The Forth Estuary, or the ‘Firth of Forth’ to give it its Scots name, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area. Home to an abundance of flora and fauna, its highlights include Grey Seals, Bottlenose Dolphins, and Porpoises, which can be seen swimming in the estuary all year round despite its heavily industrialised coast. On rare occasions whales have also been known to swim up the Forth, including Orcas, Minke and even a visiting Humpback in 2003.
Mud banks, such as the ones beside Grangemouth at Skinflats and Kinneil, are host to thousands of migratory seabirds, feasting on the worms, shrimps and crabs that live there. The estuary supports over 80,000 wintering waders and waterfowl, including internationally important populations of species such as redshank and pink-footed goose.
Syngenta has been quick to help monitor and combat the various pollution problems which have the potential to put this fragile eco-system at risk. The Forth Estuary Environmental Assessment Programme (FEEAP) is made up of local companies, including Syngenta and near neighbours KemFine and BP. For the past 10 years, they have been monitoring the estuary every 24 months, studying the effect commercial waste has upon it. Industrial discharges from a range of sources, which had an impact on water quality in the past, are now less significant due to effective treatment.
GMC Environment Manager Ian Stewart (Syngenta’s representative in FEEAP consultations) is happy with the progress being shown, and stressed the importance of the programme to Grangemouth: “Grangemouth has a tremendous record in reducing its waste streams and energy useage. We want to know sooner rather than later if we are doing any harm to the estuary and the unique wildlife it supports.”
Encouragingly, the most recent results from the 2007 FEEAP assessment showed that the quality of the water is improving. Contamination levels in the Forth are beginning to decline, and the pollution problems which were once an environmental issue are also receding.
The FEEPA sampling programme focuses mainly on coastal mud banks, monitoring intertidal fauna and sediment. The samples are examined for a variety of factors, such as the amount of organisms in a certain area and the levels of materials such as metals, carbon and nitrogen. The mud samples are collected using a hovercraft belonging to Ecospan Environmental from Plymouth, the company contracted to carry out the survey, with Ian himself volunteering to get his hands dirty.
“I took part in the last sampling and really enjoyed it,” says Ian. “We saw wildlife as far up as the Kincardine Bridge, and were even lucky enough to spot a few Grey Seals. It was absolutely fantastic to be involved, even If I did end up covered head-to-toe in mud!”
Thanks to FEEAP, and Syngenta’s involvement in the group, awareness of the estuary and the problems it faces has increased. The FEEAP programme (alongside other management initiatives as part of the local Biodiversity Action Plan) help to ensure the Firth of Forth now has the highest environmental censoring in Europe.