey was carried out in 1997 and the combined information from both surveys enables an assessment of how urban and agricultural land use has changed the Island’s rivers and their habitats.

The work was undertaken by the U.K. Environment Agency, working with Dr. Calum MacNeil of The Government Laboratory, Department of Local Government and the Environment. The Isle of Man is perceived as invaluable to the U.K. Environment Agency in that it provides a compact area with a wide variety of terrain and land use for them to use as an initial study before embarking on the larger scale surveys in England and Wales. This is of mutual benefit as the survey was undertaken by the Agency at no cost to the Island, yet provides a detailed assessment of local river habitats. Whilst on the Island, the Environment Agency staff voiced their grateful thanks to local people for providing assistance and helping the whole survey run smoothly.

The Isle of Man surveys revealed that the majority of Manx river sites (55%) had good or better habitat quality. It also identified that that a similar proportion (58%) have had their habitats significantly or severely modified. This indicated that, despite channel and bank modifications such as bank reinforcements, resectioning (where the shape of the river bed is modified) and the construction of weirs and bridges, and also where there has been intensive agriculture, river habitats still had many high-quality physical features. These included diverse bank vegetation, tree cover, different types of flows on the river bed and many different types of substrates such as boulders, cobbles, pebbles, gravel and sand. Although bank reinforcement was the most common modification on the Island, its impact on river habitats is much lower than other modifications such as weirs and dams.

Intensive land uses or modifications were associated with the lowest-quality sites, although it was noted that the physical habitat was not significantly adversely affected by these, and the report summed up: “Overall, the rivers surveyed on the Isle on Man tend to have high Habitat Quality scores, but also a high level of modification. This is an interesting point, as it does not support a clear link between high levels of modification and low habitat quality. Indeed, results suggest that even with channel and bank modifications, and intensive land uses, rivers can still have a relatively high level of physical habitat features”.

The survey also mapped out the occurrence of invasive plant species across the Island and noted that although either Japanese Knotweed or Himalayan Balsam were recorded at almost a third of sites, these unwelcome plants were rarely abundant on river banks.

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