Welcome to our quarterly newsletter! Here we like to update you on the work the Trust and its partners have been carrying out around the Thame catchment as well as any national news that may affect our freshwater habitats.
This scorching summer appears to be never ending and the dramatic snowfall over the winter seems just a distant memory. Our grasslands are brown, trees are wilting, our ponds drying and soils cracking. Who ever thought we would be wishing for rain! Despite this for the Trust this summer has been one of knowledge gathering, habitat creation and and restoration!
Be water smart
In this heat wave we are talking about our water consumption more than ever but in reality we need to be thinking about it all the time. We live in an area that is classified as “seriously water stressed” by the Environment Agency.
So why do we need to worry about our water consumption?
Here in the Thames region 65% of the water we use comes from our rivers. Many rivers are suffering damage regularly as a result of over-abstraction of water. Some rivers are drying up completely at certain times, which can be fatal for the wildlife that relies on them. Significant drops in water level can cause pollutants to become more concentrated, as well as causing our rivers to warm up much faster, reducing oxygen levels in the water which can have detrimental effects on freshwater life.
“A quarter of England’s rivers are at risk of running dry” – WWF
What can you do to help?
The best thing you can do to relieve our rivers is to reduce your water consumption in your home. I know this sounds easier said than done but here are a few tips:
- Don’t water your grass in heat waves like we are experiencing. It’s surprising how quick grass can spring back to life after a small amount of rain.
- Sign up for Thames Waters free water saving gadgets
- Re use water where you can – i.e. don’t simply empty your paddling pool use the water to wash the car or water the plants.
- Install your own water butt ready for next summer
- Have showers instead of baths. The average bath uses 35 to 50 gallons of water, whereas a 10-minute shower with a low-flow showerhead only uses 25 gallons.
- Fill a jug of water and put it in the fridge for when you want a cool drink instead of letting the tap run.
New riverside ‘dog dips’ for our canine friends in Aylesbury
We mentioned in previous newsletters about the potential damage dogs can cause to river banks, including increased erosion and sediment input, with a particular focus on Meadowcroft OpenSpace in Aylesbury.
In May, the Trust in partnership with Aylesbury Vale District Council constructed two “dog dips” at either end of the riverside walk. These are areas where dogs can enter the river safely without having any negative effects on the river itself. As well as constructing the dog dips we also had the help of Vale Conservation Volunteers to stabilise the banks by using woven willow branches to prevent further erosion in areas that had been weakened by dogs.
We hope this will be an area for the community (and dogs) of Aylesbury to enjoy the River Thame for years to come.
Stop the Spread – mapping non-native invasive plants
Can you help us map non-native invasive plants across the River Thame catchment? Non-native invasive plants out compete our native plants and, if left to their own devices, can take over whole river banks, streams and ponds. Without effective control methods they can quickly spread. We need your eyes to help us map the locations of these non-native plants. This way we can effectively target areas to ensure they are removed for good and to prevent further spread. Key non-native plants we are looking for are Himalayan Balsam, New Zealand Pigmyweed and Parrots Feather.
If you are interested in surveying for non-native invasive species please email Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org
We had the help of Vale Conservation Volunteers (VCV) in June to pull Balsam in Aylesbury
Fish reach new heights on the River Thame
Fish on the River Thame can now explore parts of the river they haven’t been able to reach since probably Norman times thanks to a recently completed project at Waterstock Mill, Oxfordshire. The River Thame Conservation Trust have installed a new fish easement to help fish navigate over a stone sluice structure that they would otherwise be unable to swim over.
History – In the past we humans have changed once natural river systems for our own uses, for agriculture, building developments, navigation or water supply. Fish evolved in rivers long before humans had this influence and fish species are often not adapted to the changes we’ve made over time, such as dredged river beds, straightened channels and weirs which hold back water flow and block movement.
The River Thame and its tributaries has many blockages up its course, most of which are easily explained by the large number of watermills – signs of a time when the river was a major source of power in the rural economy and weirs were important to help provide that power.
Impact on River Species – When habitats which were once continuous are now divided by weirs and sluices, it restricts the movement of freshwater species, separating them from their food sources and the variety of habitats they need to complete their life cycles. This can badly affect their survival and breeding success, sometimes leading to species disappearing altogether in some stretches of river.
To add to the challenges for river species, the River Thame has been a victim of several pollution incidents over the last few decades and thousands of fish have been killed. Fragmented habitats are less resilient to these pollution incidents as the blockages prevent fish and other mobile species from moving away from the pollution and being able to re- colonise after the events.
What has happened at Waterstock? The sluice on the River Thame at Waterstock Mill was a complete barrier to fish passage (except when the river was in very high flow). On each flank, the concrete and stone walls were also structurally failing. The removal of the sluice structure was not an option so instead, to provide fish easement a pool was created on the structure itself by constructing a wall at the upstream and downstream ends of the structure to back up the flow of water.
The structure before and after its restoration
A channel which is a secondary channel to the main River Thame was also restored as part of the project. It had been highly shaded by trees, with steep banks, it was over wide and VERY silty. Brushwood berms were created by hand with the help of a team of Fishery Officers from the Environment Agency and gravel was added. These works narrow the channel and speed up the flow of water which helps to keep the new gravels clean of silt. It creates a variety of habitat for fish and invertebrate species. The clean gravel is also important for gravel spawning fish such as chub and dace. Trees were managed along this stretch of channel to create a mixture of shaded and open channel. It’s all about variety when it comes to river habitats!
The restored channel after narrowing and adding gravels
This project was funded by the Thames Rivers Trust
Our very own pollution protection “ARMI”
This month we ran the trusts 3rd Riverfly training course!
The Angers Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) was set up by the Riverfly Partnership with the aim of protecting the water quality of our rivers. Volunteers are trained to head out to their local rivers once per month to monitor the presence and abundance of specific freshwater invertebrate groups. These groups were chosen due to their ease of identification, meaning anyone can take part and also due to their sensitivity to pollution.
We have a new group of volunteers who are eager to go out and monitor the river Thame. With our Riverfly monitors, new and old we are starting to cover much more of the catchment! The data collected by volunteers through this programme allows for any pollution incidents to be picked up and dealt with quickly. Also, the long term data sets will be able to show us trends in Riverfly abundance throughout the catchment.
We will be running Riverfly training annually so look out for our next training course on our events Calendar!
Clean Water Quest: Thame Water Blitz (1st May – 31st May)
This summer residents, groups and communities were enlisted across the River Thame Catchment to find clean, unpolluted water, where wildlife can thrive.
The River Thame Catchment is an area where there is little information on the water quality of its freshwater landscape. Yet its freshwater habitats, from the biggest lakes to the tiniest trickles, pools and springs, are home to a vast array of plants and animals. It only takes a little pollution to cause the loss of much of this wildlife. With increasing pressures on the freshwater landscape, it is now more important than ever to find the clean water places, those that are free of pollution, where our rarer more sensitive species can flourish.
Through the Clean Water Quest volunteers used simple test kits to measure the levels of two widespread nutrient pollutants, nitrate and phosphate, in over 450 sites. This included the River Thame, and its many surrounding water bodies as it meanders its way past Aylesbury to join the River Thames at Dorchester-on-Thames.