RTCT February 2018 Newsletter

Welcome to our monthly newsletter. We always love to update people on what is happening around the catchment, and what better way to fill people in than with a monthly newsletter. We hope that you enjoy reading and welcome any suggestions for next month, just send them to Natalie@riverthame.org 

Although the snowdrops are out it feels as though spring is a long way off yet after “the beast from the east” brings cold weather to the catchment this week. But this month has not been without glorious sunny days so we are still in hope it will not be too far away!

Update on Waddesdon wetland complexr

As part of our project with partners Freshwater Habitats Trust, Environment Agency and Waddesdon Estate to create the first wetland in the Thame catchment we had 5 boreholes installed on the Thame floodplain. Boreholes are small holes (only 5cm in diameter and 2m deep) which are drilled into the ground and for this purpose they will allow us to measure ground water levels. A  core was also taken from each hole to show us what the underlying geology was of the site. As expected and like much of the Thame catchment there was a lot of clay! All of this information will help us design a wetland that best suits this site.

Subadra consulting, a local consulting company from Stoke Mandeville offered to provide the drill rig and crew free of charge for the day after hearing about the positive impact that the project will have for local biodiversity. Good will of local people and organisations really goes a long way to making these projects happen and we are grateful to Subadra for their time, interest and help.

Despite the hail stones and getting stuck in the mud (really, lots of mud) we certainly had a fun day!


Now let’s get monitoring…

Will this be the demise of ratty?

Having spent a very enjoyable summer back in 2013 rummaging around ponds in Sussex looking for (and successfully finding) signs of water voles for my undergraduate dissertation it pains me that there are still no records of them in the Thame Catchment.

It’s hard to ignore the news this week that water vole populations in the UK are still declining, in fact they have declined by a third in 10 years. This is due to a number of reasons including pollution, predation by the invasive American Mink (of which we know there are loads of in the catchment) but probably the main reason being the destruction and decline of appropriate habitat.

There are populations just outside the catchment (see information from BBOWT here so it is still possible we have a few very secretive remaining populations.

If you have seen any signs of them please let us know and we can carry out a survey. Otherwise keep your eyes peeled for signs when you are out and about in the catchment, particularly along highly vegetated sections of watercourse. This is a fantastic website to help you get to grips with water vole field signs.

The Thame under threat

Recently it does appear that the Thame catchment has black cloud hanging over it with the imminent danger of a number of huge developments and infrastructure projects planned in the coming years. These include HS2 and the possibility of the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway not to mention the dramatic growth of Aylesbury by a proposed 16,398 homes.

What can we do? RTCT is not set up as a lobbying organisation and our limited resources mean we don’t get involved too heavily in developments other than commenting on some of the larger proposals as it could easily consume all our time. Other larger national or regional organisations do take that role and we work with them when we can. We understand the impact these large developments may have on our catchment and have organised data shares with development ecologists to ensure they have all the data possible on the species and habitats of the Thame to inform their decisions. Where possible, we will also pursue mitigation funding when opportunities arise for the Thame to get funding for new environmental projects to improve the catchment off the back of new developments.

We are in the process of finalising a ‘Water Advice Guidance Note’ for planners, designers and developers. The guidance note has been developed with other organisations in the Thame catchment partnership. It will be incorporated into Aylesbury Vale’s District Council’s planning policy and is referred to in the local plan. The aim is to guide developers to not only make sure they fulfil their obligations to protect the water environment but also  take the opportunity to improve it.

Spawn search

Freshwater Habitats Trust are interested in hearing if you’ve spotted any toad or newt spawn this year as part of their 2018 PondNet spawn search project.

From the beginning of February until the end of May this year, for the second year running Freshwater Habitats Trust are asking everyone to collect important data on the location of breeding frogs and toads across the country. They are asking you to record both toad and frog spawn in your garden ponds, local community ponds, and any ponds you come across in your adventures in the countryside.

Click here for more information

Utterly otters


Otters were once widespread in the UK, but from the 1960s they became extinct in many parts of the UK, due to habitat loss, poisoning from agricultural chemicals and persecution. They are well on with making a steady recovery across the country and are back to more natural population sizes. We know of a number of individuals have made the River Thame their home.

It’s fair to say that otters and anglers often don’t see eye to eye! Otters can cause major issues for anglers and fishery owners, especially in some well stocked fisheries where an abundance relatively easy to catch big fish are simply too easy pickings. The Angling Trust, Environment Agency and Natural England produced a useful joint paper on this problem which can be found here

Still water fisheries need to be protected using otter fencing to prevent large valuable stocked fish from predation. In September 2016 Natural England issued a license to humanely trap and relocate problematic otters from within well fenced fishing complexes. Advice on fencing can be found here.

Along running watercourses the presence of otters should be seen as a positive rather than a negative. The fact that the Thame can support apex predators means that fish stocks are improving. Otters are highly territorial and have huge territories meaning it’s rare to have more than one otter fishing one stretch of watercourse. They also reproduce slowly so numbers naturally remain low compared to some other species like mink.

We know the fish of the Thame have been dealt a bad hand in the past. RTCT works with our local anglers and the Environment Agency to improve the habitats in the river for fish and increasing areas where they can hide from predators as well as improving breeding and nursery areas. We’ll update on some of these projects in future issues when work on various sites is complete. Watch this space!

We are interested to hear if you have spotted any otter signs. To know what to look for click here.

To end lets finish with a photo of an otter taken on the River Thame.