Sulphur cuts too small for Britain's lakes

2019-02-26 02:19:00

PRIME Minister Margaret Thatcher promised last week to cut Britain’s emissions of sulphur dioxide by 60 per cent within 13 years. However, this will not be enough to clean up the lakes and streams in Scotland, Wales and highland England that suffer from acid pollution, according to scientists meeting in London. Thatcher’s promise, reiterating the terms of an EEC directive signed two years ago, was made to scientists from Britain, Norway and Sweden assembling at the Royal Society to discuss the findings of the five-year Surface Water Acidification Programme involving the three nations. A summary of the programme’s findings, agreed by the scientists the following morning, concluded for Welsh streams that ‘even a 60 per cent reduction in (acid) deposition would give only a modest improvement at the most acid sites’. Studies at Birkenes, the centre for the programme’s research in southern Norway, where losses of fish in acid streams have been greatest, found that ‘a 60 per cent reduction (in deposition) would produce significant improvements in stream water chemistry, but even a 90 per cent reduction would not guarantee successful restocking with trout’. Investigations in the Galloway hills in southwest Scotland, where many acid lakes are fishless, have demonstrated both that acid rainfall is the cause, and that little improvement will be seen until a reduction in acid fallout of around 60 per cent is achieved. In the Cairngorms, in the Scottish highlands, according to the programme’s director, Sir John Mason, large amounts of sulphur from acid rain have accumulated in soils in areas where no acidification of lakes and streams has been seen. Once a critical load is reached, the sulphur may be mobilised into streams in the form of sulphuric acid. ‘If present levels of emissions continue, some areas might tip over the edge,’ he warned. Britain is the largest producer of sulphur dioxide pollution in Western Europe. But, because it has special problems resulting from the high sulphur content of its domestic coal, Britain faces less tough emissions targets than some of its European partners. West Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium are all committed under the EC directive to reduce emissions by 70 per cent by the year 2003. In her speech to the meeting, Mrs Thatcher urged the creation of a European data bank on plant life, to enable scientists to assess the changes taking place as a result of global warming. Such a data bank, she said, ‘would enable us to put together a comprehensive picture, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Arctic, and from the Atlantic to the Urals.’ Thatcher also said that a significant change in the climate would have important implications for European agriculture, with major effects on the Community’s Common Agricultural Policy. It could also cause problems for the Continent’s native reserves, she said, ‘which may find themselves in the wrong places, if the fauna and flora they are supposed to protect migrate’. A rapid change in temperatures might not give some species enough time to adapt to the new conditions. In such cases,